For the Love of the Games Part I

13 02 2010

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with the Games.  It was 1988, the summer Olympic Games were being held in Seoul, South Korea.  I had picked up a small book (it was a red hard cover and a number of Olympic images appeared on the front) and was completely in awe of all that was in front of me.  Florence Griffith Joyner, with her wild hair, patriotic fingernails and outrageous running suit, blitzes the field and smashes the world record in the 100m and 200m sprints, and becomes my role model.  (She was later replaced by Australian sprinter, Melinda Gainsford-Taylor, who inspired me to continue with my athletics in the hope I would one day represent my county… Ah-huh.)  Coincidentally, and unknown to me at the time, the Games of the XXIV Olympiad (as they are officially known) is to be remembered for the Ben Johnson drug-cheat controversy and the end of the debate surrounding amateur and professional sports persons.

February 2010 welcomed the return of The Games to the sporting spotlight, albeit the winter variety, and I found myself glued to the television for the Opening Ceremony.  Honestly, these ceremonies are becoming a bit much; they have turned into a ‘Anything you can do, I can do better’ competition between the countries and even if they are magical, I also think they are a huge and unnecessary extravagance.  However, all credit to the organising committee of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.   It was momentous, but the meaning behind the display leading up to the parade of nations attending was so well communicated, and the incorporation (without going overboard) of the indigenous people of Canada was truly beautiful.  Even though the event got off to a shaky start with the death of 21-year-old luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili from Georgia, more than 60,000 people filled the stadium in Vancouver to witness the ceremony (which I might add was the first Olympic opening or closing ceremony to be held indoors).

It can be argued that the Olympics unite the world in sport; that by bringing the nations of the world together the event is breaking down political barriers and strengthening the ties of friendship and peace.  Perhaps this is an idealistic view, and I will admit that some countries will use the Games to pursue their own interests, but I also strongly believe that the Olympics are consistent in their attempts to put feuds between nations to one side (even if it is for 12-16 days).

One of the great things about the Olympic Games (summer or winter) is that from out of the woodwork appear countries I can only assume have never existed from one four-year period to the next (seriously, Kyrgyzstan?).  In specific reference to this year’s winter Olympics, I am also genuinely amazed at the number of countries competing whose competitors would be more likely to suffer from heat stroke and frost bite.  For example, Jamaica (thanks Cool Runnings), Mexico and Morocco are making a return to the games, and they’ll be joined by the Cayman Islands, Colombia, Ghana, Montenegro and Pakistan who are debuting this year.  What the…?

This is the beauty of the Olympics – EVERYONE wants to take part!  For the record, there are 82 Olympic Nations taking part in the XXI Olympic Winter Games this year and Australia has 40 athletes vying for glory.

Of the 15 sports on offer this year there are a few that deserve extra attention.  The men’s Snowboard Cross is a nailbiter of an event, where boarders race to the finish line navigating narrow turns, jumps, drops, steep and flat sections.  It’s all about control, and Australia’s Alex Pullin is regarded as ‘hot favourite’.  While there is a men’s event, it is the women’s Skeleton that deserves a look.  Riding down a small sled at speeds in excess of 120km/hr and experiencing forces up to 5g face first is nothing short of madness, and the women who have the balls to risk ‘life and limb’ with this event are worthy of promotion.  Keep an eye out for Melissa Hoar and Emma Lincoln-Smith of Australia.  Let’s not forget the Figure Skating, with its intricacies and elegance.  But it’s not just the beauty of figure skating that has my attention, it’s the sexual naming of so many of its moves.  Who can go passed a ‘cherry-flip’ or a ‘open stroke’ or a ‘spread eagle’? 

 Eat your heart out and let the Games begin!

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