Winter Olympics memories — You might as well jump

February 11, 2010

VANCOUVER-OLYMPICS/What comes to mind when you think of the Winter Olympics of the past? Is it graceful ice skaters or the bruising hockey encounters? Is it the hip-swerving skill of the slalom or the knee-trembling speed of the downhill?

Our Olympic memories are reflections of the prisms through which we viewed the Games — in reality, the priorities of our national television stations.

Austrians will have so many memories to choose from but no doubt millions of a certain age would recall Franz Klammer’s downhill gold from Innsbruck in 1976 or a later generation would opt for Hermann Maier’s double gold from Nagano in 1998. For many, many Brits it is all about Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards heroically finishing last in the ski jump in 1988 in Calgary.

A lot of Italians get excited recalling the charismatic skier Alberto Tomba winning a pair of golds in Calgary in 1998; for Americans, I imagine the number one memory would be the epic ‘Miracle on Ice’ in Lake Placid in 1980 when a team of mostly college and amateur players defeated the cold war rivals, the USSR, in a game that seemed made for Hollywood.

Perhaps, it is subconsciously because of the comically bespectacled Edwards, but I have long been fascinated by the ski jump and it was one of the most enjoyable aspects of covering the Games four years ago in Turin that I was able to witness that event live, from the finish area, for the first time.

Although I am a big fan of Alpine skiing, which I have covered for more than 10 years now, and I appreciate the skill, judgement and athleticism of those who take great physical risks powering their way down the slopes, there is something particularly awe-inspiring about those who zoom down an approach ramp and fling their bodies into the winter sky, risking so much as they search for a landing a few centimetres ahead of their rivals.

Television struggles to capture the true danger involved but it does beautifully showcase the elegant sight of the skier in perfect pose, gliding through the air.

This Games will no doubt produce its own memories. Perhaps the golden moments will come from the pre-Games favourites but the Olympics can also be cruel — consistency over the year counts for nothing here; it is all about hitting the top form, and fitness, at the right moment. Just ask Lindsey Vonn.

Most cruelly of all — most of us, who are largely ignorant of the various world championships in individual events, the sacrifices made over seasons and the achievements gained over years, will instead remember the athletes by what they produce in the next three weeks.

But, before it all begins, what are your favourite memories of Winter Games of the past?

PHOTO: Switzerland’s Andreas Kuettel soars through the air during the first practice for the ski jumping event at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in Whistler, British Columbia February 10, 2010. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

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