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This Is So Stupid

Where Should The Yak Go (On The Olympic Downhill Ski Course)?

A downhill skier, and a yak
Alain Grosclaude/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

It is necessary to explain the origin of a blog such as this. For forensic purposes, at least.

It began with—OK, well, really, who can illuminate the eldritch genetic chemistry of any such blog’s true origin, the sinister phosphorescent ooze that produced the collection of slurry brains now comprising the staff of Defector dot com. Perhaps only the dread Cthulhu can conceive of it. This particular blog began, I think, with Patrick Redford sharing the following two videos in Defector’s Slack channel on Monday:

That’s a bull blowing up cyclists at, in Patrick’s words, “an extremely big time race” in California, which apparently goes through a patch of countryside that featured, possibly not on purpose, at least one (1) ornery and territorial bull who does not appreciate being whooshed past by cyclists. Naturally, as it must, this led to the suggestion that the bull should be considered an official course hazard at that race: Contestants must traverse the Bull Zone (“Right after the Llama Slalom,” in Barry Petchesky’s judgment, “but before the ‘nesting Canada geese minefield'”). We workshopped it from there. Before the race each cyclist would receive a fold-out map, like the protagonist in an open-world video game, with a star representing the destination. The vaguely defined Bull Zone would be denoted by a drawing of a bull on part of the map: You could encounter the bull anywhere in the Bull Zone, or not at all, depending on your chosen route as well as the bull’s. All of this went into the simmering fetid mind-stew of Defector dot com.

And then, this morning, in a discussion of the Winter Olympics, this video of Austrian Franz Klammer’s thrilling and terrifying gold medal-winning downhill run at the 1976 games:

It may be hard to imagine for viewers familiar only with the event’s relatively sterile and silent (but still extremely kick-ass) present form, but the downhill used to be like this: Wild, and noisy, and unmistakably insane, featuring galleries of rowdy cowbell-ringing fans crowding tree-lined slopes, and bales of hay, and the exhilarating sense that you were watching a very dangerous bushwhacking daredevil activity—Get to the bottom of this very steep mountain as fast as you can on skis without dying—formalized minimally and haphazardly, with only just enough safety cones and boundary flags to superimpose some structure onto it. That man is on the immediate verge of grisly explosive dismemberment for not less than a minute and 40 seconds of his one-minute-and-46-second run. I can see good arguments for why the event should not be like that anymore, but also, man, it ruled. You can see where this is going.

Strictly speaking it was Barry who plunged his hand into the roiling slime of Defector dot com’s collective unconscious and withdrew this nugget of thought about the downhill skiing event befouled with giblets of the previous day’s discussion of Bull Zones and cycling races, to proclaim that the downhill course should “have a single angry yak” on it. But it would be unfair to him to deny that this idea was going to find its way to the surface of that horrid noisome pot one way or another once those ingredients went into it. It might just as easily have been me, or Luis Paez-Pumar, or Kelsey McKinney, or even possibly Dave McKenna.

Think of the possibilities! Who would supply the yak? The scandal when it’s revealed that the host nation has employed yak trainers, who’d conditioned the yak to charge at the colors of the German ski team’s unitards. The legendary yak called out of retirement for one last Olympics. Does he still have what it takes to scare the ghost out of gimlet-eyed Austrians who can rocket down a snowy 60-degree slope on a pair of butterknives without a discernible increase in heart rate? Did they dope the yak, to increase its volatility? Would nations without yaks be unable to host the Olympics, or would they lobby to substitute their own disagreeable ungulates in place of the yak?

But most importantly: Where should the yak go, on the downhill course? I can see an argument for stationing the yak near the top, where the skiers first gain speed; there’s a fun sort of anticlimax, that I can’t stop giggling at, to the image of the yak aborting a downhill run in its opening moments by simply lurching in the direction of the gold-medal favorite and causing the poor skier to veer into a gorge or over a mighty precipice, fully a minute and a half earlier than the run was supposed to end. Four years of preparation and training and dreaming of gold, four seconds of skiing, and then an unknown time spent pinwheeling bonelessly into the gloomy depths of a thousand-foot crevasse because a yak blundered into your path. Embarrassing!

On the other hand, stationing the yak near the top really diminishes the amount of chaos—er, uh, stirring athletic spectacle, I mean—that the yak can bring to the event. If a skier successfully evades the yak within the first hundred yards of the course, then the part of the run overshadowed by yak potential is over: Even the most jacked and horrible of yaks is not going to catch up to someone skiing away from it at 85 miles an hour. After that, all of the death-defying ski feats are just the normal kind.

There’s also an argument, I suppose, for allowing the yak to roam freely. For one thing, who is going to attempt to negotiate with a 2,200-pound yak, if it chooses not to remain in any given area? It’s not some “nice” yak! It’s an angry yak. An unreasonable yak! Also just in general it is nice to allow animals to do their own thing in a natural world belonging at least as legitimately to them as to the organizers of the Olympics. On the other hand, what if the yak wanders to the other side of the mountain. That’s no good. The yak cannot meet an unwitting Swiss skier coming over a rise and explode the latter into so many steaming chunks if the yak has migrated to Mongolia. No, I definitely think the yak needs an area.

For these reasons I believe the Yak Area should be at the bottom of the course. Imagine the dramatic tension mounting as the skier passes through the successive checkpoints: He’s two tenths up on the leader! Now only one-and-a-half! Now only eight one-hundredths! He’s really gonna have to nail this final stretch to hang onto the gold! And the yak is still out there, somewhere, ready to ambush him within sight of the finish line and redirect him into a boulder the size of a grain silo! Each second exponentially more ablaze with terror and hope and possibility than the one before. Not since the Minotaur has a hoofed beast inspired such primal dread and awe. Not even the Yeti stalks a mountainside as fearsomely as this damn yak.

What? Excuse me? No, you’re an insane idiot. You are. You can go to hell.