Driven

I love the Olympics. Have always been fascinated with them since I was a kid. Love to watch the summer and the winter games and try to see as much of it as I can. I even spent a week at the winter games in Lake Placid in 1980. Long time ago. There has been a lot of controversy around the Olympics especially in these times. Costs, political issues, Covid concerns, but the Olympic spirit in my mind, always remains no matter what. Even though the games have been compromised by outside issues, the fact of the matter is that they are still the visible pinnacle of sport to many around the world and also seem somehow to unite all of us under one athletic banner.

I was talking to a friend this weekend about a book that I am reading about Everest and what drives people to climb such a peak. The drive is the same there as it is in the Olympics or sports in general at a world class level. I am always amazed at the personal interest stories about how athletes make it to the Olympics under great personal hardships and sacrifice. If you ask any world class athlete, they will all have similar stories of practice, missing life events, growing up too fast, spending time in foreign countries in difficult conditions. Love to see the stories of the parents and their sacrifices too. But what does it take to make it to the top? Luck, passion, skill, drive, or a combination of all of these?

Nino Schurter- Defending gold medalist in mountain biking

Simone Biles- the GOAT.

I have always been a competitive person. I dabbled in a lot of sports regionally but as I age, my get up and go for a lot of that has gone up and left. But I have always been a fan and when the Olympic theme comes on the TV, the hair stands up on my arms a bit because of my respect for the games and the athletes who have sacrificed so much to get there. I like watching a lot of events that I would not ordinarily have an interest in and the athletes all have one thing in common- drive. Listen to the interviews. You can see the passion and the one sided focus and the stories of personal sacrifice that make up the athletes persona. You can see the tears on their parent’s and coach’s faces as they compete to win the gold medal.

Lots of folks are negative on the Olympics these days because it has been so politicized but I always look at it from the athlete’s perspective. No matter what extraneous issues are presenting themselves, theirs is the story. Not the politics, not the pandemic, not the costs, – for me, just the stories of the athletes and their passion to win with humility and lose with grace. Some of the stories are humorous at the world class level. Take Missy Giove here. She was not happy a few years ago at the NORBA Nationals Mountain Bike Championships when she was beaten in her semi final heat for dual slalom. Missy was always a character on the mountain bike circuit and I loved to hear her interviews and see her compete at the national level. She was tough as nails but when she lost, her humor took over and she gave the crowd a show they will never forget.

For me, again, it is always the stories. The GOATS. Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, Allison Schmitt, Michael Grady ,Nino Schurter, and a host of other incredible athletes that make up the Olympic games. Weekend warriors like me will never truly understand the competitive drive and the level at which these athletes perform. But in my own way, I can remember what it feels like to have butterflies at the start of an event. The thrill of winning something and more often of losing something. But at the world class level, it is incomprehensible to the mere mortal. But the scenes presented at the Olympic Games are priceless in my book and I am always happy every four years when they come around for our enjoyment. Don’t get caught up in the politics. Just enjoy the games. Can’t wait until February for the winter games either. Ba da bup ba badda, budda bup baddup bup bup badda! Love that theme. It gets me excited. Thanks for reading.

The Will to Win

What is it about the Olympics that glues us to the TV every four years? Is it the pageantry of the opening ceremonies? Is it the personal stories of the athletes that make them compelling in our living rooms? Is it the exotic venues that the IOC selects every four years? Perhaps as ABC once stated, is it ” The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” For me, it is all of the above and I must admit that I am addicted to the Olympics. download

Even though the commentary and interviews might be lacking from the color people at NBC, the stories are what interest me. The personal sacrifice of the athletes to get to this point in their career. The missed social lives, the early morning training and dedication to compete. These are the stories that make me an Olympic fan. Last night I watched the daughter of two friends of mine compete in the women’s freestyle relay. Allison Schmitt was a young girl when she left Pittsburgh due to her father Ralph’s new job with Ford in Michigan. We miss Gail and Ralph at North Park where we all were part of Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. But all of us North Parkers were glued to the set to see the gold medal gleaming from her neck last night at the awards ceremony. Aside from her record of 3 golds, 1 silver, and 1 bronze in the London Games, Allison won her second medal of these Rio games with three other equally talented ladies bringing it home for the US. Impressive to me was the fact that during the presentation ceremony, they all sang the National Anthem. What an inspiring moment and what a picture of dedicated young ladies thrilled with victory and proud of their country. MTZSPDEC77XA8WFS_768x432

Equally impressive to me at the Olympics is the jubilation of the athletes who compete. They might not win a medal but the joy on their faces as they complete their events and the camaraderie between them at the conclusion is exemplary of the Olympic spirit. Edith Thys Morgan, who has a really good blog on ski racing called RacerEX, says it best when she says that when you compete in the Olympics, you are forever an Olympian. She should know, she competed as a US Ski Team member at the Calgary Games. It is akin to the Marines who say, you are a Marine, not a former Marine. You are an Olympian for life. I feel for the folks who were not able to go. My friend Mac Martin who was a national class road cycling competitor was not able to go to Moscow because of the Jimmy Carter boycott. No athlete should be denied their Olympic opportunity because of politics. Sue Haywood was denied at the Athens Games in Women’s Mountain Biking because of a scoring mistake by the governing body of US Cycling. A terrible tragedy that can never be rectified. As an aging weekend warrior athlete, I have so much respect for Olympic caliber athletes because in my own small way, I can appreciate the dedication, the pain and suffering and the joy of competing. The other remarkable thing about the athletes is their normal girl/boy next door attitude during the interviews. They are people just like you and me, as I learned when I met Joan Benoit Samuelson years ago at the Boston Marathon. You could not meet a more unassuming athlete than Joan. Her victory in the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon was indeed impressive but her humble attitude was the most impressive to me. maine-joan-benoit-samuelson

I had the opportunity to attend the Winter Games in Lake Placid back in 1980. I had the good fortune of receiving 900 dollars face value of tickets from my cousin Bill Carroll who worked for Coke at the time. The Durfees and I saw a lot of events that year and as a hopeless romantic, I was impressed with the atmosphere of the Olympics and the beauty of the High Peaks region in the Adirondacks. As we stood in line to get the bus into the village from the parking lot one day, it was wicked cold. But all I could think about was being at the Olympics as I remarked how beautiful the Olympic flame was with the peaks in the background. The guy behind me remarked that he wanted to ” sit his a#$ in that flame right now” and kind of burst my bubble of enjoyment. But we all laughed as we boarded the bus, freezing to death but excited to spend another day at the venues. I saw Eric Heiden win all of his golds in speed skating and noted the Russians who stood in awe of this amazing American athlete resplendent in his gold speed suit. 1081918_10_147x110

So, in the midst of all the political turmoil going on in the country and the world right now, it is relieving to me to be able to turn off the news and tune in to NBC to once again view the events of the Rio Olympics. The world takes a break for two weeks as the athletes and the world come together to celebrate the Olympic spirit. From the march of the refugee team to a standing ovation, to the excellence of our ladies gymnastics team( arguably the best ever), to Melo and his record scoring in men’s basketball without a jaded bone in his body appreciating representing his country, to the closing ceremonies, the Olympics are just so cool. Tune in if you have not already. Thanks for reading.