Note: Sorry for the odd typeface sizing. I lost my usual Word template, don’t ask me how. Will figure it out before my next post.
If I’d looked at the calendar and had seen what was coming, I might have realized in January that whole notion of getting back to my previously scheduled programming was doomed through the middle of February. The Sochi winter Olympics are upon us, and as a result, certain things have come to a standstill at our house. The laundry baskets are full, stacks of unread magazines are piling up, and leftovers are the order of the day. Oh, and we keep running out of milk. The only thing multiplying around here are the dust bunnies in every corner. Hey, I can’t help it—the games are afoot!
The obligation to drop everything for the duration of the Olympics started early in my life. I grew up in a sports-obsessed home, winter sports especially. We skied every weekend and every school vacation, December to March, sometimes earlier, often later. I discovered slalom and giant slalom, or perhaps my mother discovered ski racing for me, her fifth child, as a useful weekend childcare option. I became a sponge for any tidbits of ski racing lore I could glean from any source. I knew Jean Claude Killy had won three gold medals, and I loved his amusing trick of arching his feet backwards and then thrusting his skis forward through the start wand—an act that the world eventually realized was a clever way to get a head of steam going before the electric timing was engaged. I perfected my own “Killy start” early on, even though the officials used stop-watches to hand time my races.
When I was in the fourth grade, I longed to be Nancy Greene, especially after she won two Olympic medals, silver and gold. I confounded my classmates, none of whom shared my skiing obsession, by always citing Greene as my hero. I cried inconsolably over the fact that my parents wouldn’t send me to a summer ski camp at Whistler, wherever that was. Nancy’s image was featured on the flyer, along with vague wording about her association with the camp. My mom read that as marketing catnip for the likes of me. I read it as a chance to meet my idol and demonstrate my giant slalom prowess to her. Alas, my mother’s sensibilities won out, and I was left to only imagine that brush ski racing royalty.
My summer Olympics memories are vivid as well, even though we were not a family of rowers or divers. I did have sisters who were besotted by the whole equestrian realm, but their interest wafted over my head, skipping me entirely. That said, I could get sucked into watching almost any Olympic sport, including their beloved dressage. To say we got a good view is a bit of an exaggeration; there was nothing even vaguely hi-def about our Olympic viewing back then. The peacock on our TV was still just shades of gray, and our channel-changing knob had been broken for so long, I’d forgotten that there was a way to switch from one station to another without employing the claw end of a hammer. But despite the fuzzy black-and-white images, Bob Beamon’s incredible long jump in Mexico City was just as breathtaking with the vertical hold needing constant adjustment. His emotional reaction upon smashing the world record was no less dramatic for the visual fuzz.
Confession: I was always more interested in the individual sports than the team sports, which probably says something about me. Or perhaps just something about the lack of sports options I had when I was young. It wasn’t until my freshman spring that I discovered track and field, where I could compete on a team and for myself, simultaneously. From there I concocted dreams of being a gold medal winning winter and summer Olympian, in alpine skiing and in track and field. Which would have made me the shortest (and slowest) hurdler ever to claim international victory, but no matter.
Nah, probably not.
As the years have flown by, I’ve stockpiled dozens of favorite Olympic moments. I was high school senior when my own Olympic dreams were replaced with college applications, back when I watched Franz Klammer ski on the edge of peril to his downhill gold medal. Four years later, in my college dorm, I viewed the USA-USSR hockey game on a tiny TV that popped up from the portable AM-FM radio, the one that my mom let me borrow for the Lake Placid games. She knew I’d be grateful for a way to watch, even if the screen was the size of a coaster. Five winter Olympiads later, I remember our then-seven year old son being smitten with Cammi Granato, star of the USA women’s hockey team, as she skated for gold at the Nagano Olympics in ‘98. That was the year we broke our No-TV-on-ski-weekends rule, and hooked up the cable “for the duration of the games.”
* * * * *
These days, the connection that compels me to watch is the same as ever: the thrill of a job well done, the pure joy that results from an effort beyond expectation in the Olympic spotlight. The era where my sweetie and I used to watch the alpine races to see people we’d competed against, racers we knew from high school or college, has been replaced by a new era, where we check to see how our ski racing friends’ kids have fared, along with our kids’ friends. Something about having been part of that ski racing world years ago makes us lifetime members of the tiny intersecting set of people who have passed that love of the game on to another generation.
Friends’ kids and kids’ friends: this happy collection of US Olympians includes Julia Ford, far left, whose mom and aunt and uncle my sweetie and I ski raced with eons ago, and who had my brother-in-law as both a ski coach and history teacher. On the far right is Nolan Kasper, our older son’s ski academy classmate, occasional spring term college roommate and dedicated Joe Dodge Slalom attendee.
The games are winding up this weekend. Perhaps, come Monday, my life will be back on schedule. Or, at least, I’ll have a better shot at getting back to my New Year’s resolution of going to bed earlier, and getting more sleep.
But first I have to get up early, and see how this daughter of a college teammate of my sweetie, this sister to my son’s tenth grade roommate, will fare in the final women’s alpine event at Sochi. Go Mikaela! We’re all rooting for you.