• Olympic dreams
    February 08,2014

    It is helpful to hold on to the capacity of the child to stand in wonder at the grand achievements of our great stars.

    We are not children, most of us, so when it comes to the Olympics, we know about the quasi-dictatorship of Vladimir Putin and how he is using the Olympics to shed glory on his oppressive regime. We have read about corruption among those handling the billions of dollars to create the great spectacle at Sochi, Russia.

    We also know that the competition sometimes goes beyond the innocent amateur sporting contest it was meant to be. Money and status are at stake in a big way. It was 20 years ago when the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding story catapulted figure skating into the realm of soap opera. At the national championships in Detroit, thugs acting on behalf of Harding whacked Kerrigan in the knee with a metal pipe. Despite the injury, Kerrigan ended up getting a silver medal at the Olympics, and Harding finished eighth. The network broadcast of the Olympic short program was the sixth most widely watched TV program ever.

    A childlike innocence allows us to view the accomplishments of the athletes with fresh eyes — as feats of grace, strength, skill and perseverance. Leave aside the money and the fame and consider what these athletes put themselves through just to compete at the Olympic level.

    Vermont is sending 14 athletes to the games in Sochi. They include five snowboarders, seven skiers in Alpine and Nordic events, and two biathlon competitors (both from Craftsbury). Some of them, such as Hannah Teter, the snowboarder from Mount Holly, and Andy Newell, the cross-country skier from Shaftsbury, are well-known athletes. All of them have risen to the highest level of physical performance.

    The snowboarding and other wildly unlikely airborne events are beyond the scope of the ordinary, old-time downhill skier to imagine. The gymnastic skill and athleticism of figure skating remains a breathtaking spectacle. All of these show what hard work and dedication can do, a lesson useful to the aspiring spirit of young spectators.

    It is that aspiring spirit that is best served by the Olympics. The opening night spectacles that are mounted each time represent a dazzling display of varying messages, none of it signifying much beyond the competitive vanity of nations striving to impress. Ultimately, there must be an outer limit beyond which a ski jumper cannot soar. Similarly, there must be an upper limit to the level of the ludicrous beyond which massive spectacle cannot go.

    The introduction of the teams during the opening ceremony inserts within the spectacle the content at the heart of the games. That there is a Winter Olympics team from Jamaica is always a fun fact. Our Canadian friends are there with us. And of course there are the Russians, charged with the duty to defend national honor beneath the icy glare of their supreme leader.

    It is exciting to root for the home team, meaning we wish the American athletes the best of luck, especially the Vermonters, some of whom are medal contenders. But there are others who are worthy, including those plucky Jamaicans, as well as our neighbors to the north and all of these glamorous European skiers.

    Hockey is the paramount concern of many fans. The Olympics has abandoned the pretense of amateurism, and the NHL will be well represented among the teams. Martin St. Louis, a former star at the University of Vermont and more recently a star for the Tampa Bay Lightning, will play for Team Canada, creating divided loyalties for some Vermont fans. In any event, hockey often provides drama as intense as any at the Winter Games.

    The Olympics are only one event on the schedule of many of these international competitors, but these are the Olympics, and they will be Olympians forever. For the aspiring young skiers, skaters, snowboarders, even the curlers, that is a concept to hold onto.

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