Paulie Walnuts has been located! You may have thought that the scary, anxiety-attack-prone mobster had disappeared forever when "The Sopranos" went off the air. But he showed up last night in Beijing, cleverly disguised as U.S. pole vaulter Jennifer Stuczynski's coach, Rick Suhr. And after his cameo appearance last night on NBC's prime-time broadcast, it ain't just the FBI who's going to be gunning for Walnuts, I mean Suhr. Suhr's post-meet chat with Stuczynski may represent the most unempathetic debriefing since Achilles stripped Hector naked and dragged him around the walls of Troy.
All Stuczynski had done was win the silver medal against one of the greatest and most dominant female athletes in the world, Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva. NBC barely showed the pole vault competition at all, which was a bummer, since the final in Athens was one of the greatest track and field showdowns I've ever seen. If it hadn't been for Isinbayeva, you wonder if they would even have given it as much play as they did. Recognizing a babalicious Slavic long-stick-wielder when they see one, NBC gave the glamour-puss Isinbayeva a few minutes of soft-feature time, during which she basically said, "Hollywood, come get my hot Russian ass!" Anyway, Isinbayeva won the gold for the second Olympics in a row, and set another world record, which she can apparently do at will. No one is even in her league. Which means that if you're a woman pole vaulter, winning silver is the most you can realistically hope to do.
So you'd think that Suhr would have had a few celebratory words for his charge, a pat on the back, a little smooch. But no.
The camera focused in on Suhr, in the stands, lecturing Stuczynski, who was a few feet away on the track. As we roll the transcript, visualize a kind of meat-faced, Dan White-looking guy with a New Yawk accent who never smiles.
"It's the same old same old. You're losing takeoff at the big heights. What are you gonna do? You gotta learn to keep takeoff. You got caught at that meat grinder. I did not -- and I told 10 people -- I did not want to be caught in that meat grinder between 65 and 80. You had to though. You weren't on, you know, your warmups didn't go well, you went 55, you got caught up in that meat grinder. What are you gonna do. [shrugs] What are you gonna do. [looks off to the side] You didn't have the legs. Her legs are fresh. Hey, it's a silver medal though. Not bad for someone who's been pole vaulting for four years." [No smile. Looks down at his BlackBerry. Stuczynski walks away.]
Ah yes, that venerable "beatings will continue until morale improves" school of communication. But what are you gonna do.
Suhr, a former champion wrestler (why is that not surprising?) discovered Stuczynski and turned her into a star, and his pole vaulters have won 11 national championships, so he obviously knows what he's doing. What are you gonna do. And anyone who's played competitive sports has probably had a coach like Suhr, a hard-ass who doesn't do nice -- and whose method turns out winners. What are you gonna do. And later, we heard Stuczynski saying she wanted to go celebrate with her family and coach, so either their relationship isn't that bad or she's suffering from Stockholm syndrome. What are you gonna do.
But still, if I were Suhr, I'd avoid certain parts of New Jersey. There are some guys there who are looking for Paulie Walnuts, and the resemblance is just a little too strong. And if somebody whacks him by mistake, you just know what he's going to say as he lugs the body down to Satriale's Pork Store for disposal.
You got caught in that meat grinder. What are you gonna do.