Feb 12, 2010

Olympics are here.

As a kid growing up in England, I loved to watch the Olympic Games on TV, but then I discovered the Winter Olympics and I was even more enthralled. I’d watch the bobsled, the skating and the downhill skiing, but the thrill for me was the ski jumping. These men on wide wooden skis would go hurtling down high mountain runs and steep ramps at ultra fast speeds, then throw themselves into the air with a whoosh and a simple elegance that turned them into flying angels. They seemed to stand on air for an endless time until gravity would glide them gently to land, with graceful flair on the snow at the end of their flight. This was magic to me. All hands would raise from the crowd and people would cheer for the victor. Wow, I couldn’t wait to watch the Winter Games every four years.

To me, the Winter Olympics were always in more exotic places than the Summer games. Places like: Innsbruck Switzerland, Sapporo Japan and Sarajevo Yugoslavia. They even came to Calgary Alberta, and at one time I thought of learning to ski. I went to a junior slope near where I lived, but found out the hard way that my ski laden feet wanted to go in different directions. For the sake of my profession, I decided then and there that I didn’t need broken legs, muscles or limbs to impede a life’s work that I loved.

I never thought of going to the Games until I saw the spectacular TV coverage from the 1992 games in Albertville France and then the 1994 games in Lillehammer Norway. Lillehammer is such a small town, yet they invited the world to the biggest party on Earth. And they built a spectacular Olympic Stadium at the base of the ski jump. This is where they held the opening and closing ceremonies and I was glued. From that time on, I dreamed of one day attending the Winter games. Well, time passed and the games were in places I just didn’t want to go, or I couldn’t break away from my busy schedule. But this year, the Winter Olympic Games came to me.

Today, we attended the first event of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games at the newly constructed Olympic Park near Whistler British Columbia. And guess what? This event was the Ski Jumping I had dreamed of experiencing.

Olympic security in Vancouver is horrendous for normal citizens. They advise, “be early.” We were up at 3 am to catch the 5 am, two hour bus drive, north to the park. It was unfortunately dark, because we were driving past some of the most spectacular British Columbia scenery on the Sea to Sky highway. From there we cleared through security and hiked to the brand new Olympic Ski Jump where only a month before someone had broken a world record.

Spectacular. We were high in the Coastal Mountains. The air was brisk. Being there was a thrill. The athletes in colourful, tight costumes were speeding down the slope, jumping through the air and flying down the mountain to a grounding on the packed snow with the greatest of ease, skill and feelings. The enthusiast crowd cheered for each of the jumpers but the best athletes shone. Good ski jumping is about the fine art of balance, and a total body awareness and a feeling for the air and wind currents make this sport an art. This day they were creating great art at great speed.

Ski Jumping is dangerous as are most Olympic sports, and accidents happen when an athlete will make one fatal slip while hurtling through the air at endless speed. Today was good for ski jumping. Not so fortunate for a young Luge athlete from Georgia who died while on a practice run at the newly built Whistler run. The fastest track in the world. A sad moment indeed.

Today my Olympic thrill brought many emotions.

“Champions aren't made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them -- a desire, a dream, a vision.”
Muhammad Ali

“Becoming an Olympian is the ultimate reward for any athlete.”
Michael Diamond

“I just wanted to be an athlete.”
Merlin Olsen