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Olympic love

By Melissa Young

I was eight years old during the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, old enough to recognize that Torville and Dean’s “Bolero” performance was magic. My growing up (which I’m still doing, thankfully) is dotted with Olympic memories–MaryLou vaulting to her 10s, Katerina Witt’s “Carmen,” Kerri Strug’s one-footed landing (yes, I’m a little heavy on ice skating and gymnastics).

But even more than the performances, I love the stories of the athletes. The behind-the-scenes, “this is what their life is like” stories that inspire and make me believe that almost anything is possible. It’s the only time I ever enjoy Visa commercials (Go World–yes!).

These stories make me recognize that no one achieves great things alone. There are always coaches, family, friends, even sponsors. The faces behind the face intrigue me as well.

It also reminds me how brutal life can be–that it’s possible to spend a lifetime training for a four-minute moment and have everything fall apart. I still can’t decide who I admire more–those who win or those who don’t.

So what are your favorite Olympic memories? And if you ever won a gold medal, who would you thank for helping you get there?

About Melissa Young

(Emerita) is a native of Utah and lives in Cache Valley, Utah, with her husband and three of her four children in their emptying nest. She has an MA in TESOL from Brigham Young University and currently volunteers with the English Learning Center.

19 thoughts on “Olympic love”

  1. I too love the Olympics.

    I still remember filling out one of those back-to-school questionnaires in 1976 and under favorite TV show writing: THE OLYMPICS!!! My teacher argued that it had to be a show that was on regularly and I thought, "What else is worth watching but the Olympics?"

    True story: my brothers and I learned to ski late for Utah kids (age 12) but by 14 we were attacking every black diamond and regularly throwing backflips mid-run. We entered some freebie race one day and easily won every division. That night my parents received a call from an Olympic ski coach offering professional training for all three of us. We sat down as a family and weighed the pros and cons. I remember it as a short discussion, but my dad assures me that it was a very long one. Ski-racing and ski training are Sunday sports. There was no way around it and we decided together that it wasn't worth trading our church activity for a very-long-shot Olympic dream. It was our decision and not one I would expect anyone else–Mormon or not– to make.

    The Olympics are still the only thing on television that truly transfix me. I cry at every story and cheer the underdogs. But I can't help but wonder– without the slightest hint of cynicism– what the Olympians had to give up to get there. Was it education? Was it friends? Was it every penny of disposable income? I'm guessing the trade-off was worth it for most of the competitors– but there's always a sacrifice.

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  2. I don't have a keen memory of my favorite moments, but I also love the background stories, even just the little snippets of info from the commentators. I love the odd sense of global pride that comes from watching and cheering for someone based solely on knowing their hardships and trials and love and sincerity and just wanting them to beat the odds. It's the only time that I come close to understanding the appeal of watching sports.

    And it was so touching to watch the segment on Bilodeau's brother. I cried, but I'm pregnant, so…

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  3. not "global pride" really, but a real sense of connection, and it excites me to think that people around the world are watching with the same feelings, who probably never really feel that like we do more often in the church. It's a good feeling.

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  4. We love the Olympics at our house too. I got a little misty during the opening ceremonies and felt like a ninny. It's just so good, the world unifying peacefully for competition.

    How about the speed skate skater who nearly severed his femoral artery with his skate last Sept and just won the bronze medal at 19? Awesome!

    This morning I heard a little story on NPR about the US biathlon team – they recently had their budget raised to 1 million. One million dollars just for one event, one country. So yes, it takes oodles of moola.

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  5. Yup, that Dan Jansen Visa commercial gives me chills. So does the one about the Chinese ice skating pair that one silver after she fell so hard.

    Such great stories.

    Michelle, I didn't know you were Olympic material. Awesome!

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  6. I remember when Michele Kwan didn't win gold in 1998 and Tara Lipinski did and the following olympics when Michele Kwan lost the gold again to Sarah Hughes. I loved Michele Kwan and still think it's too bad that she didn't get a gold!

