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February 13, 2014

Winter Olympics mystify American sports fans

I was slow to warm up to the Winter Games.

There was all that talk about Russia hosting the most expensive Olympics ever. The hotel rooms weren’t finished, and it appeared toilets were optional.

Packs of dogs were running loose until they were picked up and taken to who-knows-where. Visitors were warned about terrorist plots, and U.S. fans were discouraged from wearing red, white and blue.

Then there were incessant photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin  parading around without a shirt. Talk about a strange marketing image to get fans excited about Sochi, a resort nestled along the Black Sea.

Of course, getting excited about the Winter Games is difficult in this country, as it is, except maybe for people who live near ski resorts.

We don’t know much about some of these sports – what’s a halfpipe? – and even less about the star performers. This isn’t like watching the Super Bowl, where everyone knows the quarterbacks and opinions are plentiful.

The Winter Olympics sell pageantry and performance. They blend art with athleticism in a way that transcends sports. The opening ceremonies, thankfully, changed the narrative from political posturing to a celebration of achievement and expression.

The Olympics are a series of stories – joy from victory, agony from defeat.

I recall watching a skater take to the ice in advance of his 4 minute, 30 second routine. He was a picture of concentration. As he twisted and turned through a well-scripted routine, he failed to nail a spinning move then fell to the ice. It had to be crushing for him, and difficult for those in attendance to watch.

Moments later, he fell again, but then jumped up and proceeded on, offering a brief grin. If it wasn’t a victorious moment, it was a courageous one. He didn’t quit.

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