I am an Olympics junkie. I still watch VHS tapes from as far back as the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. At this very moment, I could head into my basement and watch the sporting world be shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, at the discovery from Seoul, Korea that Ben Johnson, world-class sprinter, was a drug cheat.
But I can also watch the massive crowd at the bottom of the Super-G course at Kvitfjell, Norway, during the Lillehammer Games; sing Happy Birthday to US gold (downhill) and silver (Super-G) medalist Tommy Moe in appreciation for his skills and good sportsmanship.
Few televised events are so filled with teachable moments as the Olympic Games. With Sochi 2014 in full swing, let’s think about how as parents, we can turn a love for sport into a subtle education for our kids. Two quick stories.
1) My stepson Brendan was five or six. We were lying on the floor of the den, watching hockey during the ’88 Calgary Games on Canadian TV. A segment on Russian Vladisav Tretiak, one of the best net minders of all time, had just aired.
“Beej, that guy right there, during the height of his career,” I said, “was the best there ever was. Nobody in the world ever played goal as well as Tretiak. That’s something, isn’t it? To be able to say, I’ve worked so hard at something, and I am the best?”
Later that year, Brendan was playing in a tee ball league. He hit a double that drove in a couple of runs. After the game, he said, “Didja see that, Dave? I was like Tretiak out there!”
2) Johan Olav Koss is one of speedskating’s greatest athletes. (He’s also one of finest ambassadors in all of sport, but that’s another story.) He excelled during the 1994 Games in his home country of Norway. Two winters later, I was watching ‘94 Games tape whilst working out in the basement. My four year old son Aaron was hanging out in the beanbag chair. A segment was shown about training which featured Tommy Moe and Koss during their off-seasons. Aaron, at that very moment, gave us new names. He was Moe, he said, and I was Koss. He grabbed two dumbbells and started, very energetically, to rep out some bench presses.
“C’mon, Koss!!” he shouted. “We’ve got to get ready to race! Moe and Koss, we got to train harder!!”
To this day, seventeen years later, when we lift together, we still shout “C’mon MOE! Let’s go KOSS!!” at each other when we start to cave.
My top 4 teachable moments of the Sochi Games to date
1) Alex Bilodeau (Canada) won the men’s mogul event, the first man to win the event in back to back Games. The real story, however, is the story of the love and dedication between Alex and his older brother. Alex’s brother has cerebral palsy, and is Alex’s support and inspiration. The bond between the two is unbreakable. Please, take a moment and watch the clip. Just have some tissues handy.
2) Shawn White, the face of snowboarding in much of the world, handled his 4th place in halfpipe with a certain amount of grace. “For me to be remembered in the sport, I don’t think tonight makes or breaks my career,” White said. “I’ve been snowboarding for so long, and I love it so much, that I’m happy to take this for what it is and move on and continue to ride.”
White, who won the first two gold medals offered in prior Games, spoke on the need to go big on the sports’ biggest night. “I went for big tricks that only (gold medalist) Iouri and myself are doing,” White said. “I could have played it safe, I guess, and tried to get in a decent score, but I really wanted to win. We came in on a mission and it just wasn’t my night, which is really tough to say. It’s a big night.”
3) In a semi-final of the men’s freestyle sprint cross-country ski competition, a Russian skier, Anton Gafarov, crashed heavily. His ultra-lightweight race ski exploded. Gafarov, already at the back of the field, soldiered on with shreds of ski still attached. The Canadian National Team coach, Justin Wadsworth, was nearby. He ran out with a replacement ski and helped the Russian into the binding. Wadsworth’s sportsmanship, seen by the finish area crowd on the Jumbotron, allowed the Russian athlete to finish with an Olympian’s dignity in front of his home crowd.
4) In the men’s 500 meter speedskating event, the Dutch dominated the rink. Throughout the evening, a glitch was present between the official ‘electric eye’ timing and the unofficial scoreboard display. This made it necessary for athletes to hold their collective breath to see if the time first displayed was indeed the official time which would flash moments later.
Dutchman Jan Smeekens skated last. He completed his run, looked up at the scoreboard, and saw he was the gold medal winner. His face exploded in joy. He looked down, unzipped his speed suit, looked back up, and saw that his ‘adjusted time” now had him slotted into the silver medal placing, behind fellow Dutchman Michel Mulder. His jaw dropped in disbelief. He coasted along for a few moments in shock, shaking his head. He glided to the bench, changed into his shoes, and walked over to congratulate his teammate on the win. In the Netherlands, where top speedskaters own rock star status, such a graceful move will never be forgotten.
Dads & Moms, it’s all there for you in the Sochi Winter Games
There are moments of heartbreak, handled with grace and dignity. There are moments of sheer joy; young men and women reveling their mind and body working at a level for which they have spent years and years of committed practice. There are moments when a youngster can see what dedication and discipline looks like. There are moments where athletes, knowing full well they have no chance of winning, still put themselves on the line before the world.
Listen to the story of American mogul skier Heidi Kloser. The 21 year old Ms. Kloser blew out her knee in practice, the day before the Games official opening ceremonies. She slammed into the fifth mogul a bit awkwardly. Her landing tore her ACL. It tore her MCL. It chipped her tibial plateau. It cracked her femur. She rode down the hill in the first aid sled. Her mother and father fought her way to her side. She grabbed her Mom’s hand. The first words out of Heidi’s mouth? “Mom, I didn’t actually get to race. Am I still an Olympian? I am, aren’t I? I’ll be ready for 2018. You watch.”
For the Opening Ceremonies, a teammate pushed Heidi in a wheelchair into the stadium. Upon entering the stadium proper, Heidi grabbed her crutches and walked in on her own. An Olympian, to the end.
Teachable moments. They’re everywhere in the Olympics.
What’s your favorite teachable moment from these Games?
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