Every four years about this time, most Americans become instant experts on the Winter Olympics.
It's the only time we really care about such things as luge, lutz and salchow.
When the 22nd Winter Olympics begin early next month in Sochi, Russia, I'll be glued to my TV set most evenings, marveling at competitions I will not give a second thought to come March.
My own memories of the Winter Games go back as far as 1968 and Jean-Claude Killy, the French Alpine skier who took the world -- and young girls' hearts -- by storm. I was taking my first year of French in junior high at that time and vividly remember each and every girl in that class talking about nothing but "how cute Jean-Claude is" each and every time he would have been featured on the previous night's Olympic viewing.
Jean-Claude Killy aside, these are my all-time medal-winning favorite moments and/or events from the Winter Olympics:
Gold medal: The "Miracle on Ice" in 1980: To this day, I remember almost every detail of the United States' emotional 4-3 victory over the evil Russians. I was a young and aspiring sports writer in Mansfield, Ohio, and the game was played on a Friday night. By the time it had ended, nearly every reporter and member of the copy desk was gathered around an old black and white TV set in a second-floor conference room. As the game ended, we cheered as one, exchanging high fives and chanting "U-S-A!, U-S-A!" On that particular night, there was absolutely no objectivity. Yes, we were reporters, but we were Americans first and foremost.
And we were proud.
All of these years later, it is hard not to smile when I think about a bunch of U.S. college kids defeating a highly skilled group of Russian professionals at Lake Placid, N.Y. I think it's safe to say we'll never see anything like that again.
Silver medal: Dan Jansen's story: American speed skater Dan Jansen pursued Olympic gold for four Games before finally securing his medal. He was heavily favored at times during his first three Olympic Games, but some sort of bizarre accident, upset or tragedy helped keep him from the top step of the podium.
Prior to the 1988 Olympics, his sister, Jane, lost her battle with leukemia and Jansen lost both events he competed in. Finally, in his final Olympic appearance at Lillehammer in 1994, Jansen won the 1,000-meter gold.
Jansen skated the victory lap at Lillehammer carrying his infant daughter, Jane, who was named after his late sister.
I don't think there was a dry eye among any of the millions and millions of U.S. viewers. I know in our house there was not.
Jansen said he felt as if he were carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders as he kept coming up short. Actually, it was the other way around. Jansen was already a hero before that gold medal was placed around his neck.
Bronze medal: Tonya and Nancy: Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was the favorite to take home gold for the United States in the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer. In a dark twist, rival Tonya Harding enlisted her ex-husband to handicap Kerrigan. Despite being struck with a metal baton in the knee at the U.S. Championships, Kerrigan recovered in time for the Games, earning silver. Despite the scandal, Harding was still permitted to participate, finishing eighth.
This story was nasty enough at the time, but just imagine the impact it would have created if the Internet and the 24-7 news cycle would have been more of a factor 20 years ago.
Not only might it have enhanced this particular story, but we also may have developed a better understanding of the lutz and salchow.
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