Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Favorite Olympics

I woke up this morning thinking about the Olympics. If you know me well you know that is not all that unusual. I love the Olympics! I’ve written about Olympic stuff before and warned that there would be more. So, here it comes.

I could go on and on about different favorite moments. But, ask me which Olympic games were my favorites, and the answer is easy: Salt Lake 2002.
There are many reasons why and I thought I would share some. First off The Olympics came literally months after one of the greatest tragedies our nation has ever faced, September 11, 2001. At that time for me, and I think a lot of people, the experience and my emotions surrounding it were still pretty raw. Having the Olympics back in the U.S. was a tender mercy for me and others.

Opening the Games:

The Opening Ceremonies were incredibly touching to watch. It seemed like the world was expressing their support for all of us. I remember one athlete in particular, I think from Ireland. He waved a flag with one side Irish and the other side U.S. When he realized the camera was on him, he kissed both sides of it.

Prior to any Olympics there is always a lot of speculation about how they are going to get to light the torch. My family and I brought up several potential famous names. But, when Mike Eruzione (Rizzo) walked out and then signaled for the rest of the 1980 U.S. Hockey team to join him in lighting the torch, I could not have been happier with the choice. It was awesome and so appropriate.

Our President came to the ceremonies of course. At that time there was not the hate and vitriol against him, he was our leader and I remember feeling proud of him. After opening the games he then sat with the U.S. athletes, which I thought was delightful. Sasha Cohen had President Bush talk to her mom on the phone.

The best moment of the Opening Ceremonies was the most somber. U.S. athletes carefully and respectfully came into the stadium carrying the United States flag found in the rubble at ground zero. The Mormon Tabernacle choir than sang what I still consider the most beautiful rendition of the National Anthem I have ever heard. Watch below and see if you don’t know what I mean.

An Inside Look:

The U.S. winter Olympic team did not have a great showing at the Nagano 1998 Olympics, at least as far as medal count. There was concern among the heads of the team especially with the games coming to Salt Lake. There is almost always a home field advantage, but they really wanted a strong strong U.S. winter team. It was decided that yearly there would be a team summit. Every year top athletes in the various winter sports were invited to meet and participate in team building activities. How do I know about this? While I was working on my Sport Psychology degree I got to attend a presentation done by some of the Sport Psychologists and former athletes that were a part of the summits.

I want to share a couple of interesting tidbits. Derek Para a long track long distance speed skater was one of my favorite athletes out of the games. He won several medals including one gold with a world record. He attributed his success in part to his experiences with summit, and also with being one of the athletes chosen to carry that sacred flag.

There were only 2 figure skaters that attended summit Sarah Hughes and Tim Goebel. Hughes was the surprise gold medalist and Goebel was the only American man to medal, a bronze. Hmmm, interesting:)

Former athletes that were involved included the aforementioned Rizzo, as well as Bonnie Blair and others. The United States had their best showing ever at a Winter Olympics that year.

Some Competition Highlights:

I already mentioned Derek Para, what a delight he was to watch. I love hockey, and it was amazing to see both the U.S. men and women playing for the gold. I have to admit if the guys were going to lose to anybody, I was glad it was Canada. It was fun to watch the Canadian celebration all over their country.

Bobsledding was one of my favorite sports to watch during the games. It was so awesome to see longtime U.S. driver Brian Shimer win a bronze medal. The men also won a silver. But, the bobsled highlight for me was Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers of USA 2 winning the gold. They were the team that was not talked about and did not get the commercials prior to the games. But, they came out and had the competition of a lifetime. Jill was a member of our military. Vonetta was a former track athlete who had dreamed of Olympic glory all her life. When they stood on the podium and listened to the national anthem tears streamed down Vonetta’s face. She was the first African American to win a gold medal at the winter Olympics.

The Salt Lake games were my favorite for a lot of reasons, but one of the big reasons is because I actually got to be there! Me and my whole family camped out in my brother’s house in Provo and went to see short track speed skating. It was so amazing to walk around the village. We made sure we got to the competition early and got to see the athletes warming up. We got to then see Apolo Anton Ohno compete live. He was disqualified, which was a bummer, but it was kind of fun to see his reaction to the crowds outrage, he grinned you could tell he got a kick out of it. But, then we and so much of the crowd got behind Rusty Smith of the USA. He won a bronze! It was fun to see the joy in real time and real life of all the athletes that competed and won medals. I have a brother who served a mission in Canada and he taught us some of the Canadian anthem which came in handy that night.

The Torch

There are a lot of symbols for the Olympics. I have the flag in my office. But, I think the torch for me is the most important. I love watching the relay start in Greece then on to its final destination. In fact I fell in love with the Olympics in 1984 starting with seeing the torch run through a nearby city on its way to LA. We got to see the torch run again in 2002, awesome! When my family and I arrived in Salt Lake for the Olympics it was pretty late at night, but we made sure that the first thing we did was go and see the Torch live and in person. It was pretty surreal.

I mentioned already how awesome the lighting of the torch was with the Miracle on Ice hockey team. Over the years there have been some pretty awesome torch lightings, including a ski jumper. But, the dimming of the torch has been well, kind of lame. There was a really ridiculous one in France where this dude was dressed up like cupid and flew in, by cable, and blew it out, it did make me laugh.

Nothing tops the way that Salt Lake dimmed the torch. The moment still sticks with me today. They dimmed the torch after a prayer.

So, why blog about this? Well, it makes me happy for one thing. I hope it brings back some happy memories for others too. But, also I long for the feeling that the Salt Lake Olympics brought. There was a feeling of unification. Chanting USA! USA! USA! is one pretty awesome thing. But, it also felt like the world was unified and we just enjoyed one another. I would love to have something like those 2 weeks occur again. Times are tough, but sometimes that brings out the very best of us. Love our country, love the world and all the people in it.

Let’s keep the fire burning now. The theme of the Salt Lake games was Light the Fire Within. How appropriate that would be for now. When I think of a torch I also think of Lady Liberty. Our freedom, Our country is a light. Keep it shining bright, keep the feeling bright. Maybe it does not have to be the Olympics for it to feel like the Olympics.


Emily said...

Sarah I loved this post. I really enjoyed watching that video of the opening ceremonies I had missed it for some reason. I love the olympics too!

manajordan said...

Thanks Em,
The next Olympics are less than a year away!!