We had a blue moon last week, a lunar event that takes place, on average, every 2½ years. This week we have something rarer than that — the Olympic Games, which are held every four years.
Or at least that’s how it was prior to 1994, which is when they began to stagger the Winter and the Summer Olympics so one of them would take place every two years.
Still, it’s a once every four years occurrence for each of them. This year, it’s Winter’s turn, and they’re taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The first Winter Olympics I remember watching was the ’68 Games in Grenoble, France, where Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy swept the Alpine skiing events with gold in the slalom, giant slalom and downhill. Peggy Fleming won the ladies figure skating, giving the U.S. its only gold medal of that Olympics.
As an American, my two biggest Olympic memories also involved ice skating, both from the 1980 Games at Lake Placid, New York. One was Eric Heiden, who at the age of 21 became the first, and is still the only Winter Olympian, to win five gold medals at a single Olympics. Setting Olympic or world records in every event, Heiden was completely dominant and totally inspiring.
Of course, the biggest moment in U.S. Olympic history occurred at that same Olympics, when the U.S. hockey squad took out the mighty Soviet national team, which had taken gold in four straight Olympiads and five of the previous six. The Russian team won nearly every world championship and Olympic tournament between 1954 and 1991, and was made up of all seasoned professionals.
By contrast, the U.S. was the youngest team in the competition and comprised all amateurs. Trailing heading into the final period, the Americans outscored the Soviets 2-0 in the third for the unbelievable upset victory. Since they had tied Sweden in an earlier round, the Americans still had to beat Finland in the final round. Trailing 2-1 going into the third period, the U.S. scored three goals to win the game and the gold. Sports Illustrated called it the “Top sports moment of the 20th century.”
I still love the Olympics. I cry when our athletes stand on the podium to receive their medals and our national anthem is played, and I can feel the weight of their dreams and sacrifices and accomplishments. I love the stories NBC does on the athletes from different countries. And I love the spirit and the pride the Olympics evoke.
I love the old Olympic stars, which for my time period means Dorothy Hamill and Kristi Yamaguchi; Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen; Jim Craig and Mark Johnson; Mike Eruzione and Herb Brooks; Bill Johnson, Phil Mahre, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and so many other great athletes and competitors who achieved success at the highest levels of their sport.
And I’ve loved the recent stars, like Apolo Ohno and Shaun White, Tara Lipinsky, Picabo Street, Shani Davis, Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller. And I love our women’s snowboarders and hockey team.
As bugged as I get by pros competing in the Olympics, judges colluding, the top brass taking bribes, athletes doping, politics rearing its ugly head and the enormous sums the host cities spend to shine on the international stage, once the Games begin, the magic and the drama take over, and I am happy to fall, anew, under the spell of the Olympics.
I’m proud of our athletes, and I am in awe of their skill, commitment and hard work. May the true spirit of sport and sportsmanship fill their hearts and ours.
Strange Olympic Fact: At the 1928 Winter Games in St. Moritz, two hockey teams from the United States showed up, each claiming to be the legitimate one to represent the USA. Neither one was allowed to compete.