Families from all over the world gathered around the television on Friday night to watch the spectacle that is the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games. The South Korean hosts did not disappoint with a fantastic spectacle of art, sports, and culture that helped to highlight what the best in sports can be.
Our family is a huge fan of one of the greatest sports movies of all time about one of, if not the greatest, event in U.S. Olympic history, “Miracle.”
Every time we would watch it when the kids were younger it would generate questions like “Dad, where were you when the U.S. took out the Russian hockey team?”
I debated about making up some great story about having a hockey party with all of my friends, draped in our stars and stripes, certain of a U.S. victory over what was probably one of the most dominant teams in sports history, but I settled on the truth — I was with my friends watching “The Grateful Dead Movie” at Western Maryland College.
We came out of the movies, oblivious to the fact that while we in the dark, the USA pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history and the country had erupted in a huge party. We were completely shocked that only a few days earlier, the same Russian team had sent us home with our hockey tails between our legs, so we at first had trouble believing that what people were telling us was true
The Olympics provide such great and lasting memories that represent what we often face in life. The political aspects of the Olympics are undeniable and with the tensions in the Korean Peninsula, maybe a bit more focus may happen in this Olympics.
My first recollection of the Olympic spirit was when U.S. track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their arms in a “Black Power” salute while Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore his human rights badge in support of their protest.
The horrific tragedy of the 1972 Munich games in which the “Black September” terrorists stormed the Olympic Athlete village and eventually murdered 11 Israeli coaches and athletes, highlighted the worst in human nature as it mixed politics and sports to a tragic end. I still have a vivid memory of ABC’s Jim McKay breaking the news to the world in complete disbelief and shock.
President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games and the corresponding Soviet boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games denied not only the athletes the opportunity to fulfill years of training and their life-long dreams, but also the spectators from witnessing how the athletic spirit of competition and sportsmanship can minimize our differences and showcase our similarities.
But the Olympics also highlight the culmination of God-given athletic ability, incredible training facilities, a bit of luck, and countless hours of hard work by the athletes as they get themselves prepared to compete with the world’s best. When everything comes together, you get the beauty of a Dorothy Hamill or Kristi Yamaguchi in figure skating, the excitement of Franz Klammer throwing caution to the wind in the men’s downhill competition, or Shaun White improvising with breathtaking new tricks in the half pipe competition.
Everyone has their favorite events when watching the Olympics unfold. My wife likes figure skating. A few years ago my boys all would have enjoyed watching different sports, but for some odd reason they have all become huge fans of women’s curling, specifically the Norwegian or Swedish athletes. And I’m a traditionalist, choosing to watch the Alpine downhill and slalom skiing competitions.
One of my favorite Olympic athletes of all time never won a medal. Never got his national anthem played while he stood atop the podium. But he did get his fifteen minutes of fame. In the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Michael Edwards, better known as “Eddie the Eagle,” became the first athlete to represent Great Britain in the Ski Jumping competition.
For many of us, our introduction to ski jumping was what many of us grew up knowing as the “agony of defeat” from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Finishing last in both the 70m and 90m events, many saw his failure as comical but to me what he did in Calgary that year emphasized the true Olympic Spirit.
No matter your favorite, for the next couple of weeks, we’ll be watching a lot less of our weekly sitcoms and a lot more of the Olympics. Former Two-time Olympian figure skater and current television commentator Johnny Weir said it best: “I love the Olympic Games. The Olympics are an event that few can fathom but all can enjoy, and that's why athletes work our whole lives to put on the greatest show on Earth.”
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Hope you enjoy the next few weeks of sport at its best.