I have suffered a love/hate relationship with the Olympics over the years. I enjoy the back stories of the athletes and the sacrifices their families have made so they can be there. I remember the summer games of ’72 when I realized at age 9 that I was not going to be an Olympic athlete because other than SWAC t-ball and a year of tap dancing I just did not have the athletic experience or makings of a champion. It was pretty clear that living at home with my parents was also not benefiting me in the way that being selected by my government to go live with a coach in a remote region of my home country would have. It was that summer that living vicariously through Olga Korbut I knew that my destiny was not to be an Olympic athlete but rather an Olympic fan.
I may never get used to the staggering of the winter games and the summer games, I am a child of the era of presidential elections and both Olympic games sharing a common calendar, I will admit that having an Olympics every two years instead of every four does help keep the spirit alive, the torch burning so to speak. That torch is something I like to think I have passed to the next generation. My daughter asked before Christmas break if it would be possible to bring a small spare TV of ours back to college so she and her roommate could watch the games. Half way through her third year on campus without a television and it’s the Olympics that inspire her to have one. Santa brought her a TV set so during study breaks they can catch some skating, snowboarding and hopefully some hockey.
She was born six weeks after the ’92 summer games which means I carried her through the winter and summer games of that year. When she was three we bought her a blue spandex USA outfit that came with a gold medal. We referred to it as the “winner outfit” and she wore it constantly. When I am out shopping and see a kid sporting a super hero cape or a princess costume I like to get a picture and send it to her. Wearing that winner outfit everywhere makes her a kindred spirit with all other kids bold enough to publicly proclaim how they see themselves.
My son has never cared much for sports as either a fan or a participant in the traditional sense. Where I only garnered a year of tap dance experience he trained for seven years in that discipline, along with some jazz and ballet. Where Olympic athletes perform in arenas, on slopes and sheets of ice, my son performed on stage in dance, choir and theater. He too however loves the Olympics. It is the spectacle he enjoys and the fashion that he critiques. He has committed to wearing red, white and blue for the duration of Sochi. You do not have to be a traditional sports enthusiast to love the games.
My father was a gymnast, so that was something that I loved to watch growing up. As a Minnesotan I was raised with a love of hockey and my favorite sporting event is specifically the Minnesota Boys State High School Hockey Tournament. As with many other Americans an Olympic highlight of my lifetime was the USA defeat of the Soviet Union team in 1980, which paved the way for their eventual gold medal. It seems that we are often asked to recall where we were during dark moments of our countries history but to have experienced the energy and triumph of that historical event makes one hunger for that pride and enthusiasm to be felt on a national level in that way again.
The Olympics have certainly changed within my lifetime; 1972 was the last year that a gold medal was won using wooden skis, that was the year that Canada chose not to send a hockey team in protest of the communist countries using professional athletes. Changes have been made to permit the use of professionals which for me has changed some of the spirit of the games. During the introductions this year I was disappointed that so many countries were being represented by athletes that were not citizens but rather recruits or wealthy people who could afford to find a country to be the representative of.
Despite my dissatisfaction with some of the IOC decisions, as a story teller I simply love the stories of the Olympics; unexpected victories, the relationships, the memorable disappointments and the jubilation that transcends language barriers and political ideologies. I like seeing people reduced to tears by the sound of their own national anthem and have an appreciation for the pride someone feels while being wrapped in the flag of their country. So far these games have showcased the positives of international competition that is demonstrated by the embrace of competitors, when someone who has fallen short can wrap their arms around the one who has beaten them and who is for that moment in time the best in their mutually shared passion.
I am glad that I lived in an Olympic watching home growing up. I am proud that having raised my children to watch the opening and closing ceremonies (and whatever they chose in between) that it is a time honored tradition for them as well. The best lessens from the Olympics are to find something you are passionate about and pursue it and that you don’t have to be the best at something to enjoy it. Perhaps the Olympics are our reminder that we should all put on our “winner outfit” or whatever costume it is that brings us satisfaction.