Watching the winter Olympics has reminded me of a number of things.
To begin with, it has reminded me that although I have not done so since the last winter Olympics, I really like to ski. For me personally, skiing takes such a tremendous amount of focus, such an intense merging of physical and mental energy, everything else in the world just momentarily disappears. All I could ever do while skiing is just ski. And then I would fall, almost always with intense momentum, into the snow. Which brings us to our next paragraph.
The Sochi Olympics have also reminded me that I am a very bad skier. These athletes have swooped down icy mountains all week with greater dexterity than I would have walking down a small flight of stairs after practicing all day. As if that isn’t enough, they have often performed these heroics atop less-than-ideal terrain. As I watched the slalom racers, for example, swishing left and right through the gates, I wanted to shout, “Yeah! You did it! You did not kill yourself! Awesome job not dying!” Instead, the announcers have the audacity to smugly mutter things like, “Oh, she will not be happy with that performance. She is a full 10th of second behind her best time.” Time? She just skied down a sheet of ice without breaking her head off! That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life!
Finally, I am reminded that the difference between success and failure — regardless of how one might define either — can often be summarized by one verb: acclimate. As we have heard from numerous Olympic announcers and some of the athletes themselves, the conditions in Sochi have been less than ideal. Rain and snow and a combination of both have complicated downhill tracks that are quite complicated in the first place. The Olympians, particularly those competing outside, have had to acclimate to these conditions in order to succeed.
In fact, it might be argued that one reason snowboarding hero Shaun White did not earn a gold medal last week was because he did not acclimate in time to the less-than-ideal terrain in the half-pipe. Granted, his immensely talented competition also had much to do with his fourth-place finish, but the conditions certainly played their part.
Although they did not come close to medaling, the Jamaican bobsled team perhaps represents the opposite end of this spectrum. Folks, I have been to Jamaica, and I did not see any snow. The only ice I saw was in my drink. Yet, there the Jamaicans were, earning their 29th-place finish, sliding down an icy track ridiculously fast.
After their final race, a particularly astute television reporter interviewed the two members of the Jamaican bobsled team, Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon. He began to question them about all the obstacles they had to overcome to make it to the Sochi Olympics for the first time in 12 years, and Watts cut him off almost curtly. Paraphrasing, he basically said, “Listen, we are from Jamaica. Our whole lives have been a struggle. We see an obstacle, and we find a way to overcome that obstacle.”
Shaun White lost his half-pipe Olympic bid. He could have pouted, as is often the custom for many professional athletes. He could have made excuses. He did neither. He smiled his giant smile and congratulated the victors. He acclimated to the moment and demonstrated graceful sportsmanship.
A friend of mine has made the comment that he could not control the weather, but he could control whether or not he had a snowmobile. Many Americans have had to acclimate to a winter that has provided more snowmobiling opportunities than normal. Who knows, a few more winters like this, and we may all be much better skiers.