Column: Line Drives — Olympics bring anticipation

[This is my column from Feb. 6 in The Commercial Review.]

Today marks my favorite quadrennial day.

It’s the start of the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

My earliest memory of the winter games was 1994, the attack on Nancy Kerrigan and the turmoil that surrounded the entire fiasco.

I was reminded of this incident when I watched “The Price of Gold,” an installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.

I didn’t quite understand the consequences and scope of the event as a young 8-year-old chap, but the ESPN documentary opened my eyes to the social impact it had on the Olympics that year in Norway and the controversy surrounding it.

I knew the names — Oksana Baiul of Russia, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding, Kerrigan of the United States — but that was the extent of my knowledge of the 1994 games.

Since then, my awareness of the sporting spectacular has changed tenfold, along with my interest.

It is the one time every four years I get to watch the best athletes in my country battle the best from across the world. It is a time for me to be proud of the athletes that represent my country and the success they have on an international level.

But it is also a chance for me to expand my interest in sports which do not get very much publicity otherwise.

And that begins with curling.

Sure, there is athletic ability and strategy involved in the sport, but in layman’s terms, a household chore has been turned into an Olympic event.

It’s an incredible sport to watch. It is definitely something I wish I had the opportunity to try and play.

Another interesting event in the Winter Olympics is the biathlon. Who knew an event combining the skills of cross country skiing with that of marksmanship could earn someone an Olympic medal?

My introduction to bobsledding came in the form of the 1993 Disney movie “Cool Runnings,” in which a former Olympic champion (John Candy) coaches an unlikely team of Jamaican sprinters to the Olympics.

On Jan. 18, the Jamaican bobsled team qualified for the Sochi Olympics. And because it was short of funding to get to Russia, supporters online banded together to raise money for the team to get to the games.

Dudley Stokes, general secretary of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation and original member of the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team that “Cool Runnings” is loosely based on, said the support the team received would not have been possible without the appeal of the movie.

Then there’s the one Olympic sport I care about the most: hockey.

At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the United States and Canada played in what may rank as one of the best Olympic hockey games in history, aside from the 1980 Miracle game in Lake Placid. The United States fought back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the Canadians with 24.4 seconds remaining.

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby found the back of the netting 7:40 into overtime to give Canada its first gold medal on home soil. It was also the 14th medal of the games for the North American country, a Winter Olympics record.

I can only hope Team USA can avenge the disheartening loss from Vancouver and get revenge on Canada in Sochi.

But part of me thinks things in Russia won’t go  very smoothly. There are already tons of issues and the games haven’t even started yet.

The concern over the safety of the athletes and spectators given the recent bombings make me wonder if anyone will be killed. And if so, how many?

I’ve read articles over the past few days that journalists are having problem with their hotel rooms. Some reporters do not even have rooms, and some hotels have yet to be completed.

Then there’s Shaun White — arguably the best male to strap on a snowboard in the history of the sport — announcing Wednesday he is going to withdraw from the slopestyle event because of the course conditions.

A new event at the Olympics, slopestyle is a fast downhill course riddled with rails, bumps and very steep jumps.

But things must really be bad when White, the 27-year old American who has revolutionized the sport, is quoted as saying the course is “a little intimidating.”

White injured his wrist during a practice run because of the intense course, which Canadian Mark McMorris said includes takeoff ramps that are “kind of obnoxiously tall.”

Granted, White wants to become the first male American to win three straight gold medals in the Winter Olympics. He is the reigning halfpipe champion from Vancouver and Turin.

With that as a goal, I don’t blame him for choosing to sit out.

Curling, the Jamacians, USA hockey and White are just a few of the storylines I look forward to watching unfold this year at Sochi.

Although my schedule may be busy with basketball during the month of February, if I am not working or sleeping, I will be in front of the TV watching as much Olympic action as possible.


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