Olympic sized greetings to you! Here in the midst of the Tokyo Olympic fortnight, thought I’d repost an early blogging effort (with some tweaks and new content) published on the eve of the Sochi Winter Olympics back in 2014! When I wrote about my worries for those Games that “everyone on this big international stage stay safe”, I couldn’t have imagined I’d be worrying about a global pandemic this time around…
A week into them though, I can confess I’m quite happily surprised that my hopes for and belief in this grand tradition haven’t been dimmed! The first sentence of this post and the last still hold true – and I’m so very glad!
I love the Olympics! Always have. Ever since I was a little girl watching them to learn how to compete, how to win – and sometimes (with my big brother’s help too) how to keep on keepin’ on.
When my travels take me to a city that’s played host, I can’t help stopping to breathe the same air and grab a photo where the sporting youth of the world once assembled!
I’m thrilled we’re on the eve of the Winter Olympic fortnight! But as the torch makes its way to the stadium in Sochi, I’ve felt my usual worries creeping in. Will there be too much commercialism? Will an event be tarnished by a cheating scandal? And, most important, will everyone on this big international stage stay safe?
I’m concerned. And yet every time the Games begin, the ideals they’re meant to showcase warm my heart like I’m standing right beside an Olympic cauldron!
As a kid, I had dreams of being an Olympic athlete and standing on that top step as my anthem played. As with other childhood notions though – like of being an actress and a princess and someone who kept her room clean – it wasn’t to be.
I was passable at standard sports like running and swimming. But a basic pattern with me was to be in love with a sport or discipline right up until I realized that to be great, I’d have to narrow my focus and do lots of that practicing thing – and then and there the honeymoon would end. So no small wonder that while I’ve made it to my share of Olympic venues, it’s been strictly as a tourist.
Even so – Olympic ideals can be enacted on small stages too.
Back in grade school, I loved participating in the “Little” Olympics! The youth of the city of El Cerrito would gather at the high school field once a year and compete in events like broad jumping, running, and (my specialty!) kickball kicking. The top prize was a shiny medal with the profile of Amos Alonzo Stagg on it that hung from a red, white and blue ribbon. While I probably should have been striving as the Olympic motto goes to be “faster,” “higher” and “stronger,” the truth was that if I got one of those medals – or maybe a pretty colored ribbon – I was happy!
But a different Olympic motto came into play when, at about age seven, I competed in a Little Olympic heat of the 50 Yard Dash. I was a decent runner and won my share of races. (Although, there was one girl who always beat me – I may not be super-competitive, but I still remember her name…) On this particular day, I began my dash promisingly – only to collide with a girl in the lane next to mine and take a tumble, winding up in a tangle of skinny limbs and cloud of lane line chalk…
My older brother Rich was there with Mum (who never missed a swim or track meet of mine, a wrestling match of Rich’s, or a diving meet of my other brother, Jack’s!) and he came rushing out of the stands to scoop me up and carry me off the track to assess the damage. Beyond a few scrapes, the only real harm done was to my confidence – which got even shakier when an event official came over and offered me the chance to run in another heat.
At that tender age, I had no idea how rare a thing in life a proper “do over” was. Rather than jump (or you know, dash) at the chance, I shyly looked to Rich for guidance. He said I should get back out there – and since he was a whole eight years wiser and more experienced in these things, I accepted his advice and reluctantly agreed to race again.
Next, Rich gently broke it to me that I was the one who’d strayed out of my lane and caused the collision. The thought that I’d taken out a fellow competitor was a real shock – and it made the lanes on the track look to me to be the width of balance beams. How was I going to stay in mine…?
But Coach Rich got to work as he so often did, coming up with a plan of action. He told me he’d go stand just beyond the finish line right in the middle of my lane and all I’d have to do was stay focused and sprint straight for him.
“You can do this,” he assured me. And when you got an assurance from Rich, you believed it.
When my name was called again, I nervously approached the starting line, scraped knees shaking and grit from my spill on the track still crunchy between my teeth. I glanced at the girls on either side of me, then squinted down my lane. There stood Rich as promised, arms folded and giving me a single encouraging nod. Heart pounding, I waited for the gun, took off from a standing start, ran like the wind –
And stayed in my lane all the way.
I can’t recall the outcome of the race. But I do remember the Olympic Creed:
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
The certainty I do carry is that on that day, I picked myself up from a fall, went back to the starting line and, with my dear big brother’s guidance, did the very best I could to run a straight race.
Some days in life, that’s as much as we can do.
And I so enjoy watching real Olympians testing the limits of what they can do! Images of some performances along with the stories behind them have sure stayed with me over the years:
Like the perseverance of speed skater Dan Jansen who finally got his gold in Lillehammer. Or the figure skating performance of Elizabeth Manley who snuck in and charmed us in Calgary while we were busy looking at “Carmens”. From the redemption for ski jumper Masahiko Harada who flew to victory with his Nagano teammates, to the new and provocative stylings of ice dancers Torvill and Dean in Sarajevo. And, of course, nothing compares for me to the Lake Placid Miracle on Ice!
And I never know where the next lasting memories will come from!
Some tarnishing may happen. But over the next two weeks I’ll be keeping a hopeful eye out for those wonderfully bright moments when the very best compete with glory and honor to move as swiftly, fly as high, and be as powerful as humans can.
And I trust that good things – great things – will happen.
I love the Olympics! Always will.