The first Olympics I watched with interest was the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. I remember watching with a fervor that, until that point, was non-existent for anything sports-related. It made quite an impression and I think had a lot to do with my interest in sports.
Now, 34 years after the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Russia says goodbye to an Olympics that was filled with all the regular recipe of victory, heartbreak and political tinges. I will confess that I did not have time to watch much of the games but what I did get to see, I saw (I realized) with eyes of someone who has a better understanding of competition.
It was a moment where I was watching the women’s 10k pursuit biathlon competition. It was nighttime already, with a light snow falling. The competition was nearing the end and I watched as the gold medal winner crossed the finish line, with a huge lead and ecstatic, followed by the pack. The medalists were getting interviewed, had already shucked off their skis and poles and were changing into their jackets with the rest of the women when through the silver lamplight, the final competitor was skiing into view. The camera was on her as she crossed the line and I knew from that look that she had tried.
I knew that look all too well.
It was the look of a person who had trained hard but knew that there was a very hungry pack of very competitive women. She has probably said to console herself that ‘at least I made it on the team’ but secretly feeling like she would have really liked to have been on the podium.
So I sent her a tweet:
I just felt like I knew what she was feeling. That it sucked coming in last. That there were no accolades and the only people who knew she was there were her friends and family. And I just wanted her to know that someone who she didn’t know, was watching.
I had also gotten to watch a bit of the men’s free skate competition and since I started from the beginning of the programming, they had listed up the roster to start with the skaters who had lower scores. As I watched, I saw how I knew when each skater would eat it or not have a clean landing and it reminded me of that ’88 Olympics and watching Gordeeva and Grinkov.
And then the commentator announced the next skater who she only described as “dramatic.” I was curious and a little weary of her comment and so paid close attention.
His name is Misha Ge from Uzbekistan, a magenta-haired, baby-faced skater and as he flared his hands, I knew I was in for an interesting program.
And he did not disappoint.
I think he knew he wasn’t going to the podium. He had a couple of bobbles and watered down some of his jumps to make for smaller doubles. But I knew that he was very genuinely happy to have competed and as he turned to the crowd after his program, he danced, shimmied and spun his thanks and happiness out to them. He was still blowing kisses and dancing in his seat even as they gave him his score.
And that is what I think is essential to the games: the joy of doing a sport with every ounce of heart and soul.
I guess I felt the need to tweet it out. That this was what the games are all about. And I’m glad he saw it.
So as the medals were counted and the ones who lost took it any way they could, I watched the Closing Ceremony and it made me realize that this was a sporting event that I loved watching, still to this day. That the players may change, but the spirit, the heartache and the victories were still the same. That the dramas will continue, whether it is Harding-Kerrigan or Kim-Sotnikova.
So as Sochi says goodbye and passes on the baton to Pyongyang, I remind myself of my ties to sport. Of upholding my promise to my traumatologist: you will have to do exercise for the rest of your life.
It’s high time that I maintain that promise. And go out for a run.