OTHER THAN IN HORSESHOES, DOES ALMOST EVER COUNT?

by David Sisler

On Saturday, October 21, 1995, I was privileged to dance with the first of three October brides. On that day, in Samara, Russia, Olga Klochneva became the wife of Vladimir Kuznetsov. The next Saturday evening, October 28, the bride was my "Russian daughter" Elena Borisenka. She became the wife of Sergei Groodson. Fast forward to Evans, Georgia, on October 3, 1998 as I walked down the aisle with Jennifer Daryln Sisler on my arm, her brown eyes staring straight ahead, seeing only George Eastman, whose wife she was to become that night.

As of this writing, Olga and Vladimir are in Sydney, Australia, where Mrs. Kutznetsova, coached by her husband, is a member of the Russian olympic shooting team. In the Atlanta Games, Olga won the gold medal for 10 meter air pistol and was favored to repeat this year. She finished seventh, 5.8 points out of first and 1.6 points out of third. For a Russian athlete a gold medal means more than world recognition. This year it means a cash award of $100,000 from a proud nation, with decreasing amounts for silver and bronze.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released last Friday, Americans' average weekly earnings for August were $474.70, adjusted for inflation. That totals out to $24,684.40 per year (if you subtract the millions earned by athletes and other entertainers, and factor in all of the minimum wage jobs, most Americans earned a lot less than $474.70 a week). The average Russian worker makes $50 per month. Calculate the missed reward in terms of rubles, and you can quickly compute that if Olga had shot six points better, she would have won the average yearly wage for 166 of her countrymen.

Interestingly, an Associated Press report by Tim Dahlerg states that when the American men's 4X100 relay free-style swimming team lost the gold medal by the length of Ian Thorpe's hand, they each lost $65,000.

It is one of the favorite sayings around our house: "Almost only counts in horse shoes, quoits, hand grenades, and atomic bombs." It certainly does not count in 10 meter women's air pistol, or free-style swimming.

"Almost" is such an easy word to use.

"Harper's Bread Basket Quick Bread Recipes" boasts "almost two dozen assorted recipes." Choices include Pennsylvania Applesauce Bread, Peanut Butter Bread, and Orange Marmalade Whole Wheat Bread. In this case, "almost" equals 18.

Monday night, in the closing days of the pennant race, Bartolo Colon of the Cleveland Indians had a double "almost." He "almost" did something no pitcher has accomplished against the New York Yankees in 42 years by "almost" throwing a perfect game. Actually, he "almost" threw a no-hitter.

The perfect game went by the wayside when Indians left-fielder Russell Branyan misplayed a David Justice fly ball in the first inning for an error. Colon later walked Justice. Luis Polonia singled in the bottom of the eighth for the Yankees only hit, was erased on a double play, and Colon struck out the Yankees in the ninth inning to end the game.

"Almost" kept the Indians percentage points ahead of the Oakland A's in the wildcard race (For the non-baseball fan, the wildcard race something that crawled and/or slithered into Major League Baseball from professional hockey and professional basketball is a chance for a team, that is not good enough to win its division, to win the World Series a contest once reserved for the best of the best).

Writing for Wired magazine, Paul Bissex reported that chemical weapons inspectors now have a new weapon of their own the "Swept Frequency Acoustic Interferometer," or SFAI. SFAI sends sound waves through a sealed container and then analyzes "the speed of travel and the rate of absorption over several frequencies." This data is then compared with the signatures of 110 toxic and industrial liquids.

Bissex writes that SFAI can "analyze the contents of almost any container at the push of a button." If there is a container the device cannot analyze, Bissex had the journalistic integrity not to tell us. There are some things we just do not have the right to know and that silence keeps a potential weakness out of the hands of terrorists.

The governor told the preacher, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian." And that is the worst possible almost. Philip Paul Bliss wrote a hymn based on the story of Agrippa and Paul. It ends hauntingly with the words, "Almost. But lost." Because of Jesus of Nazareth, God's Son, there is no reason for that almost to count.

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Published in The Augusta Chronicle 9/26/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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