This was originally a newspaper column—published in The Stokes News on Thu., Feb. 15, 2018, while the 2018 Winter Olympics were going on. Since the newspaper website has been notorious in the past for destroying links to published articles, I archive the columns I write on my blog, so as to ensure they are preserved for posterity.
When ole Ben Franklin said, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” he clearly lived in a pre-Olympics era. How could I possibly have gone to bed early when Shaun White’s snowboarding didn’t even come on TV until after 11 p.m.? I had waited for this moment since White’s disappointing fourth-place finish in Sochi, and I’m supposed to go to bed with the chickens?
I think not, Mr. Franklin.
So there I sat typing this column at 1 a.m. on Tue., Feb. 13, having just watched Shaun do an eye-popping 98.50 halfpipe snowboarding run in the mere qualifying rounds. I marveled, “What on earth will the former Flying Tomato (he’s not so into that moniker anymore) bring us in the actual medal rounds?” I knew I would be watching, regardless of Mr. Franklin’s admonitions to avoid late nights.
Hey, it’s only once every four years. Shaun White will be 35 when the Winter Games go to Beijing in 2022—positively ancient in this new snowboarding world of 17-year-olds. I’m thinking carpe diem applies right now.
Yes, I seize the day during every Olympics, both winter and summer. Those stellar athletes go for the gusto by competing at the Games, and I go for the gusto by staying up late to watch them. It’s the least I can do.
Before you know it, the calendar will read 2020, and God willing, I’ll be burning the midnight oil again to watch the Summer Games from Tokyo. (What an archaic phrase! As a child of the electric-lighting age, I have never once burned lamp oil to give me late-night light.)
I trust you dear readers also enjoyed the Winter Games. Do any of you get as nervous as I do during figure skating? As my daughter Chelsea says, figure skating is the winter equivalent of the gymnastics balance beam competition in the Summer Games. We hold our breath with every triple axel, clench our teeth with the couple’s competition lifts, experience rapid heartbeat during a quad lutz.
Yet we continue to put ourselves through this exquisite torture with every Winter Games. Our stomach muscles tighten when adorable little Red Gerard comes up on his last run down the snowboard slope after having blown his first two chances. They only unclench when he has a clean run, wowing us with his explosion from last place to first.
We suddenly are fluent in slopestyle snowboarding terms. “Hey, he just did a switch backside 1260!” “Do you think he’ll do a double cork off the quarterpipe takeoff?” “Surely not! But he might throw in a backside triple cork 1440 on that last jump.”
We probably haven’t used those terms since 2014, and we won’t use them again until 2022, but right now we feel very accomplished when we toss them around. By 2020, the terms will change, adapting to the Summer Games. we won’t remember what Shaun White’s signature halfpipe move is called (the Double McTwist 1260), but we’ll be comfortable talking about a double layout half during the gymnastics floor exercise or a Khorkina on the vault.
You can tell I focus on the more popular events such as snowboarding and figure skating. But I live with a hubster and a son who both are fascinated with the Olympic event of curling. The only curling I care about is what my stylist Molly does to my hair when I have a big event coming up.
The curling my fellows watch looks to me like people using a broom to sweep some rocks over the ice to some circles. I’d rather watch the second hand go around my clock, but hey, different strokes for different folks.
Those sweeping strokes of curling were actually part of the first-ever Winter Games in 1924, although that sport didn’t become official Olympics fare until 1998. My Scottish ancestors very probably played this game of curling on the old paths. I read that a good Scottish wife of yore might even display her husband’s brass curling stone handle on the family’s mantel.
I reckon I would be a better wife if I would just sit down with my husband to watch this curling he is so enamored of. But can I help it if I’d rather watch speed skaters zooming around the track? I loved speed skating long before Apolo Ohno came along, although he did indeed heighten my interest.
Do you feel the tension (I sure do!) as a speed skating race nears the final lap and you wonder if one tiny brush of one skate against another will send an aspiring gold medallist flying across the ice as the others race to the finish line? Do you ever wonder why we subject ourselves to such pressure night after night as the games unfold and the medals are claimed?
Then I shake myself and realize that the pressure I feel on my comfy couch as I munch Cajun-flavored trail mix in front my big Roku TV in my cozy home is minuscule compared to what the athletes themselves must be feeling. My mind reels with the wonder of how these Olympians have packed up their normal lives in packages to be opened later in exchange for years of enduring rigorous training for the hope of one shining moment.
And only one will get the gold. The silver and bronze—prestigious though they are—fade into the background on that podium as the national anthem of the gold medallist begins to play. And for that one shining moment indeed, he/she who stands highest knows that he/she is at the pinnacle of the planet—the acknowledged best in the world…..if only until the next competition.
So we watch and we cheer and we groan and we gasp as we live vicariously through she who lands the triple lutz on the ice…..through he who remains upright after a quadruple cork on the halfpipe……and yes, even through those who sweep that rock into that middle circle in that sport which has no association with what my hot-rollers do to my hair.
And if we have to stay up past midnight to watch it all? Well, so be it! We’ll sleep when the Games are done. Take that, Ben Franklin!