Friday, August 3, 2012

He Didn't Win The Gold Medal!

Last night on Channel 3’s Live at Five show, Mark Koehn’s Wisconsin Traveler segment was a five-minute interview with Olympic Gold Medal speed-skater Casey Fitzrandolph, who was raised in Verona and now owns a small farm outside Hollandale. 

It was a great interview, because Mark got Casey to talk about how he persisted to win the Gold, and his perspective on the Olympics now.  Mark’s laid-back style caused Casey to really relax and open up about his life.

When the interview was over, I couldn’t help but think that Casey’s remarks could be construed as a variant on the “you didn’t build it” meme that the Romneyites have seized upon.

There is NO doubt that Casey Fitzrandolph won that Gold Medal (and all the other Silver and Bronze Medals) because of his own personal effort.  Those medals are his; he won them; and there is no arguing with that fact – even in this day, when so many people seem to think they’re entitled to their own opinion and their own facts.

What made me think of the “you didn’t build it” meme was Casey’s reflection on what went into winning the gold.  He talked about how his parents would get up early in the morning to drive him from their home in Verona in to Madison so Casey could practice on a sheet of ice.  He talked about the many coaches who worked with him to help him develop as a speed-skater and how he was inspired by Madison’s Eric Heiden.  He talked about his parents taking him to Milwaukee so he could skate competitively at the Petit National Ice Center, with its 400-meter Olympic oval track.

In other words, he talked about all the people who helped him win Olympic Gold.  Like a great quarterback who engineers a monumental come-from-behind win, he talked about the people who helped make it happen.

I was struck by the similarity in Casey’s remarks to the interviews I’ve heard with many other successful athletes and captains of industry.  Many of them, like Casey, are eager to share the credit.  But there are those who are content to “blow their own horn” and don’t have a word to say about all the help they got to get where they are.

This is another example of the huge divide in our nation.  As the Republicans have demonized “government” for the past few decades, President Obama is trying to point out that the role of government is NOT the same as the role of business, and that government can and should be a partner in business success stories.  This is in direct contrast to business owners and politicians who talk only about government’s “burdensome” regulations, government “obstructionism”, fees and taxes, and claim that the government itself is a “job killer”.  (What a disconnect: politicians acting as if they had nothing to do with the government.)

You can showboat in the end zone after you’ve caught a touchdown pass and draw all the attention onto yourself; or you can acknowledge the lineman’s block that allowed the quarterback to throw the pass.  It’s all in how you look at it.


  1. Casey is one of the finest athletes I have ever met or covered, and even in a sport that seems to attract very nice people (I covered speedskating on and off for many years, including the 1994 Winter Olympics, the Heidens in the 1970s, Bonnie Blair, Dan Immerfall, the wonderful Docter sisters Mary and Sarah, Dan Jansen), he stands out as one of the best, always giving credit to others and stepping up to help others, too. It was very easy to see where he got it from. His parents were unfailingly patient and helpful. Good to see he is his usual self, amiable but also accessible and honest.

    1. Met him briefly at the radio station when he was being dragged around the media by some sales flack, no doubt for some civic project the station was "sponsoring". Seemed like a very sincere, extremely nice person. I've met a lot of famous folks because of my decades in radio, and quite a few of them were just plain assholes.

      In my Oshkosh daze, I spent some time with Eric Heiden, after the "Man of Gold" had turned in his Speedo for a spandex bicycle suit. Heiden was lending his considerable elan to a group of avid cyclists which morphed from the "Wisconsin Milk Race Organization" into a group that sponsored pre-Olympic bike racing trials in Wisconsin. His passion was tangible; his willingness to "put himself out there" to drum up support was boundless; and he was completely approachable and endearing to the scores of people who just wanted to touch the "Man of Gold". I spent many hours in a car with him, ferrying him around (with his 7-11 Corporate flack) from radio station to radio station in the Valley, doing scores of interviews for a period of months, until it all came together. Then, when he felt we didn't have enough good "preems" (bonus giveaways which were interspersed in laps throughout the race - as in "This is a Preem Lap" - he would get on the phone or make a personal trip to a potential donor, securing things like a five-day four-night stay at the Heidel House, steak dinner with all the trimmings for you and 9 friends at Butch's Anchor Inn (or Alex's Crown or any one of a handful of top-line restaurants), using his personal charm to make the donor feel good about what he was doing. I always thought "here's a guy who's the most successful Winter Olympian who ever lived, the only one ever to win gold in all five speed skating events, who could be hobnobbing with the rich and famous in the south of France, and he's slogging his way around places like Oshkosh, Winneconne, Fond du Lac, and Kaukauna, engaging regular folks from whom he could not possibly attain any personal gain".

      I would imagine, from your description and personal knowledge, that Fitzrandolph is pretty much the same kind of person.