Olympics...history in the making

I LOVE the Olympics! I loved playing sports in high school and college, so I appreciate good athleticism, but I am also an "artsy" person. And there is art to each and every sport in the Olympics. Cross country skiing combines strength, grace, and speed. Downhill skiing is just plain frightening...the control they have at speeds that I wouldn't even drive my car. If I were to start down that hill (and trust me, you'd have to PUSH me down), it wouldn't be long before I would be throwing my arms over my head, scrunching my eyes closed, and hoping that whatever I crashed into would be soft! Add the huge ramp and jump and you might as well sign my death certificate. Bobsledding and the luge have got to be like riding the ultimate roller coaster. You know that feeling, when your stomach flies up into your throat. I usually spend the rest of the ride trying to swallow my stomach back down...that and screaming. Those athletes continue hurdling downward trying to become one with the track...art in motion. Snowboarding combines speeds and twists and soaring through the air for a few seconds of magic. And figure skating combines almost all of the above. And, of course, I have to point out that the Norwegian curling team's pants have added an element of art that's never been seen before!

The Olympics are a little bit of history in the making. But history becomes a list of dates and events that bring a cloudy glaze over one's eyes if it's not made real. The Olympics become a list of stats and unknown bodies racing for the finish line if they're not made real. So how do you make a bunch of numbers come alive? For most, it's got to be the stories. Each athlete has his own story, and learning about them makes you root for them a little harder. And it makes those from other countries competitors, not enemies. The individual stories bring out the best of the games. The determination, the sacrifices, triumphs, and even heartbreaks.

Shaun White (US gold medalist snowboarder) had a snowboarding accident at age 11 with some pretty serious injuries. The natural thing to do would be to choose a different path. A not-so-gentle nudge out of his comfort zone from his mother, of all people, got him back on track. Now it's like a glimpse of pure magic to watch him fly. My favorite is when he flies off the pipe and straight up without any twists, turns, or tricks. For a second, there is this unnatural silence as we all hold our breath, followed by a gasp of incredulity, and then the cheering! He allows us to join him in a moment of unadulterated thrill.

Apollo Ohno (US short track speed skater) bucked his dad so hard during his teenage years that they were ready to give up on each other. Turns out that a few days alone in an isolated cabin can induce some pretty deep soul searching and bring a boy to the crossroads of becoming a man. He is now on his way to becoming the most decorated US winter Olympian. Hannah and I have had some fun watching him as she loves to point out how weird (in her opinion) his beard is. So when she sees him on TV, she says, "Look! There's Weird Beard!" And then we both shout, "Oh No!" Totally corny, we know...but it always makes us laugh. In a bad mood? Look for Apollo Ohno, point to him and shout, "Oh NO!" I guarantee it will work!

Lindsey Jacobelli (US snowboard cross racer) was leading the pack and headed for gold in Torino (2006) when she fell just before crossing the finish line. She did get the silver, but I'm sure it felt like little more than a consolation prize. This year, after racing almost flawlessly all day, her fall came in the semi-finals. She didn't even make the podium. She had to be crushed. But when interviewed, while it was obvious that she was disappointed, she also dug deep and tried to be gracious and look for the positive. I'm sure once the cameras were off, she found somewhere to be alone and cried her eyes out. I almost wanted to go with her.

Noelle Pikus-Pace (US skeleton athlete) was in a freak accident during the Olympic trials in 2006 that left her with a compound fracture in her shin. An injury so severe that doctors said it would be months before she could even walk again, let alone race. She was racing just six weeks later. However, because of bad timing, she still had to sit out the Olympics as an alternate, an incredibly disappointing outcome for her. Planning to retire for good after those Olympics, she gave birth to her little girl...a day that she still calls "the best day of my life." Obviously that retirement turned out to be not-so-permanent, and she's having a blast in Vancouver. Motherhood seems to agree with her...it's clear that her daughter still puts the biggest smile on her face. She said it so well when she said, "Being a mom, and being at the Olympics...it just doesn't get any better!"

As each event closes, medal or not, true champions begin to emerge in the aftermath. And by "true champion," I don't necessarily mean medal winners. A true champ is the fourth place winner who, when asked how she feels with a microphone in her face, makes the cameraman laugh when she says with a big grin, "Aw, MAN!" and goes on to congratulate the winners. It's the true champ who realizes that family and personal goals make the years of hard work and sacrifice worth it much more than a medal around their neck. It's a true champ who admits that it's hard to walk away from all of that without a single reward but also admits that those on the podium deserve to be there. And it's a true champ who, gold in hand (or on the neck), handles controversy and criticism with grace and class, looks his critic/role model/competitor in the eye and says, "That's okay...you did great! Congratulations!" and means it.

My kids are old enough now to begin taking all of this in, and we are having a great time together watching, learning and cheering on our favorites. I hope you are too. It's an opportunity that only comes along every four years. Well, okay, every two years now that they've staggered the summer and winter games.

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