Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat - the XXII Winter Olympics


The XXII Winter Olympics have been interesting to watch but not great to watch.  I can't exactly put my finger on it, but these Olympics are a bit strange.  It might be my surprise at seeing palm trees along the streets of Sochi.  I wondered, is there something wrong with this picture?  A winter Olympics set among palm trees?  The weather here in Ohio has been more conducive to the Winter Olympics than the weather in Sochi.

The alpine and cross country events, which I watch religiously having been a skier in my youth, are fun to watch, because I can relate to coming down those long wintery runs on skies, just not at 65-85 miles per hour though.  I have skied in all types of snow, ice, packed, powder up to my waist, and slush, so I have no time for skiers or snowboarders complaining about the snow.  At this elite Olympic level all these alpine and snowboarding athletes should be able to adjust to the snow conditions and go with it.  Even win with it.  

I also love the grace and beauty of the ice skating events.  I never miss them and I am always amazed at what these athletes can accomplish on a single blade on ice.  The ballet, gymnastics and skating technique are all rolled up into one performance and these athletes make it look so easy, which is a compliment to their professionalism in an, ahem, amateur sport.

And, I think that is part of the problem with these modern Olympics.  Most of these elite athletes are professionals, not amateurs.  It seems amateurs were left back in the dust, or the snow, so to speak, years ago.  It just is not as fun to watch the U.S. Hockey team beat Team Russia when the athletes are from the NHL from here in the U.S.  The last true hockey amateur game was the 'Miracle on Ice' in 1980, when the U .S. honestly beat Russia with a truly amateur, college boys team.

Although, I admire Shaun White and his great feats in snowboarding, he is a professional snowboarder, not an amateur.  I also think he is past his prime and while I feel badly he did not win a medal at these Olympics, he is 27 years old.  The Olympic games are meant for youth, and so many of the Olympic athletes today hang on way after their prime because they are professionals and this is their life - Olympic competition.

I was also a swimmer in my youth, and believe me, swimmers peak between the years 18-22. After age 22, you are pushing it as a swimmer in competition.  I don't believe Olympic competition was meant for athletes to continue to compete in them into their 30's and 40's. Olympic competition, which originated in Greece in the BC era, and today, is meant to showcase youth in all its athletic glory, not become a lifelong athletic career.  I think too many athletes are hanging on for more glory.

Evgeny Pleshencko, the Russian skater, is another example of an athlete who should have skipped these Olympics and given his spot to a young and up and coming Russian skater.  At 31, his body is telling him 'no' to anymore skating.  While I admire his team effort in winning the team gold medal for Russia, it was time for him to be the elder skater and bow out before he was forced to for medical reasons right before his individual skate.

Having been a competitive swimmer in my youth, having gone to hundreds of swim matches and tournaments, I know the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  Fourth place is the most difficult position to place in any competition, yet alone on the Olympic level.  To have missed winning a medal by fractions of a second, and landing in fourth place is the agony of defeat to these Olympians.  It is more difficult to accept than place 12, 30 or even last place. 

 To all those Olympians who have come in 4th place,  I salute you for your bravery, perseverance, good grace and sportsmanship.  You stood before the cameras and gave difficult interviews and my heart goes out to all of you.  You are the true heroes and winners, who are able to show the grace and love of your sport in difficult and heartbreaking circumstances.

And, then there is Vladimir Putin lounging around these Olympics like a lounge lizard with his smug, smirk smile on his face.  I have never seen a country's leader preen so much during Olympic Games.  It is as if he orchestrated these games for himself, to show off himself, rather than the Olympic athletes.  He needs to maintain a lower profile at these games, or go back to Moscow and do some real work, and then return for the closing ceremonies.  To see him preening everyday I watch these games is disturbing.   

So, while these Olympic Games have been interesting so far, they are not great.  And while I hope all the athletes are having the time of their lives, there is a luster that just is not there at the XXII Winter Olympic Games.


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