Sunday, February 26, 2006

Every Four Years in the snow

The Winter Olympics happen every four years. Once again, I swore that I would not watch hours of Olympic events every night. The television coverage is America-centric, the events happen hours before they are broadcast in eastern standard time, and then there are the constant commercials….It runs counter to my intent to reduce the time used up in front of a television.

But then that theme starts playing. The screen is filled with white snow, sharp skies, and all those colorful skiers slashing across the mountains. And I watch.

I even become a hockey fan every four years. Not because of the American team. They play the usual brand of dump-and-run hockey that predominates in the NHL: all the action happens along the boards between bodies smashing against each other, skates and sticks poking an an inert rubber puck. The European teams are more adept at stickhandling, passing, and strategic play. Much more fun to watch.

Add to that, the Finnish team was having a great run through the Torino Olympics. They allowed only two goals during the preliminary round and were undefeated. They out-skated the Czech team and beat the Canadians. Their key players led the Olympics in scoring and assists. The Finnish Lions became the darling team of the tournament.

So I flew the flag. I tracked the games on the internet. They knocked the American team out in the first round of the medal competition, 4-3. They then shut out the Russians, who had become a favorite for the gold. The final was an all-Scandinavian affair when the Swedes eliminated the Czech team. As the Helsinki Sanomat proclaimed, it doesn’t get any better than this. Nine million people in Sweden, five million in Finland, and nary a television set tuned in to anything else.

At 8AM this morning, my television set joins them for the gold medal hockey game. I could only watch the first two periods, and the score was 2-2 before I had to go off to church. The Swedish team snatched a quick goal in the first 10 seconds of the third period – and it was over, save for mad rushes by the Finns at the Swedish goalie over the final few minutes. To no avail.

All those beautiful winter pictures in the mountains. Skiiers slashing through fog and blizzard down the slalom; downhill racers going 75 miles an hour over the icy snow, and catching an edge; cross-country skiers poling down a track with sweat poring off their faces; distance skaters bent at the waste, one pulsing arm pulling them around a turn in the oval; ski jumpers pushing off the end of the ramp, leaning out over the hill, framed against the blue sky. Plenty of contrasts and sharp lines between glorious color.

Too bad it’s nearly over.

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