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Summer tourism season could use some superstars like Palmer

by Steve Yingling

Dear local chambers of commerce, Are you burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how to fill every weekend with appealing events during the vital summer tourism season?

After the drawing power of the Fourth of July Celebration, the Isuzu Celebrity Golf Championship, Shakespearean Festival and Renaissance Festival, your best bet is that people will want to visit Tahoe to gamble or admire the beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains.

But you probably get suggestions all the time: the Winter X Games, Summer X Games, pro volleyball tournaments, jet ski races (oops, that one should be crossed off the list) and poker tournaments.

Of course, some of the ideas probably aren’t that bad, but will they really pull people away from the Bay Area or Los Angeles the way 12 inches of fresh powder does in January?

But hold on a minute. I have a suggestion that just might work.

The idea didn’t come to me until late Sunday night when sportswriter Michael Traum unveiled the latest edition of the “USA Today.” Low and behold, gracing the cover of the national newspaper’s weekend edition was none other than Generation X’s inspiration, Shaun Palmer, a tattoo-covered rebel who grew up in South Lake Tahoe.

More stunning than the fact that one of the country’s largest newspapers decided to devote prime space to Palmer was the focus of the story: “Is this the world’s greatest athlete?”

That’s right, Palmer, who has mastered the snowboard, mountain bike and motobike, is in some liberal minds a better all-around athlete than Michael Jordan, Michael Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr.

Which brings me back to my point. These days, you wouldn’t even know that Palmer grew up on the South Shore unless you spotted a story on him in a national magazine or saw him performing a beer-drinking salute at the Winter X Games.

Are we so embarrassed by this guy that we won’t enlist in his overflowing athleticism to enhance any of our summer or winter events? Of course, he’s had brushes with the law, but most people do before they leave their 20s behind. He’s outrageous, obnoxious, rebellious, but like him or not, he’s one of ours.

Mountain Dew, his major sponsor, doesn’t seem to mind Palmer’s suspect character. They’re banking that he’ll stay on the straight and narrow and sell some soft drinks and specialized bikes.

While the South Shore worries about how to finance a skating rink and a new park for children, other cities around the country are using their home-grown stars to raise money for their needs.

Crested Butte, Colo., benefits from our Palmer because he rules the boardercross in the Winter X Games. Mountain biking communities – except for ours – profit when a kamikaze rider like Palmer enters their downhill races. He also another up-and-coming motocross talent for Jeremy McGrath to worry about who can only enhance dirt bike racing’s growth. Doesn’t Tahoe specialize in two of Palmer’s talents?

After watching Jonny Moseley embarrass some of the world’s-best athletes like Lennox Lewis, Kordell Stewart and Herschel Walker by finishing second in the ABC’s Superstars competition in April, it made me think of all the talented athletes we have around the lake that might give the Winter Games bump gold medalist a run for his money.

Of course, Palmer being the definitive one. But let’s not leave out Olympic Alpine skier Jonna Mendes; Miami Dolphins linebacker Mike Crawford; former Kansas guard Jerod Haase; Korean Basketball League star Brian Bruso; other U.S. Ski Team freestyle and Alpine members Wisi Betschart, Travis Ramos, Brooke Ballachey and Chris Hernandez; kickboxing/boxing brothers Juan and Hector Torres and professional mountain biker Matt Gerken.

Surely, I’m leaving somebody out.

Wouldn’t a Tahoe Superstars competition be a great spectator event? To make it more appealing for tourists, why not include the Bay Area athletes, and call it the Tahoe-Bay Area Superstars. Don’t you think our athletes could hold their own against the likes of Barry Bonds, Jerry Rice, Jason Kidd, Steve Young and Mike Vernon in a 10-event Olympic format? I’m sure they could be coaxed to coming to Tahoe for a day or two.

Tahoe would be the perfect venue for such an event. The Bay Area Sports Channel might even be interested.

It’s just a thought.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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