As I catch bits and pieces of the televised Sochi Olympics, I continue to reflect on my experiences seeing the 2006 Torino/Turin Games in person. This week, my thoughts have turned to what they call “the sliding sports”: luge, bobsled, and skeleton. I caught a little bit of each of these in Torino, and if you think it’s awesome on TV, you should see the action on the track! Of all of them, Skeleton would have to be my favorite. For one thing, it is just hard-core: they are going head-first! down the track! on their stomachs! Even more importantly, though, the athletes are really about the sport, the team, the camaraderie – in short, about the Olympic Spirit.
I have always wanted to try luge, and I was SO lucky to catch the men’s luge in Torino, and see Armin Zoeggeler, the hometown favorite, win gold at Cesana. He was born, grew up, and lives just a “state” or two away, in Sudtirol (South Tyrol), a place that sounds a lot more German than Italian. (Maybe someday I will write a post on the historical linguistics of the southern Alps, one of my favorite topics.) Unfortunately, I lost all of my photos from the first week of the 2006 Games in a glitch of international technological incompatibility (i.e., the CD I burned in Italy didn’t work when I got home). The videos of the crowds cheering were almost as wonderful as the race itself. How amazing it would have been to see him win a sixth gold at age 40 in Sochi! Albert Demchenko, the Russian who won two silvers earlier this week also came in second at the Torino Olympics – it’s great to see the same athletes stick around at the top of their sport for so long! And of course everyone has been talking about the US women’s luge star Kate Hanson, and her free-spirited warmups! Go luge!
I haven’t always wanted to compete in Skeleton, but only because it hasn’t been around for my whole life! Men’s Skeleton was only introduced as an official Olympic sport in 2002, and Women didn’t compete in the sport until 2006. When I saw the final (Heats 3 and 4) in February of ’06 at Cesana, that meant it was the first chance at a Gold medal that any of those
women had ever had. Every single one of them was clearly more excited about just having the opportunity to compete than about winning or losing. They were so supportive of each other, even when they didn’t speak the same language, that it was inspiring to see. If you caught the televised preliminary heats tonight, you saw that they are still all about the sport and the Olympic spirit, though obviously there is a fire to win. Team USA has two women in the top four, giving us an excellent chance to medal. I can’t wait to check out the finals tomorrow!
Having seen so much joy and spirit at that track at Cesana Pariol, I was sad to see that it was dismantled due to the high cost of maintenance. Maybe if it weren’t such an expensive and obscure sports, little girls like me would have been able to give it a shot.