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Some Thoughts on the Winter Olympics
posted on March 22, 2006

Some thoughts on the Olympics.

As the Turin Olympics came to a close last weekend, I was thinking about how special the Olympic concept is. Classmates of mine in graduate school say "I'm not as excited about the Olympics" - they would rather cheer for their professional teams. But I am hooked. I love the Games- watching arcane sports that are otherwise hardly ever on TV. I do have to admit, not to disparage my motherland, but I'm not a huge fan of the new medal design - the first time I saw a photo, I thought the athletes were wearing CD's knotted with ribbon around their necks. But an Olympic medal is an Olympic medal, and far be it for me to disparage them, as I hardly was close enough to be able to speak on the subject.

One of the reasons I love it is because I get to see women competing. It is surprising how compelling the feeling is of recognizing that the figures shown on screen make you think - that could be me. That could be me. That there is a certain kind of beauty found in grace and strength, in a ski racer as she bobs and weaves down the course, or in a skater's legs as she executes jump after jump, minutes into her routine. Or even a crazy beauty in the skeleton racers, who have the nerve to hurl themselves headlong down an icy track. That it's possible to be beautiful and athletic. I noticed that many of the TV ads while I was watching were for women - and I've read in the media that women comprise a slightly larger share of the viewing audience.

But perhaps another reason I love watching the Olympics is because it was such a close-held dream for so long. Watching Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 was one of my earliest memories, and I remember wanting to be a part of that. A dream I told few people, even when I realized I had a shot - a slim one, to be sure - but a shot to take my dreams and try to bring them to fruition. This is another kind of recognition, on a deeper level. You see a competitor's disappointment at a performance that turned out to be less than they expected it and it strikes a chord. You see an athlete in the groove, making it seem effortless, and your heart skips because you remember races that went that well. I never was good enough to achieve my dream, but I got close enough to taste it. To love the hours of training and the few great practices that made the rest for that month worthwhile.

When I watched the opening ceremonies, I got a chill. No, it wasn't because I secretly coveted the opening ceremony Valentino ballgown skirts that looked like ski mountains (although I wouldn't refuse a gift!) but - it was more the idea of the Olympics and I realized that even if you let go a dream due to the exigencies of life, it doesn't let go of you so easily. Even though I put away my rowing dreams in the closet along with the extra unis and tights, I still get a chill when I see racing - of any kind. And I realize that the profession I've been drawn to requires similar qualities preparation, training, a keen sense of competition, quick reflexes, good judgment, and most of all, the courage to perform for seven or ten minutes when your time comes and all eyes are on you. It's a way of satisfying that itch without the guilt that I felt when I was competing.

I think the U.S. speedskater Joey Cheek said it best when he commented that elite sport training was a selfish endeavor. His example of donating his medal earnings to Right to Play is admirable. In a small way, many of us who left our dream of elite rowing are doing similar things getting involved in real life, trying to make up for those hedonistic years by now getting involved, and using those things we've learned, or those things we've carried, with as much passion in our new lives as we did when our lives revolved around catch and release.

Good luck to those training; may your progress be steady and sure.

A.P. February 27, 2006



row2k author
Alessandra Phillips
Alessandra Phillips is a sculler at Vesper/Undine.

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