The Olympic Spirit – Alive And Well In Vancouver

The 21st Winter Olympics are ending tonight.  These Olympic Games will be remembered for many things.  The opening ceremony was brilliant until a blemished torch lighting ceremony.  Even before the Games officially opened Nodar Kumaritashvili from Georgia died as he crashed into a steel pole while taking a luge training run on the fastest sliding track in the world at Whistler.  Throw in some lousy weather conditions that had everyone scratching their heads and you’ve got the potential for one of the strangest Olympiads of all time.

During every Olympics I pay close attention to the broadcast styles and angles being used, otherwise known as production techniques.  I’m always curious to see if the network is using any new technology while bringing the Games to me.  This year I was pleasantly surprised to see NBC sticking with the basics and focusing more on the competition and the human side of the Games instead of using us as guinea pigs while unveiling some new, flashy broadcast technology that would just get in the way of our viewing enjoyment.

Every Olympic Games are different.  You’ll see the same athletes overlapping for a few Games in a row, but it seems someone we’ve never seen or heard of before finds a way to come to the fore and make an impression on us.  To me, that’s what the Olympic Games are all about – the personal sacrifices, the endless training, the right to follow your dreams and the will power to make your dreams come true.  Not just for the athletes but also for their families.  When you see people in the crowd cheering their son, daughter, sister, or brother on, in many cases it’s been their sacrifice, too.  The Olympic Games are a gene pool of human feel-good stories waiting to thrust themselves into our living rooms and onto us.  That’s what we take away after all of the medals have been counted and all the athletes have returned home.

I think the performance given by Canada’s Joannie Rochette just hours after learning of her mother’s death showed the embodiment of what the Olympic Spirit represents.  This figure skater showed a level of courage, strength, and fortitude that I have rarely seen in any athlete.  To be able to perform as she did and subsequently move the entire audience and the entire world was nothing short of a super-human effort.  I applaud the broadcast team of Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton, Sandra Bezic, Tracy Wilson and Andrea Joyce for their humanity in describing her story and her performance.  If you didn’t have a lump in your throat, they weren’t doing their job.  I’d say did their job.

After a 62 year medal drought for the United States in bobsledding (I prefer “bobsledding” to “bobsleighing” any day), Steven Holcomb piloted USA-1 to the gold in the four-man bobsledding event.  Erasing the futility was certainly cool, but when you think that only a few years ago Holcomb was ready to announce his retirement from the sport because of a degenerative eye disease, this win is pretty special.  Bobsledding can look like an easy sport at times, but it’s not.  It’s about teamwork and exactness in reactions and skill.  Our bobsledding program is back and on track, so to speak, because of Steven Holcomb’s perseverance, his will to win and his sacrifices made.  Also known as his Olympic Spirit.

I’m not a big Shaun White fan, but I have to admit he is partially responsible for the addition of snowboarding at the Games and I’ve really enjoyed it.  The half pipe is fun to watch and I’m in awe of the tricks these people can pull off.  The popularity of snowboard cross is going to steadily increase.  It’s entertaining to watch and anything can happen during each race.  What a great addition to the Olympic menu!

One thing many people fail to realize is the athletes participating in the games all know each other.  They compete against each other often during a given year.  You can see evidence of this in speed skating.  Apollo Ono knows the tendencies of the Korean skaters.  Likewise, they are aware of his.  That’s one thing that makes speed skating such a great event.  It’s a push and pull, a tug of war that makes predictions obsolete and generates a special form of excitement.  For Ono to win eight medals in three Olympic Games is something quite special.  Now if he’d just get rid of that thing on his chin I could stand watching him compete!  But seriously, he understands the weight of winning those medals.  Through all of the competition, he doesn’t take for granted the fact that he was fortunate to be able to do what he’s done and he achieved it all through having fun and enjoying the experience, just as Shaun White has.

With the closing ceremony approaching, these Games have witnessed new memories made that will last a lifetime.  Just like we saw Alberto Tomba cheering on fellow countryman Giuliano Razzoli to a gold medal in the men’s slalom last night, we will one day see the likes of Evan Lysacek cheering on another figure skating hopeful or Lindsey Vonn coaching a women’s downhiller.  And just like I did last night when I saw Tomba in the crowd, I couldn’t help but think back to watching him win three gold medals in the Calgary Olympics in 1988.  That led me to think back to other performances that grabbed the headlines in Olympics passed.  The Olympic Spirit causes such recollection and these things help make humans a better race.

As I said before, the Olympic Games aren’t about medal counts.  Every athlete there is already a champion.  Just to be able to show up on that world stage is an accomplishment most of us “regular people” will never experience.  In the case of Canada’s Rochette, just to be able to perform was enough.  For Bode Miller, these Games were about personal redemption.  Apollo Ono is just happy for the opportunity to compete, and his medals symbolize his Olympic Spirit – not his dominance in a sport.  To see the smiles on Shaun White’s face during the opening ceremony showed his genuine excitement of just being part of it all and his true appreciation of just being there.

After the United States national anthem finished playing at the four-man bobsled medal ceremony, the twelve athletes from the three countries on the podium came together, put their arms around each other, and posed for a picture.  The bronze medalists smiled and were just as happy as the Americans.  The silver medalists gladly melded with the others for a picture taken that showed it doesn’t matter what country you’re from or whether you won or came in third.  It showed that for this day, the Olympic Spirit lives in all of us.

And no medal count can put that into words.

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