Olympics about more than hardware

Published 10:16 am Thursday, February 15, 2018

Long before there were a dozen 24-hour sports channels, we had Jim McKay’s iconic intoning on Saturday mornings: “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory. And the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ‘ABC’s Wide World of Sports!’”

As a kid growing up in the early 1980s, this was a favorite program. I don’t remember many of the stories from the sports anthology show but, like so many others, I’ll never forget the image of Slovenian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj wildly careering down the hill and crashing violently as the longstanding illustration of the agony segment.

It was somewhere in there my interest in the Winter Olympics was born.

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This weekend marked the launch of the 23rd version of the winter competition. I, and millions of others, will stay glued to the TV until it ends on Sunday, Feb. 25.

There is something about the patriotism of watching our best and brightest represent our great country mixed in with sports you don’t often see on major networks that makes this must-see TV.

But it will always be the last part of McKay’s intro that really epitomizes the best of what sports is about.

Sure, we love to watch the “thrill of victory” moments and the “agony of defeat” is often etched into our minds, but the “human drama of athletic competition” resonates the most.

It starts with watching how the athletes conduct themselves and represent their countries in front of the world. Hopefully, all Americans will handle themselves with dignity and class.

There are so many stories.

You have skier Linsey Vonn making a comeback after several potential career ending injuries and snowboarder Shaun White, arguably the sport’s most recognizable star, seeking redemption after falling — literally — short in 2014.

Brian Gionta followed his heart and stood up to the National Hockey League after the NHL refused to allow it players to go to the Olympics. The U.S. men’s team now consists mostly of minor leaguers and college players but won’t back down an inch. Maybe the leadership of the 39-year-old captain can help the team win its first hardware since 2010.

Snowboarder Kelly Clark, cross-country skier Kikkan Randall and a few others will make their fifth Olympic appearance for Team USA.

But it isn’t all about the U.S of A.

The first Jamaican women’s bobsled team will compete in the Winter Olympics this year. Their sled is nicknamed Mr. Cool Bolt in honor of the classic film “Cool Running” and Jamaican legend Usain Bolt.

Then you have the stories of the duos competing in the first mixed doubles version of curling. Aw, who am I kidding? This is an Olympic sport I just can’t get behind. But there are many other stories that create compelling TV.

Sports are truly about people and the stories their competitions create. Let’s enjoy all the victories to come and also show empathy for those facing defeat.

That is the true American way.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. He can be reached at (859) 759-0095 or by email at mike.caldwell@winchestersun.com.