By Cathy Wood
TUPELO – Every two years, as the Olympic Games wrap up and the torch goes dark and the athletes go home and TV returns to normal, I get teary-eyed.
This weekend, as the Vancouver Winter Games end, is no different.
For the past two weeks, my family and I have settled in almost nightly to watch athletes we’ve never heard of compete in sports we know nothing about – and we can’t get enough.
I’m going to miss it.
Look, I know cynics scoff at the Olympics’ made-for-TV sentimentality and skeptics insist that big money and ratings are behind much (all?) of what we see.
So what? I don’t care. In my house, we’re huge Olympic fans and proud of it.
For one thing, it’s something everybody can share. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live or what football team you support or even if you think “curling” is only something done to hair, during the Olympics we’re all tuning in.
I mean, you can go into any office break room and say, “Wow, did you see that guy skate last night?” and everybody knows what you’re talking about. You can smile at the grumpy person next to you in the checkout line and say, “Too bad about that skier wiping out, wasn’t it?” and you’ve got instant conversation. Even the cynics and skeptics know the medal count – they just won’t admit it.
Also, it’s entertainment, pure and simple. Look, I know zip about sports and absolutely zip about winter sports, but during the Olympics that’s okay. Sports are not the issue here.
After all, who understands the difference between alpine skiing and freestyle skiing and what a triple-toe-loop is, anyway? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter.
All we know is that we marvel at the athletes’ strength and talent and determination, whether it’s fearless skeleton sliders hurling themselves down a frozen track with their faces only a few inches from the ice or graceful ice dancers floating effortlessly in the air or speed racers defying gravity as they lean into turns. We don’t have to know the rules to cheer on the players.
Because, really, in the end, it’s the human drama that draws us to the Olympics, year after year despite the hype and controversy and nay-saying.
Because the Olympics truly are inspiring. The Canadian ice skater who competed with a broken heart as she grieved for her mother and biggest fan; the determined American bobsledder who works minimum-wage jobs to pay for months of training that keep him away from his loving family; the snowboarder who unbelievably lost her second chance at a gold medal; the athletes who make embarrassingly stupid mistakes in front of millions of people but smile anyway; the ones who have no chance of medaling but still give it their all; the older athletes in their farewell competitions and the younger athletes on their first worldwide stage – they touch us because they are us.
Just in better shape. And colder.
Because if they can persevere and overcome challenges and still triumph in the end – no matter what shape that triumph takes – maybe we can, too.
At least we’ve got two more years to try.
Cathy Wood (CathyLWood@gmail.com), a newspaper columnist and feature writer, caught the sports editor’s eye in 1975, when they both worked at the Middle Tennessee State student newspaper. They got married in 2004.