Monday, March 01, 2010
Like the rest of the world, I sat in a living room with a bunch of guys, our eyes locked on a high definition big screen following the puck in sudden death overtime. And as a loyal American, I grunted and whooped, then cheered when momentum moved in the direction of team USA. It was as good as hockey gets.
When Sidney Crosby slapped a shot under goalie Ryan Miller’s stick and through the narrow space between his legs, an entire country exploded in celebration, English and French speakers alike, with reckless abandon. Canada leaped for joy all as one. Us guys in the living room groaned. Hey, we’re Americans.
But we had our celebration a week before, when our underdog guys took on the fierce and favored Canadian team earlier in the competition. This time, it was for Gold. And the Canadians took it. They earned it.
As sentimental favorites go, it was hard to deny that our neighbors to the North deserved that Sunday exaltation on the competition’s final day.
My friends in Canada tell me they have never seen such unity and national spirit. Patriotism, they call it, with a smile in their voice. And with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games now in the history books, Canadians have many good reasons to be proud.
Thank you, Vancouver.
Vancouver’s beauty is unmatched. The flybys over the skyline, banking over Stanley Park and the landing zone for water-equipped commuter planes, and mammoth cruise ships docked in a row; off on the horizon, snow-capped peaks poking skyward through tall pines in deep green forests, snow-white slopes opening spaces through the trees mark the ski runs. Closer to the coast, Canadian workers and heavy equipment hauled snow from here to there, just to be sure the snowboarders and soaring jumpers would have enough in the unseasonably warm opening to the games. But it didn’t take long for natural snow to fall again, and up in Whistler, there was never a doubt. The conditions were spectacular from beginning to end.
The untimely death of a young luger sobered up the opening ceremonies. These are, after all, performances that push against the limitations of human achievement and are by definition, risky. Participants know those risks better than the rest of us. They overcome the involuntary urge to retreat, and descend the steep slopes and launch off the ramp and turn sharply in a crowded field with razor sharp blades attached to their boots. We watch, jaws agape, knowing full well that potential disaster is only a millisecond away. And when it’s over, hands held high crossing the finish, we cheer. That awful crash on the bobsled run simply reminded us that it is a dangerous thing to choose high performance. We all suspected there might be more. But there were not.
I am hopelessly sentimental when the Olympic Games come around. I’m a soft touch for the back-stories. My throat swells up. You’ll see a tear streak down my cheek; like when Joannie Rochette skated in memory of her mother. As she completed her personal best performance ever as the whole world watched, the emotion and loss and grief welled up after an impossible spin perfectly executed as she took he final pose and looked heavenward and the camera caught the moment and I could barely move. As she wept, so did I. And when Jeret Peterson launched “The Hurricane” jump fifty feet in the air and stuck the landing, knowing the tragedy and heartache and despair that got hold of him since he missed it back in Torino, same thing. Then who will forget the figure skating pair, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moi, as they stood at the center of the platform with gold medals hanging around their necks singing the Canadian national anthem with such delight? Or skater Kim Yu-Na, bearing the weight of all that South Korean expectation, delivering the performance many are calling the greatest ever?
Add to all that Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller. And the list goes on.
It is a stunning contradiction, really, to sit there on an overstuffed couch munching and sipping with the temperature hovering somewhere around seventy-two degrees while taking all this winter sport in on the wide screen with surround sound. But inspiration works.
I got back on the bike and knocked out thirty-one miles with a guy who inspires me just as those young Olympic athletes.
He’s eighty three.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010