I’m an Olympiac. From the usually dreadfully bizarre and overproduced opening ceremonies to the tear-filled elated medal ceremonies to the maudlin closing ceremonies and through every objective, subjective, competitive, clear-cut, mystery-cloaked competition in between.
And except for the Barcelona summer games, when I was home with the flu for a full week of Olympic Triple Cast, these Salt Lake games may be my all-time favorite.
Why? Check out the things that make the Olympics, summer or winter, among the most entertaining two weeks in any (thank goodness now it’s every other) year.
Where Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun Times sees only a bunch of rich white kids, I see Romanians, Croatians, and Slovenians competing with each other peacefully. I see Asians, Blacks, whites all looking stunning in Lycra. I see Muslims, Christians, Jews (in figure skating costumes with Stars of David), Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, agnostics, and atheists all joined together for common cause. I see rich kids and working class kids, city kids and farm kids, college graduates and high-school dropouts. And perhaps most importantly, immensely talented well-trained athletes competing for medals, grinders competing for their personal bests, and athletes who’s hearts bring them with no hope of more than participating joyfully. Diversity doesn’t come only in color. And brotherhood across any of these divides is the part of the Olympic ideal that is alive and well.
No, not the mountains. Although the view of the alpine start house was absolutely vertiginous. Olympic scenery for me is of the masculine variety. (Come on, don’t be surprised, I’m only human. And how many sports announcers have you heard slavering over Sergei Federov’s main squeeze?) Yep, once you clean off the frozen snot and spittle, there are no handsomer men in the world than those Norwegians. What’s Norwegian for ”hubba hubba,” Thomas Alsgard?
Salt Lake had scads of these. The surprisingly articulate and delightfully unrestrained Simon Amman gave us eye-opening performances and a giggle that had to make the coldest heart melt.
U.S. skeleton athletes, who finished gold and silver, celebrated together as though they both had platinum. Their star turn on Leno included an adorably teen giddy reaction to a heart throb actor I’d never heard of. (I am, therefore, officially middle aged.)
Truly Inspiring Stories
Sometimes the press tries to make inspiring stories with a disease of the week telemovie flavor out of hang nails and bad hair days. But every once in a while you have truly inspiring stories. In Lillehammer it was Vegard Ulvang skiing on in the face of his grief over the death of his beloved brother Kjetil. We heard the story told and retold of Vegard skiing out into the endless winter nights in search of his missing brother, who’s body was found only after the spring thaw.
In Salt Lake City it is the story of Chris Klug. Although that tiny cynical section of my brain suspects there would have been nearly as much fuss if he’d had an appendectomy. It is truly remarkable that Chris Klug is back and world class in his sport (any sport) after (not just so soon after, but ever after) having a liver transplant.
I don’t usually watch the Champions Exhibitions. It is the competitive skating that gets me going. Exhibitions usually leave me cold. But for some reason I was tuned in when Michelle Kwan skated to “Fields of Gold” and I was stunned when Kwan struck her final pose and it was clear she’d been weeping as she skated. As I watched her luminous smile through the tracks of her tears, I found myself verklempt in sympathy, and even more a fan than ever, because whatever mixture of sadness, disappointment, pride, and nostalgia left her moist, it was a genuine human moment in a sport too often devoid of truth or humanity.