The Olympics are almost here! The Olympics are almost herrre! And one of my favorite things to do every even-numbered year is to kick back for two glorious weeks and watch other people achieve!
I have to admit though that, just like when I wrote about the Games four years ago (in “The Citius, Altius, Fortius Bit”), I can’t help feeling a little apprehension along with all my excitement. I just want so much for everything to go well and without incident, you know? It’s important to me.
I haven’t attended an Olympics in person yet – but, oh, have I got memories that stretch back a lifetime of hunkering down with family to watch them on tv! Historically a sports-minded clan (one brother was a diver and the other a pole vaulter and wrestler, while I used to swim), we’d all thrill to the accomplishments of summer superstars like Mark Spitz and Nadia Comaneci, and winter wonders like Brian Boitano and Bonnie Blair. And I remember getting to stay up extra late on a school night once to watch a Closing Ceremony because legendary commentator Jim McKay told his audience we should be allowed!
This year, I’ll be home to uphold tradition and watch as much of the Games as I can – but several times in the past, I’ve forgotten to keep the Olympic fortnight free and ended up having the world’s best athletes and some of the world’s most lovely scenery competing for my attention…
As a working grown-up (meaning, a grown-up who works – not necessarily someone who functions well as a grown-up), I’ve often tried to piggy-back vacations onto holidays like President’s Day and, in doing so, I’ve ended up double-booked for the Winter Olympics. So while my Olympian childhood memories are exclusively tied to hearth and home, a few more recent ones are attached to other places.
Like gorgeous Sunriver in Oregon where, in winter and summer, I used to meet up with the folks as often as we all could manage. Occasionally, we’d try our own hand there at Olympic events like skating at the tiny local rink or cross-country skiing around nearby Mt. Bachelor – but mainly, for us, Sunriver was just a beautiful place to savor each other’s company!
Trouble was, I’d neglect to check my calendar and so set up a rendezvous not once – but twice – right during the Olympics.
In 2002, we had to interrupt our well established routines of pleasant sightseeing, leisurely strolling, and absently staring out of windows to watch the Salt Lake City Games which, alas, included Canada’s defeat of the US for men’s ice hockey Gold (perhaps with luck from the Canadian dollar secretly embedded at center ice?). And when I goofed again in 2006, we were compelled to pause in our Sunriver strolling to enjoy the kick-off of the Torino Games with the lighting of the Olympic Flame by real cross-country skiing champ, Stefania Belmondo.
It worked out fine in the end. Between Olympic events, we’d simply return to “events” of our own like my practicing winter weather driving (never met a snow bank I couldn’t careen into…), our ordering liqueur coffees after dinner over a marathon period of nights, and Dad’s tending to great logs in the cheery cabin fireplace until they were reduced to tiny, tiny embers.
Practice made wonderfully perfect – except for the winter weather driving…
And the last Winter Olympics in Sochi? I did it again. I inadvertently booked myself on a little getaway to Vancouver where the Olympics had been four years before.
Having often traveled to Vancouver to play hockey myself, I was pleased to revisit old haunts, but did have to cut my reunions short in order to watch Olympic coverage in my hotel room – especially of Olympic hockey!
One Vancouver mid-morning, I was all settled in with pj’s and slippers on to watch the latest chapter of the now epic hockey rivalry between the Canadian and US women, when I felt something just wasn’t right. As the Gold Medal saga unfolded, I realized that viewing the Olympics was only part of my tradition – and fully to uphold it, I had to be among people who cared as much as I did.
So I quickly dressed and dashed off to a place that was both familiar and dear to me – I hurried down to Granville Island!
Granville Island is actually a peninsula – but it’s still delightful to ferry over (even though you can drive) on one of the little boats running from False Creek and other spots in the area. While I love wandering the “island’s” wonderful market and eclectic shops, this time I was in the market for hockey!
I found the game playing in the bar section of a restaurant and, though it was early, I ordered champagne (what with its being Happy Hour over in Sochi!). It turned out to be a thrilling contest that needed sudden-death overtime to decide – and when Marie Philip-Poulin scored the winning goal for Canada, the bar erupted in cheers!
Although it was a deflating moment for this US hockey fan (and I refuse to see a pattern), I managed polite applause and doled out congratulations to nearby tables. It wasn’t the outcome I’d looked for, but it was still great fun to be with a crowd of fellow enthusiasts! And, if I’m dead honest, not even a US victory that day could have surpassed my all time favorite Olympic hockey moment anyhow.
A friend of mine once had the pleasure of meeting Winter Olympian, Mike Eruzione from whom she got an autograph. It included his signature and a little phrase my friend and I agree kind of looks like: “Always behave”. Not bad advice, I suppose. On closer inspection, though, you can see it’s the slightly more inspirational: “Always believe“.
Of course, Mike Eruzione was captain of the gang of college-aged hockey players who beat a seasoned Russian squad in what came to be known in 1980 as the “Miracle on Ice” – and beyond being my favorite Olympic hockey moment, it’s likely to remain my favorite Olympic moment ever! It doesn’t feel so long ago somehow that I was a giddy school kid who became smitten with talented and dreamy-eyed goalie Jim Craig, and that my whole family (which makes the moment all the more special) was sweating out the game together. We watched breathlessly as the upstart US boys held their own minute after agonizing minute until, as the final seconds ticked down, Al Michaels asked the country if they believed in miracles – and the resounding answer was “yes”!
Another friend used to tease me about still reveling in the Olympic Games and their ideals of sportsmanship and fellowship. How could I, she’d argue, when this world stage had been co-opted in the past for corrupt, commercial and political ends?
I know, I know. And although I worry as I said each time the Olympics roll around, I’m always hopeful that the Games will prove as they also have in the past to be two dazzling weeks of athleticism, artistry and amity. That examples well worth following will be set. And that the very best in human nature will be on display.
I do worry – and not without cause. But when it comes to the endurance of the spirit and ideals of the Olympic Games? It’s like Mr. Eruzione says –
I always believe!