These are the first winter Olympics that my eldest son will be old enough to understand. I hope we can have some fun watching them together. I predict that his favorite sport will be bobsled because the Germans traditionally succeed in it. He’s a big fan of Germany right now.
Having owned a pair of cross country skis since childhood, I’ve always preferred the winter Olympics. They inspired my youth like no other sporting event. I loved baseball and basketball, but was a mediocre player. As a skier, I had no peers for comparison; for all I knew, I was pretty good.
I was 12 during the Lake Placid Olympics. They were happening just a few hours away from where I lived. Most Americans remember Lake Placid (if they remember it) for the Miracle on Ice. I remember it as the time when “skating” became a controversial new technique in Nordic skiing. (It’s called Nordic skiing because that makes it sound Norwegian, and nothing is cooler to a cross country skier than pretending to be Norwegian.)
There was a corn field behind my house. Every day I would put on my skis and my wristwatch and do laps around that field. The winter Olympics and the growing season don’t conflict, so I didn’t have to slalom through any stalks. Every day I would mark my time. The next day I would try to beat it.
Corn fields aren’t the most professional of courses, but it didn’t matter. It also didn’t matter that I was routinely followed by a German Shepherd who made his own sport of stepping on the back of my skis as I went. What mattered was that I got faster. For a few minutes every day, I could dream of becoming the first American to win gold in any Nordic event.
It was a forlorn dream. By the time I caught my breath I realized that. I had no friends who skied. My school didn’t even have a football team. The idea of a ski team would have sent the community into fits of hysteria. This corn field was the best training ground I would ever have. Being in the same state as Lake Placid was as close to the Olympics as I would ever get. I always knew that, but I still raced myself, because sometimes just having a dream is enough.
I hope my son and I can catch some of the Nordic skiing on TV this year. It’s kind of hard to do, between the non-stop figure skating and the novelty of a few hours of curling – a sport that allows us to scratch our heads and say, “Really, Canada? You thought this would be a good sequel to hockey? WTF?”
Maybe after we watch, I’ll take him outside with his skis. Maybe he’ll be inspired to dream a little dream. If not, that’s okay. I’ll dream one for him. I’ll dream I’m skiing alongside the first American ever to win Olympic gold in a cross country race.