More than just a sporting event

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I am an Olympics junkie. From the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony, I am hooked, and thanks to the DVR, I missed very little of the sports action in Vancouver. I have my favorite events, which include short track speed skating, snowboarding, alpine skiing and women's figure skating, but I have even found myself caught up in nordic skiing and ski jumping, although curling is still a reach for me. Mike and I actually asked each other "now what are we going to do?" when the Olympics ended on Sunday. (I know our lives are pretty riveting.)

I believe the Olympics should be required viewing for any young person. The athletes who compete in these events have stories to tell and their hard work, dedication and commitment are on display as they compete in their respective sports. I love to learn the back stories behind the athletes, because those video clips and interviews often reveal what the athletes overcame to make it to the highest level of competition in their sport.

Each Olympics, there are athletes who display amazing character traits in their quest for gold, and the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver did not disappoint in that area. After watching hours of Olympics coverage, I have compiled a "Best Olympic Moments" list of my own that provided me with inspiration and some lessons for living life.

* A hero redeemed: Four years ago in Turin, Bode Miller was a monumental disappointment, partying his way through the Olympics, failing to earn any medals and setting a horrible example for young athletes around the world. In 2010, Bode redeemed himself. He handled himself with dignity and humility and hit the hill hard, giving each run everything he had. As a result, Miller came away with a gold, silver and bronze medal and a restored reputation.

* High expectations met: Lindsey Vonn, the much heralded downhill skiing superstar, lived up to the hype and came home with a gold medal and a bronze despite a bruised shin that could have kept her from competing. When Vonn crossed the finish line following the downhill run that earned her the gold, she literally collapsed with joy. Her exuberance and love for her sport, plus her ability to ski hard in spite of the pain, was amazing to behold.

* Soaring to new heights: Shaun White is a proven winner, and he didn't disappoint in Vancouver. The talented 23-year-old could have rested on his laurels and easily won the competition, but instead he pushed himself to learn new tricks and he blew away the other competitors with his aerial mastery. Plus Shaun seems like a down-to-earth guy who is genuinely likable and devoted to his sport. His personality goes a long way toward dispelling the sport's "bad boy" image.

* Hard work rewarded: Apolo Anton Ohno is one of the most likeable and intriguing of all the U.S. Olympians. After almost retiring from the sport of speed skating, Apolo set his sights on competing again in Vancouver, intensified his training regime and provided some of the most entertaining competition of the Games. Earning one silver and two bronze medals in Vancouver, Apolo became the most decorated winter athlete in U.S. Olympic history and proved that experience trumps youth almost every time.

* Overcoming obstacles: American speed skater J.R. Celski offered young people around the globe an example of how someone perseveres through injury and misfortune. The teenager suffered a serious injury during the Olympic Trials last September and was told it would be an almost impossible task to recover in time to compete in the Olympic Games. Celski was determined to beat the odds that had piled up against him. He pushed himself through grueling physical therapy sessions and ultimately got himself back into competitive shape. Celski was able to bring home two bronze medals from the Olympics, and in the process, offered young athletes everywhere inspiration when it comes to dealing with devastating injury.

* Courage in the face of great loss: The Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette was the epitome of grace, poise and incredible courage, competing in the ladies figure skating competition just two days after her mother died suddenly. The death of her mother, who was also her greatest supporter, would have justified her exit from the Olympic competition, but Rochette instead drew inspiration from the unwavering support of her country and gave two emotionally-charged performances that earned her the bronze medal. Every time Roachette took to the ice, I think the world said a silent prayer of support for the gifted young woman who demonstrated how triumph can come from tragedy.

Lisa Schlichtman