Joel Reichenberger: Breaking journalism’s Golden rule
Krasnaya Polyana, Russia — The golden rule of sports journalism is that you don’t cheer.
Honestly, much of the time it’s not that difficult. I grew up a huge Kansas State fan, for instance, but I’ve never cared less about the team’s fortunes than I did when I was covering the Wildcats day to day for the school newspaper then the Topeka Capital Journal. (That’s not to say I didn’t care, just that I’ve never cared less.)
It’s not so much about seeing the “gritty underside” of a program or even overexposure. Mostly it’s a focus on the job. Win or lose, you need to file a story, and it needs to be well written and fair to all involved. It’s not that it’s impossible to be a fan, it’s just that you’re so carried away with your journalistic duties you don’t worry about it.
Tuesday night I broke the golden rule. I cheered for Taylor Gold.
I feel like it’s a little different at the Olympics. Certainly any cheering in press zones would be frowned upon, but I feel like it’s more acceptable to actively want something to happen, to root for your country against the world.
The workload here is even more intense than it was covering K-State but somehow in the midst of that I couldn’t help but care about Gold’s fate.
I kept a careful eye on Gold as he qualified easily into the semifinals of the men’s snowboard half-pipe competition at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, and I began to worry when he didn’t land his first run.
Gold was the definition of consistent during the lead-up to these Games, landing run after run as he went from nobody to somebody in the span of six weeks. He was the first American man to clinch a spot on the half-pipe team thanks to that consistency, piling up a first place finish, a second and two thirds in the five Olympic-qualifying events.
His only bump came at the X Games, the final event before Sochi, where he failed to land a clean run.
But Tuesday, he looked great in the prelims, and after he whipped out early in his first semifinals run, I got excited as he rode on his second attempt.
He started out strong, hitting tricks — dialed-back tricks, but tricks. The slushy snow was a factor for everyone, but Gold was laying down a good, not great run.
I had climbed the side of the pipe hoping to get a dramatic photo, and, alone from the rest of the press corps, I pulled for Gold as he flew right over my head on his third hit.
At that point, he seemed on his way to finals.
It wouldn’t have taken anything incredible to get to finals, either. The sloppy half-pipe that caused consternation all week again wrecked havoc on the semifinals field. In the end, he’d have been in with a score of 75.6, something he’d easily bested in the qualifying round, and on a regular basis, during the Olympic team qualifiers.
Gold kept and kept landing his tricks, and as he got to the bottom, I relaxed.
It was a done deal. He’d made his way down the pipe and he was going to advance to the finals after just one more jump and one more land….ing.
I have no doubt Taylor Gold’s disappointment Tuesday night at just — JUST — missing the finals, his heartbreak at whipping out on the final landing of what turned out to be his final run of these Olympics, far exceeds my own letdown, but I felt for the kid Tuesday.
Taylor, we were pulling for you. I’m sorry it didn’t happen.
The #RoadToSochi was great for you, and as storyteller and a fan, it was great for me. I hope to see you on #RoadToPyeongchang, too.
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Wednesday, Nov. 25