girls-e-rJci
Saturday, July 08, 2006
 

Armchair Olympian


I am not a die-hard sports enthusiast, but confess I enjoyed watching the winter Olympics held in Turino Italy. It was nice to watch something positive and motivational for a change and to delight in some truly amazing and generous acts. I find the wide variety of sports showcased fascinating, proving there is a lot one can do in cold climates of winter!

Consider the spectrum of sports. There are the many varieties of skiing. The downhill event has skiers reaching speeds of 140 kilometers per hour (87 mph), you get speeding tickets for going that fast in a car! Imagine what it takes to be a ski jumper as you attempt to imitate flight and defy gravity the longest once you are airborne. Picture the freestyle skiers who twist and turn in the air so fast I don't know how the commentators can describe their incredible aerial feats. The cross-country skiers have tremendous endurance, and some stop to shoot rifles while trying to manage their beating hearts and gasping lungs.

We were witness to a newer Olympic event that debuted in Nagano in 1998, snowboarding. I think the snowboarders had the most fun creating their lexicon when they speak of a McTwist, Fakie, Duckfoot, an Ollie or a Nollie! Didn't it just used to be Narly ... or was that suffer speak and I've just dated myself?

There are those flashy speed skaters in their skin-tight outfits who fly around an oval ice surface at up to 60 km per hour (37 mph) battling G forces in the turns. The figure skaters entertained us with their dance routines and inspiring jumps. They also showed tremendous grit when Zhang Dan a Chinese pairs figure skater had a spectacular fall which made anyone watching cringe. To our disbelief, this 20 year old got up, completed the routine, and won the silver medal. Awesome.

We can't forget the curlers. A sport many find strange, but appreciate the accuracy involved in curling your rock down a 44 meter (49 yard) ice surface and trying to hit a bulls eye with two sweepers helping control speed and direction of a heavy stone, while you opponent is attempting to block you or knock you on every throw. Lots of yelling and physics accompany this sport! Imagine four Newfoundlanders winning the gold - talk about a party when they get home!

There is the luge where, depending on the event, one or two people lie on their backs on a sled going down a tight twisty run ... feet first. You might think that is scary enough until you see those in the skeleton event, maybe appropriately named. These athletes go down a steep ice track, on a sled, that has no brakes, headfirst. Hmmm ... where do they find people to do this?

Then there is ice hockey. Grown men and women strap on boots with blades on the bottom, use curved sticks to shoot a hard rubber disk in the opponents net. This happens as they skate at up to 50 km per hour (30 mph) and shoot the puck at over 150 km per hour (95 mph) while maneuvering around on ice. A shame both the NHL laden U.S.A. and Canadian teams didn't even make it to the semi-finals. Perhaps too much talent, not enough "team".

Over the 17-day period, 2,500 athletes from 85 nations competed for 84 medals in seven sports. We shared the pride of those on the podium as they smiled or cried as their national anthem played before the world. Two single acts at this twentieth Olympic Games stand out in my mind and will for many years.

I applaud gold medalist Joey Cheek, the USA speed skater for donating his $25,000 bonus to Right to Play, an organization of former Olympic, Paralympic and professional athletes worldwide who support using sport for development, health and peace. Good for you Joey, you are an inspiration to many.

Perhaps the defining moment of the Games was when Sara Renner, a Canadian broke her ski pole in a cross-country team sprint event. A Norwegian coach gave her a pole to finish the race. She and teammate Beckie Scott went on to win the silver medal. To me this unselfish act defines sportsmanship and is hard evidence the true Olympic spirit lives on. See you in Vancouver in 2010.

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