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  7. Michelle L, that is so fun that you have that in your history. All the Olympic moments Melissa Y mention are emblazoned in my memory. At age 9, I had a Dorothy Hammill haircut like a lot of the girls at the rink where I skated. My parents eventually had to pull the plug on skating just as my sister and I started to compete. There was no money. I thought about that as I watched the figure skating pairs on the ice. I felt for the Americans who were trying so hard to fulfill their dreams…at their own expense. Can you imagine what it would be like to be paid to train in the sport you love like the athletes in some of the countries? I guess there would be tremendous pressure, but it wouldn't be financial. I just don't know how these folks do it. The Chinese coach's piece where we learned that he hadn't seen his family in two decades was very moving–I can't imagine giving that up. I wonder if it was his choice? He was very emotional in the piece, so it makes me wonder if it is worth it or not. There is so much sacrifice. It's hard to imagine who I would thank because I can't imagine pursuing the goal, but there would be so many sacrificing right along with you. It would be a "team" effort. 🙂

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  8. Oh, I love Michelle Kwan too. I remember the year she won bronze and skated to "Fields of Gold" in the exhibition skate. It was so sad to see her dream dashed, but I thought she was classy.

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  9. Michelle, I didn't know you were a hot dog skier and potential Olympic contender, either. Impressive!

    I'll never forget the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The whole state was energized. We got to see the Olympic torch pass through downtown Provo! We were able to attend several events, including a women's figure skating exhibition in SLC (with Michelle Kwan!) and a ski jumping competition in Park City. But the most memorable event for me was attending the Opening Ceremony. The entire evening was breathtaking and exhilarating; I couldn't believe I was actually there, watching it in person. And then, towards the end of the evening, when a light snow began to fall, almost on cue, it was pure magic.

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  10. I am borderline crazy about the Olympics. I cry ALL THE TIME when I watch. All the time. I even cry and jump up and down watching the biathlon and the Nordic combined, even though I don't really understand them.

    I'm not an athlete but my daughter was very talented at gymnastics. When she was 7 and in 2nd grade, she was doing 10 1/2 hours a week at her gym. We had always said that we would allow her to continue until it didn't feel right anymore. And for us, 10 1/2 hours a week at 7 didn't feel right anymore. SHE made the choice, however, and if she hadn't, and still loved it desperately, I don't know where we'd be now. Certainly not on the Olympic track, I'm sure, but really, the time and energy and money that we were spending on gymnastics have been wonderful to have back.

    Oh, but she's begging to start again, and so is her little sister. Sigh. I'd rather they spent more time on their instruments or on something else you can keep for a lifetime. You don't see many 50 year olds throwing backflips, after all.

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  11. I LOVE the Olympics! I usually end up injuring myself at some point during the Olympics though, because, watching those athletes (who make it look so easy), I'm just SURE I can do the same things they're doing! Double toe loop, anyone? Triple lutz? Ouch! (I'm the same way when I watch opera. My family has learned to cover their ears.)

    I plan to be in the Olympics someday. I think I've narrowed my possible events down to Archery. 🙂

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  12. The 2002 Olympic were the first ones I paid more than casual attention. I fell in love with the Canadian pairs team – and was subsequently very upset by the whole judging scandal. I'm not a big Olympics person, especially since I don't have a TV to stay tuned in the background. But I will make an effort to watch the pairs figure skating. This year Johnny Weir intrigues me enough that I'll probably give men's figure skating a try. I still don't think of myself as an Olympics person, but I can't help but smile and get sucked into "my" events.

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  13. I just saw a new commercial with the Moms of the Olympians that almost made me cry. In it you could see one mom say, "That's my baby!" It reminded me of your post and the comments 🙂

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  14. I had one just last night. I went to the gym, relying on whatever was on the TV to get me through my planned mileage on the stationary bike. (It's amazing how many more RPMs I can do with the adrenalin rush I get out of short-track speed skating or downhill.)

    I was disappointed when I realized the televised event at that moment was curling.

    Curling is something I still can't wrap my head around either as a sport or as an Olympic event. No extra burst of adrenalin for me.

    But it was Canada vs. Norway for the gold. I quickly became invested in Canada's quest, and, well, I was still trying to figure out both the science and whatever aspects of strategy and athleticism were involved. Not to mention bemused by Norway's pants.

    My time was up and my mileage goal met, but I found I couldn't stop riding. Then this beautiful moment occurred. Someone started singing O Canada. More and more people joined in until is sounded through the entire ice center.

    I watched as the members of this serious and obviously well trained and conditioned team of men blinked hard, one of them subtly wiped a hand across his face, and they fought to hold it together while obviously swept with deep emotion. I loved that they waited until the anthem was over to make their next shot.

    Several shots later they sealed their win. But I still thought the golden moment was when I watched them fight back tears during the spontaneous singing of their national anthem.

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