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Quest for the Olympic spirit

Joannie RochetteImage by alexlc13 via Flickr

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a number of newspapers. this week's was born out of a post I did on Monday about watching the Olympics. If you've already read that post, skip to the bottom for an update!

In 1988 I was a real Canadian. I was glued to the Olympics, and was as ecstatic as every other Canuck when darling Elizabeth Manley unexpectedly walked away with the silver in women’s figure skating. To me it was even more dazzling than Ben Johnson’s medal that same year, especially since Manley’s gold has lasted so much longer.

Despite being enamoured with Manley, though, I have never been able to become emotionally invested in the Olympics. I just find it too tense. My stomach twists in knots when figure skating comes on, even though my daughter is positively addicted to it. What if they fall? Imagine, you've worked your entire life for this three minute program, and then you topple. Or maybe it’s skiing, and you lose by a fraction of a second. The world of amateur sport seems spectacularly cruel. These people have tried so hard, and yet they fail to secure a medal simply because they’re having a bad day.

I think my problem is that I don’t understand sport. After all, I’m the one who used to exacerbate my asthma to escape high school gym, so my ability to put myself in the shoes of a world-class athlete is rather severely limited.

Perhaps they're mature about it and they're just happy to be there, whether or not they win the medal. Perhaps being at the Olympics is enough to satisfy their quest for success, but being the competitive soul that I am, I find that hard to believe. I do not like losing consistently at cards, and if I play euchre too many times in a row without ever being dealt a Jack, my perspective on life dims considerably. I hate to think what I’d be like if I had dedicated my whole life to being the best in my field. But then, maybe that’s why I’m not the best!

At the Olympics, though, we’re supposed to celebrate the best, being in awe of others’ athletic prowess as we leave dents in our couches and empty bags of chips while watching their displays of physical glory. And occasionally I have overcome my fear of seeing people lose and I have turned on that television set.

In 1998 I tuned in to watch Elvis. I loved Elvis, even more than his namesake, because there was a man who redefined skating, making it more athletic, fun, and, dare I say it, masculine. I decided that my reticence to watch skating was silly, and if the skaters could take the stress, certainly I could, too. But Elvis lost the gold because he had suffered a groin injury and had been battling the flu. What an amazing performance anyway, but again, it shows that the Olympics doesn’t necessarily measure skill as much as it does luck—who’s lucky enough to escape illness, or family emergencies, or personal problems. As I’m writing this, skater Joannie Rochette has just learned that her mother died suddenly, two days before Joannie is set to compete. How absolutely horrendous, and I wish her all the best.

Sometimes all the training and all the preparation and all the work can’t compensate for the curve balls life throws you at the worst possible times.

I’m a horrible fuddy-duddy, and by the time you read this, perhaps Joannie will have already graced the medal podium. Of course, Canada will be proud of her no matter what she does, because she has already proven herself an amazing skater and a formidable competitor. I am proud and happy she represents our country, and I will proudly and happily allow my youngest daughter to stay up late to watch her and cheer her on. I just hope she doesn’t expect me to watch with her. I don’t think I can take that kind of stress.

I wrote this post on Monday, and much has happened in the Olympics since then! On Tuesday night I couldn't sleep, and since Katie was still up watching Joannie Rochette skate, I decided to join her. And I sat through the whole thing without too bad a case of nerves! I must admit that some tears definitely flowed for her after her program with the stress that must of been on her after her mother's death. As I'm typing this right now it's Thursday night, and Joannie is about to go, so I'm not sure what's going to happen!

A commenter mentioned on Monday that perhaps I was going on a slippery slope, saying that it's not worth watching if someone loses, because that means I'm saying sports are only worth doing if you win.

I can see what she means, and perhaps I need to rethink my position. But it seems that the way Olympics are hyped, it does become about winning. After all, we count our medals. Countries talk about which athletes have the best hope for medals. And I'm sure every athlete dreams of being on the podium. I just feel badly for them if they don't get there, though I still admire their work.

I could never be that devoted to something, personally. It seems like your whole life has to become that sport, and I'm not sure that's entirely healthy. But skating still is beautiful watch, and now that I have a daughter who is so into it, I'll probably have to join her more often!

UPDATE 2: Okay, so I stayed up until midnight last night watching skating. Yuna Kim was breathtaking (she trains not far from where I live). And when Joannie came on, I couldn't watch. I went downstairs to get a glass of water, and my daughter laughed at me.

I was really impressed with the American skater who went last, Mirai Nagasu. Her spins were absolutely beautiful. Just lovely. I think she's the future of skating. And the Finnish skater, Laura Lepisto, was breathtaking, too. Especially her arms. She had the best arms of everybody, but perhaps I'm saying that because I used to take ballet.

I still wouldn't have watched it if my daughter weren't so into it, but I was happy for Joannie, especially after the week she's had. But now that it's done, I guess her mother's death will really hit her, and she'll have to head home for the funeral. How sad.


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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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