I went ice skating once, a long time ago, and I did it because of peer pressure. I mean, everyone else was doing it, so I tried it too. When we got to the rink it reminded me of bowling because I had to rent skates, and the pressure was intense when they didn’t know if they would be able to find them in my size. Luckily for me there was one pair that wasn’t going to totally crush my feet, so I put them on and went out on the ice. And promptly fell flat on my butt.
But in my mind I was a world-class skater who never fell, who skated figure eights with the utmost of ease, and who didn’t need the wall just to hold me up. It was at times like those when reality somehow put a dent in my self-image, reminding me that while there might be some thing I’m good at, there are countless others that I should probably just leave alone. Unless I was absolutely committed to getting better at them and becoming something special. Otherwise, it would be best to live vicariously through others who were gifted or who put in the years of training to be as good as they were in a sport I wished I had in my back pocket.
So, in that summer of 1996 I made up my mind to learn as much as I could about international sports, to soak in the feel of victory and the agony of defeat, and to feel as alive as I could, as energetic as those people I watched on the screen who could do so much. And as luck would have it, the Olympics were occurring that very summer in Atlanta. I didn’t miss one second of them. I scrambled to watch every event, to cheer on each athlete, and to revel in the cultural aspects that make the Olympics second to none when it comes to sporting events.
I loved watching the parade of nations on that first night, seeing the gaudy costumes, the big hair, and the stunning surroundings. For two weeks I was mesmerized. I even tried once again to do some of those physical activities — I hurt my back trying to do a flip like Shannon Miller. And by the time the fortnight was over, my absolute love of Olympic competition had been forged, despite the bomb, despite the poor showing of some of my favorite Olympians, and even with the lack of ice skating (I would have to wait another two years to see that in Nagano). I was hooked.
And I still am. Every Olympics since 2000 I have catalogued and on DVD (I originally copied the games on VHS and transferred them over after getting a DVD burner). I even went so far as to copy late night coverage, obscure sports, and the athletes on the Today and Tonight Shows after winning medals. When the Olympics is on, everyone knows I’m going to be finding some way to watch them, to cheer even from afar, and to rejoice in the ultimate competition that it offers.
I went skiing a few times what seems like a dog’s age ago. I only remember those trips to the mountain because of the spectacular crashes that resulted from each and every one of them due to my amazing lack of coordination, but I enjoyed myself. That trek up the hill each time after yet another crash was a chance to do it better, to start again renewed. And that was worth all the bumps and bruises I sustained at the bottom. It’s how each successive Olympics is for me, a fresh start, a way to begin again renewed.
As these 2014 Sochi Olympic Games move into their second week I feel that renewal all over again. Despite all the money spent, in spite of all the outside issues, when I get to sit down and watch each and every one of the events I feel that true competitive spirit, that zeitgeist of true joy that charges the atmosphere in and around each venue. There’s nothing quite like it. Even when my favorites still tend to fail more than they succeed, it’s a kind of magic. And I’m Harry Potter. On skates.