Bob: This is Bob Costas and Mary Carrillo with continuing coverage of the 2008 Winter Fear Olympics.
Mary: For the first time since 1980, the Fear Olympics are being held during a recession, so we are expecting some spectacular performances.
Bob: And coming right up — the finals of the Catastrophizing competition.
Mary: In this event contestants take a meaningless event and fantasize that it will lead to utter calamity.
Bob: Watch the ratio between the insignificance of the event and the enormity of imagined subsequent disasters. That is the key to this competition.
Mary: And what a story we have today, as Steve Clifford tries to be oldest person ever to win in this event.
Bob: Amazing. He first medaled in this event 40 years ago. Fresh out of school, he fantasized that a typo in a memo would precipitate getting fired, suffering civil and criminal penalties, and assignment to the seventh circle of hell.
Mary: And who can forget his stunning triple in 1988 when he swept the Anxiety Events, bringing home the gold in Economic Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and Free Floating Anxiety.
Bob: How does he do it, Mary?
Mary: Dedication. He is the most dedicated worrier in the history of the sport. While others are comfortably sleeping, Steve Clifford begins his day as he begins every day — worrying. Usually he has misplaced his car keys and dreams up all sort of disastrous consequences that will ensue. Then he checks the markets. If the Polish Zloty is down, he can imagine himself homeless by the end of the week, even though he has no exposure to the Polish Zloty.
Bob: How can he maintain this level of anxiety throughout the day, day after day?
Mary: He says it helps to picture himself as an airplane in flight — one tiny crack can cause a cataclysmic crash.
Bob: What about the rumors of doping?
Mary: Because he is constantly gripped with fight-or-flight terror, he has been accused of using SSRAs, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Accelerators. His tests display a total absence of serotonin and astronomic levels of cortisol and adrenaline. He denies doping and attributes his neurotransmitter levels to having been raised Catholic.
Bob: This year he failed to qualify for some events that he won in the past.
Mary: He no longer competes in 'êDeathly Fear of Wearing Inappropriate Dress.'ê He lost his edge here since moving to a city where everyone is inappropriately dressed for every occasion.
Bob: In past years, Clifford dominated the 'êBuy High in Euphoria, Sell Low in Panic'ê competition. But this year he did not make the team. What happened?
Mary: He ran up against a new group — Fuld of Lehman, Cayne of Bear Stearns, Killinger of WaMu, and Paulson of Treasury — who were willing to buy garbage that Clifford wouldn'êt touch, even in his most manic phases.
Bob: So he'ês not competing in Inappropriate Dress. He gets beaten by Wall Street execs in Euphoria/Panic. Is age slowing Clifford down?
Mary: Not much. He may forget what he is worrying about. But then he compensates by worrying about forgetting.
Bob: What cataclysmic horror will he fantasize in today'ês Catastrophizing finals?
Mary: It'ês hard to tell. He can beat you in so many ways. A pebble hitting his windshield can precipitate the vision of asteroids colliding with earth. A plant dies in his backyard and he forsees mass starvation due to soil depletion. But I think he will lead with his core fear.
Bob: What is that?Mary: The fear that his humor writing cannot compete with the reality of Madoffs and Blagojevichs.