My first Olympic memories are from 1988, and they consist of playing hockey in my living room with a plastic golf club and ball while watching the real games. I remember Dan Jansen falling in his quest for gold (for some reason wearing orange and gray). And oddly enough, I remember driving two plastic stock cars around the living room floor in “Olympic”-inspired races.
Four years later, I was caught up in hockey fever as Team USA rode a hot goalie to within a breadth of a medal. I had graduated from plastic golf gear to hover hockey on the basement floor. I was Clark Donatelli scoring against the Russians and the great Ray LeBlanc making another dramatic save. I wasn’t alone in living out my own Olympics. My sister joined me in “figure skating” on the rug in the basement. We had saucer-sliding competitions off of our picnic table. Simple and silly, they are cherished childhood memories.
(At this point I think I should take credit for the wonderful idea of offsetting the winter and summer Olympic games. As a child, somewhere between 1988 and 1992, I thought to myself, four years is an awfully long time to wait for the next Olympics. They should have them every two years, rotating between winter and summer. And what do you know, they adopted such a philosophy in 1994. You’re welcome.)
In 2002, I was in college and my viewing of the Olympics was limited. I did get to watch Team USA and Team Sweden (a second favorite since my grandmother was Swedish…and because their yellow on blue unis are sweet) from the student union, and a friend (Thanks Nate G) let me watch the US men win their first bobsledding medal in almost fifty years after I was tossed from the girls’ common area on a ridiculous technicality.
Four years later, I was married and in love. With curling, that is. I had never witnessed a curling match until 2006, but I found myself captivated by this strange sport. I came home from work every day and flipped on the cable to watch Team USA pursue a bronze medal. By the time Pete Fenson drew to the button for a win, I actually had a rudimentary understanding of what exactly was going on (and drawing to the button is a real thing). And in 2006, I watched the Closing Ceremonies with a certain melancholy, conflicted by my desire to one day pull of a double cork McTwist on the halfpipe and having no snowboard and no reasonable prospects of every owning one. It just wasn’t practical.
By 2010, practicality had been thrown aside and I was carving powder. But the Vancouver games will forever be remembered for two other events. The first is Team USA’s silver medal in hockey, a medal that was largely earned with a pool play victory over the Canadians. I watched the game with my sister and brother-in-law while downing the tastiest burgers ever. A memory that will never fade. But 2010 is also the year my grandma went home to be with the Lord. She died just days before the games began, and her funeral was held during the first week of competition. I remember those days with sadness, but also with a smile, because I shared some great times with my immediate and extended family. For no other reason than its timing, it’s an event forever linked in my mind to the Olympics.
Now four more years have gone by. My wife and I moved into a new house, and then into a nicer house. I have two new nephews. I’ve gone through highs and lows I could never have anticipated. And I’m still trying to figure out curling. I have no idea where (or even if) I’ll be four years from now when the nations convene once again for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games. For that reason, I’ll watch the Closing Ceremonies in a few weeks with a touch of nostalgia. And for that reason, I’ll ravenously consume the coverage from Sochi for the next two weeks.