Friday, February 14, 2014

Free Form Friday: Winter memories

It should be obvious by now that the Winter Olympics are underway in Sochi, Russia.

This two-week event is perplexing for many.  The sports, with the exception of hockey, don't have an offense and a defense.  That alone mystifies 'Murica.  Many events are also judged, meaning the lack of "I got more points than you" furthers the flummoxing.

For me, my fascination with the games began with the 1988 games in Calgary.  I've been trying to understand why.

Maybe it was the games as a canvas against which a vast human drama plays out, a play or a movie with characters as big and as complex and as enjoyable as any fictional ones.

Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards is a prime example.  He was the first British citizen to participate in ski jumping.  But where jumper Matti Nykanen of Finland was looking to jump for a fourth gold medal, Eddie was looking for survival.  "When I looked from the top of the jump," Eddie said.  "I was so frightened that me bum shriveled up like a prune." He finished last but everyone loved his spirit, making him an indelible image of those games.

"Losing a game is not equivalent to death.  Failing to be numero uno does not make me a lesser human being." --James Michener.

Along those lines, there was also the Jamaican bobsled team.  They are probably best known to a Disney-fied America by the movie, Cool Runnings.  Here was a group of guys from a part of the world that ice appears nowhere outside of a margarita, wanting to race a bobsled.  They crashed but then pushed their sled to the finish anyway.  Drive.  Determination.

I may get my "man card" revoked by the tribunal, but I'll just say that one of the more captivating aspects of those games was the figure skating.  There was the "Battle of the Brians," namely Brian Orser of Canada vs. Brian Boitano of the US.
I'll go ahead and play the song since its in your head anyway.

With a near perfect performance and a standing ovation, Boitano managed eke out the gold in what was a very narrow decision.  I wonder how much inspiration was drawn from this for Blades of Glory.

Firmly holding on to my "man card" in the wake of my figure skating admission, let me just say that one major reason 16 year-old Jonny got into those games was the exquisite beauty of Katarina Witt.  In addition to being gorgeous, she had this da comrade sort of allure to her like an Eastern Bloc femme fatale in a Bond movie.  I could imagine meeting her in a foggy train station at night as she coos, "Will you bring me those naval codes?  You'll make me a very happy girl."   Will I?  Oh wow...  Truth is, it probably wouldn't have even taken that much.

"I think every man prefers looking at a well-built woman to someone who is the shape of a rubber ball." --Katarina Witt.

Homina homina homina.

Even though the ladies figure skating showdown was billed as a "Battle of the Carmens" between Witt and the US' Debi Thomas, that battle turned out to be a dud, viewers were still treated to the real moment of the night: Canada's Elizabeth Manley.  She came out and skated a plucky performance that dazzled both the home field fans and the judges, earning her a surprise silver medal.  It was gratifying to see an athlete so grateful and humble in their victory.

Not everyone was so humble in their achievements.  There was "Tomba."

Italian alpine skier Alberto Tomba was...well, almost a cartoon character.  While triumphant skier, winning two golds at the Calgary games, he liked to refer to himself in the third person as "Tomba." For example, he called his family from Calgary (collect) on the eve of his second ski to say, "...for the second run, you must turn on all three TV sets and watch Tomba win three times in parallel."  He also went by "Tomba the atomic Bomba."

I don't know.  Maybe I'm just all full of piss and vinegar because he made his way over to the Saddle Dome for final round of ladies skating.  All to mack on my girl, Katarina.  The choad.
Seriously though, my attitude towards him has dulcified.  It's all good.

That set my love for Winter Olympics.

There's also a more personal dimension to it, I think.  Up until then, the winter of 1988 had been abysmal.  I was going through high school or as I came to call it, "Nightmare Hall."  I was struggling in classes I had no business being in and I was quite the target for abundant bullies.  Point is, these games came to me at a time when I felt like I was drowning.  They gave me something else to think about, something away from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."  Maybe that's why I'm still looking up YouTube clips of those Olympics and reading copious amounts of Winter Games stories, past and present.  Calgary and later the other Winter Olympics helped me see the positive sides of humanity for a while.

Here's to hoping Sochi can do the same.

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