Nathan's column: It was a gold-medal celebration
For 17 days this month some of the greatest athletes in the world gathered in Sochi, Russia to showcase their athletic abilities. To come together in the spirit of friendly competition and push to the very limits a human being’s ability to balance on slippery surfaces.
The winter Olympics are, of course, a spectacle, from the glittering opening ceremony through thrilling events that featured the grace and power of figure skating, the thrills of hockey and the willingness of people to cross country ski for two hours of cross country skiing.
There was also some curling, which so far as I can tell is the most compelling argument to be made for including bowling in the summer Olympics.The winter games never seems like quite as big a deal as the summer Olympics, though. It’s like the Olympics that was created so countries like Norway could feel good about themselves.“No, it’s OK that you can’t play basketball, Holland. You guys skate around an oval like nobody’s business!”Actually, if I’m honest, I kind of enjoy speed skating. There’s something calming about the rhythmic strides the skaters take. Plus, given that they obviously spend most of their time building leg strength it’s refreshing to see world-class athletes who I might have a chance to beat at arm wrestling.I don’t much care for the short-track version of speed skating, though. It’s like someone decided it was a good idea to do roller derby on ice and replace the wheels with really sharp blades. I just can’t get behind a sport where someone might win because another one of the competitors slipped and took out half the field.It’s the same reason I’m not a fan of snowboard cross. Or crashed ice.Crashed ice is an Olympic sport this year, isn’t it? Or do we have to wait for 2018? How long until all of the winter Olympic sports are events that the rest of the year are sponsored by Red Bull or Mountain Dew?This year’s festivities got off to a rocky start. It’s been well documented that many journalists arrived to find their hotels nowhere near finished. Door handles broke off in their hands. Water was either turned off or too toxic to use. In some cases welcome baskets were filled with deadly cobras instead of apples and pears.There were some technical difficulties during the opening ceremony, too. And then NBC broadcaster Bob Costas tried to address millions of Americans despite the fact his eyes appeared to be actively trying to evacuate his face.Eventually, though, the competition started and athletes could get down to the serious business of making excuses for why they didn’t do better.Norwegian cross-country skiers complained that there were problems with their skis. That’s unfortunate. If the piece of equipment is in the name of the event, you probably want to spend some extra time making sure it’s just right.For the American speed skaters, it was apparently their high-tech body suits that were the cause of their disappointing performance. The suits were made by Under Armor, who I imagine is kind of regretting the fact it got that contract.Figure skaters complained about judging, which seems to happen every time figure skaters compete. It’s hard to believe there could be controversy in a sport where the subjective opinion of a handful of people make the difference between a competitor crying tears of joy and a competitor crying tears of realizing they just trained 18 hours a day for nothing.There were plenty of happy stories, of course. Everybody seemed to love the Jamaican bobsled team, but the Jamaicans weren’t the only unlikely country to send a delegation to Russia. Morocco sent a pair of alpine skiers. Tonga sent a luger. The British Virgin Islands sent a freestyle skier.There were more, but after last week’s weather typing the names of warm-weather countries kind of bummed me out.It’s kind of refreshing to see countries coming together like that. To know you don’t need snow to compete in a snow sport.The Olympics aren’t about logic. They’re about bringing people together and celebrating human achievement in the best way we know how: By counting how many medals we won.