Wednesday, February 22, 2006

All That Glitters

Every two years I find myself glued to the television as the Olympic games play out across the screen. From the pomp of the opening ceremonies til the flag is lowered and the flame is extinguished, there are stories of the dream, the struggle and the victory. Sadly, there are also stories of the dream, the struggle and the defeat.

In 1996, I was privileged to be able to attend one morning session of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia and that fulfilled a lifelong dream for me. As I walked into the stadium, saw the flame burning brightly and heard the Olympic theme play over the loudspeaker, I burst into tears. They were happy tears, mind you, but I just couldn't stop them. Ever since I'd watched Wilma Rudolph run to victory in the 1960 Rome games, I'd wanted to be there in person and feel the Olympic spirit.

There are records of Olympic games dating back to 776 B.C., where foot races were the only sport. Gradually, more competitions were added and in 1894 the Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic Games. The games were primarily summer events until 1924 when the International Winter Sports Week was held in Chamonix, France. Two years later, these games were retroactively declared to be the first Winter Olympic Games. Beginning in the early 90's, the scheduling of the games was changed so that the summer and winter games are held two years apart, rather than in the same year, a move made necessary by the expense of hosting the games.

And that brings us to the 20th Winter Olympic games currently being held in Torino, Italy. The Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius -- Swifter, Higher, Stronger -- has never been more apparent as we've watched records fall and outstanding performances take place before our eyes.

The Winter Olympics have been filled with great moments and athletes.
  • The gold-medal ice dancing performance of Torvill and Dean at the 1984 Sarajevo games. The thrumming beat of Ravel's Bolero still stirs me into a frenzy.
  • The surprise gold of US skater Sarah Hughes in the 2002 ladies' figure skating event in Salt Lake City.
  • Do you believe in miracles? Yes! I watched as Al Michaels uttered those famous words when the 1980 US men's hockey team won a gold medal over the favored Soviet team.
  • Who can forget Dan Janssen's two falls in Calgary in 1988 as the gold medal eluded him? But stronger and more determined than ever, he returned to the rink in Lillehammer in 1994 and won not only a gold medal, but the hearts of the world.
  • Pixie-like Dorothy Hammill was the media darling of the 1976 games in Innsbruck where she won an unlikely gold medal in figure skating. Just as famous as her skating was her haircut.
  • In 1968 a brash French skier names Jean Claud Killy sped down the mountain like an avalanche to win gold medals in all three Alpine events. In a sport normally dominated by the Austrians and Italians, his victory was all the more sweet.
  • In the 1994 games, US speed skater Bonnie Blair sealed her place in US Olympic history by wining her sixth medal and becoming the most decorated US Winter Olympian.
  • And in the current games, Anne Abernathy - AKA Grandma Luge - who competes under the flag of the US Virgin Islands, became the oldest woman to compete in the winter games. At age 52, she's in her 6th Olympic games. Sadly, she crashed on a training run and broke her right wrist, making her unable to take part in the competition. However, she successfully petitioned the IOC to allow her name to be listed on the official results with the DNS notation (Did Not Start).

The games have also had their share of controversy. Does the name Tonya Harding ring a bell? What about the scoring scandal in the pairs skating in Salt Lake City? The 2006 Torino games have not escaped controversy either.

Just what makes a great Olympian? First let's start with a hefty dose of talent, add in a heap of blood, sweat, tears and pain, sprinkle in a lot of drive and determination and top it with belief and desire. I spoke with a sports psychologist once who told me that at the top levels of Olympic competition, all the athletes are pretty equal in terms of ability. What separates the gold, silver and bronze medals is often their level of belief. Many times it's not how much an athlete wants to win, but how badly he or she doesn't want to lose that makes the difference.

Sometimes the road to Olympic gold takes a major detour. Take the case of Alabamian Vonetta Flowers. She was recruited as a nine-year-old to run track, and after a promising high school career, she attended the University of Alabama where she won 35 conference titles. However, she was plagued by injuries and after a disappointing show at the 2000 Olympic trials, she retired from track competition. Two days after those trials, her husband spotted a flyer urging runners to try out for bobsledding. She wasn't interested but accompanied her husband and encouraged him. A pulled hamstring ended his dream, but on a whim, Vonetta tried out and was selected.

She rose quickly in the ranks and in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, she and her partner won a gold medal in the two-person bobsled. This made Vonetta Flowers the first Alabamian to win a medal in the Winter Olympics and the first black athlete, male or female from any country, to win Winter Olympic gold. She is back in Torino attempting to repeat her golden performance from four years ago.

Of course, someone always has to finish last. Remember Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, the hapless ski jumper from Great Britain? Or how about the famous Jamaican bobsled team? They finished last but they still had drive and determination and a willingness to spit in the eye of convention that said "Bobsledders don't come from Jamaica" or "A ski jumper from Great Britain?"

And just what does this have to do with writing?

It has everything to do with it. You must have a dream, a goal, a desire and determination. You must learn and practice. You'll laugh and cry and suffer rejection and defeat. You will plan and keep believing and maybe even take a detour or two until one day it all comes together and you get "The Call," which will be your equivalent of an Olympic gold medal.

I believe that everyone has an "Olympic" moment in their lives, be it winning a grade school race, graduating from college, marrying the person of your dreams, giving birth to your first child, winning that first writing contest or selling the first book. It may not be accompanied by a medal hung around your neck while the national anthem plays in the background, but it is special nonetheless.

What has been your "Olympic" moment?

P.S. I'm a shameless namedropper and I shall take this opportunity to share a special moment in my life. Meet Jean Claud. :-)


Your Pal said...

Ohmygosh, MORE than I ever wanted to know about the Olympics! I watched the short women's figure skating last night and was it ever exciting. I've been watching the Olympics for years and didn't think there was anything left to enthrall me, but I was wrong. This year's controversy in men's speed skating, the US's best hope for women's figure skating dropping out -- Whew! This winter Olympics has a lot going on.

BTW, Playground Moniter, I think being three days late to comment on a blog about 'changing the calendar around' is just about right!

Problem Child said...

My ex-boyfriend won a gold medal in the 96 Olympics. We parted on very good terms so I was cheering my heart out the night he won and nearly cried while he was on the medal stand. (He'd gone to the 92 Olympics and finished 5th. We dated in 93, so I'd heard all about it.)

For some reason, DG felt threatened by my ex's gold medal...
I finally had to explain that you don't get gold medals for, ahem, *that* activity, but if they did, DG would certianly be on the medal stand.


Problem Child said...


Grooooovy outfit, PM


Playground Monitor said...

I'll have you know that was my first ski outfit and I bought it in Germany. It spent 4 winters on the slopes in Austria before immigrating to the US. The photo of me and Jean Claud was taken in 1986 in Steamboat Spring, Colorado. He was charming and I was 15 pounds lighter. *g*