(Originally published February 24, 2010 at playgroupwithsylviaplath.com)
I love the Olympics. Everything about them. The sports, the athletes, the stories, the drama, the medals. As I write this, the women’s moguls are on in the background, and I’ve even changed my ringtone to the John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare theme. Really. Call me. I love it when it rings.
I remember watching Dorothy Hamill in 1976. She not only won gold, but taught every girl how to wear her hair for the next five years. Slim can detail the entire saga of the US hockey team’s march to gold in 1980. Thirty years ago today, 20 American boys (and I do mean boys – average age of 22) won the gold medal by beating Finland after besting Russia two days earlier in the Miracle On Ice. At the time, Slim was twelve and playing in a PeeWee hockey tournament himself, which was stopped for the announcement that the Americans had won gold. And yes, he was carrying the puck at the time. American boys remember these things.
Now with kids of my own, I love the Olympics even more. For one, it is the best excuse to let them watch television with zero guilt involved. And I’m not alone. Apparently, the Winter Games are watched by more women than any other sporting event. And clearly advertisers have gotten the memo. I was a fan the first dozen times I saw the Proud Sponsor of Moms commercial, but by now I can hear the wheels of the marketing machine churn around me.
Watching the games as a family can also bring up a surprising number of issues. Citizenship, politics, history, and geography. The difference between socialism and communism? Shhh, just watch the ice dancing.
My oldest roots against China because they’re against the Dalai Lama. My middle is not a fan of skating for the Republic of Georgia if you were born in Michigan. My youngest is taken with curling because “they’re working really hard sweeping out there.” And my husband roots for Australia because he’s a fan of Torah Bright.
The Olympics are the original reality television. These are real people who’ve sacrificed and trained for years for the chance to compete for a gold medal. Their dream came true when they made it to the Olympics, now they are trying to make ours come true watching them. Most of the athletes are anonymous when they arrive, and many are anonymous when they leave. Regardless, they are Olympians. They have competed at the top of their game on the world’s stage. The phrase “world class” takes on the meaning it was meant to have.
The United States has won more gold medals than any other country, bringing home the gold just over 1000 times since the modern Olympics began in 1896 (and only 85 of those in the winter games). Accounting for summer, winter and team sport wins, there are 1,493 Olympic gold medals residing within our borders. Not something you get to see everyday.
When the movie Miracle came out in 2004, we were invited by a bank to preview the film and meet one of the players from the 1980 team. Obviously, that was back when financial institutions were allowed a more generous definition of “customer service.”
Thing One, all of six years old at the time, invited a friend within whom the hockey blood also ran deep. I remember the two boys mapping out what moves they were going to try on this Olympic great, and what they would say to the Russian and Finnish teams, which in their minds, would obviously also be at the suburban shopping mall multiplex. I was too busy trying to control the unruly sticks they’d brought for autographs to break the news that it was unlikely that the Finnish National team would be at the King of Prussia Mall.
Needless to say, they were a little disappointed to find a man in a business suit standing next to the popcorn “topping” dispenser. There was no Russian goalie and no Finnish hockey team. Just a rep from the bank, 1980 forward Rob McClanahan and his Olympic gold medal.
And indeed, he was world class. He talked to the boys about their teams, told them to work hard and even let them try on his medal. And he didn’t appear offended when they asked why he put it on a light blue ribbon, shouldn’t it be red-white-and-blue?
The other night I asked my three what they would do if they were fortunate enough to take home the gold. Thing Three said he would wear it around so people could look at it. (Presumably not dangling from his waist. For shame, for shame, Scotty Lago.) Thing One said he would have it framed and hang it on his wall. Thing Two, who is worldly beyond his ten years, said, “I’d get it appraised.”
And how would they like to win those medals? Snowboarding. Ice hockey. And “anything but figure-skating.”
This year my children have made Olympic memories of their own. They are completely taken with Shaun White and his helicopter-access only secret half pipe. They’d really like to get their hands on some of those US snowboarding team gloves with the flag on the palm. They say that our U.S. women totally dominate. And they have watched Ryan Kesler’s last minute open net goal against Canada a half dozen times.
Watching the first-time Olympian skate down his opponent and reach around to make a backhanded sweep at the puck with 45 seconds to go, you’d never guess he was cut from every high level team he tried out for when he was 13 years old. Cue the music, because that shot teaches you to believe in Olympic dreams.
And years from now, at a strip mall sporting goods store or a suburban elementary school’s Winter Carnival, a new host of seven-year-olds just might have the chance to touch Ryan Kesler’s gold medal if the Games continue to go our way. And that’s how Olympic dreams are passed on.