Sunday, February 26, 2006

Faster, Higher, Stronger

The Olympics have come and gone, and as usual I enjoyed them immensely. Canada’s loss in men’s hockey was disappointing, of course, but you can’t deny that this was an extremely successful Olympics for my home country. A record 24 medals, third among all nations, and very close to the COC’s seemingly optimistic “prediction” of 25 medals. An especially big congratulations must go to the Canadian women, who brought home 16 medals. By my rough calculations, this would be tied with Germany for the most medals won by women from any country. Speedskater Cindy Klassen was the star of these games, with an amazing 5 medals. Even I picked up her Canadian accent during her interview on US television and the sight of her and Clara Hughes singing “O Canada” on the podium together was one of the most touching moments of the games for me. Sadly, the Canadian four-man bobsled team just missed the podium, finishing fourth, but I tip my hat to Kenny Koytk and the rest of the crew who worked incredibly hard to get there. For a lighter look at future sports at the Olympics, check out this article at Slate by James Jung. I think you'll agree with him (and me) that the Olympics needs to crown a skimiester!

A lot of people approach the Olympics with a lot of cynicism, and while I can understand that, I personally don’t share that view. My life-long involvement in sports has a lot to do with that, of course. Competition can bring out wonderful and inspiring things in people, and I think it’s great to see that happen on the international stage. The story of Eugenio Monti, the great Italian bobsledder, is one that speaks to the Olympic ideals: in the 1964 games, when his rivals from Britain broke a bolt on their sled, he offered a bolt from his own sled after completing his run, thereby allowing the Brits to take home the gold medal. For his actions, Monti became the first-ever winner of a medal for the True Spirit of Sportsmanship. So in 20 years, Italians and British men went from killing each other to helping each other – and while the Olympics aren’t the cause of these acts of generosity, they provide a unique opportunity for nations to put aside differences and compete on a level playing field. In these games, the story of Turkish figure skater Tugba Karademir gave an example of the lengths parents will go to in order to provide opportunities for their children. When Karademir showed potential in figure skating back in Turkey (a country with only 2 ice rinks), her parents gave up their successful lives in Turkey and moved to Barrie, Ontario in order to allow her to develop as an athlete. The sacrifices of athletes (and their families) in order to achieve the level of excellence on display at the games is inspiring, and I relish the opportunity to see these people rewarded for their years of hard work. And now back to regular programming...

UPDATE: I was reminded tonight of a few other "nice" stories from the games: The Norwegian coach giving a pole to Canada's Sara Renner in the cross-country skiing relay after hers broke, allowing the Canadian team to capture the silver medal (while Norway placed 4th). American speedskater Joey Cheek donating his $25,000 bonus from the US Olympic Comittee to help in Rawanda - an act that inspired a similar act by Canadian speedskater Clara Hughes, who has said she will donate $10,000 of her own money to the same charity (Canada does not give medallists a bonus). And the sight of the quadrapelegic mayor of Vancouver accepting the Olympic flag in preparation for the city to host the games in 2010. The enduring memories of the touching stories of the Olympic games.


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