Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Games

I get hooked on the Winter Olympics every four years. I am not sure why this is; some of it harks back to childhood. Winter was an important element as a kid, and my memories are full of winter activities –

Ice skating on the river overflow, a canal that formed along the perimeter of the railroad bed. All four of us kids started as pre-schoolers on two-runner skates. We had a bench and a burn barrel next to a pond that was about 10 yards-by-20 yards, and narrowed to a long canal that traveled about a mile down the valley behind our house. If we wanted to be adventurous, we walked a few blocks over and skated on a larger overflow pond. It seemed to collect many more kids.

Sledding in the open field next to the cemetery. We would hold our own mini-Olympics that included a jump over a knoll to see who could land the furthest out. It included a bump at the bottom of the jump that jolted the rider before heading down the rest of the hill. Dad used to take us even higher with the toboggan, building up speed down a chute that opened up into the wider hill.

Skiing at Penguin Peak, a cooperative hill built and maintained by members. Parents cut trails in the summer months, and installed a small rope tow. Eventually, our school offered a ski club, and all of us traveled to ‘the big hills’ near Cortland – lessons mandatory.

Another reason for this Olympic affinity was the year I spent in Finland (sorry, bad alliteration), where winter dominates the landscape for six months. I have vivid memories of ice ball games with one of my host families – hockey without the skates, using a tennis ball. We also attended a World Cup ski jump competition in Lahti, which included fireworks under a winter starlit sky, reflecting off the stark white snow cover.

Naturally, I silently root for the Finnish hockey teams, no matter who they play. And I cringe when some announcer calls them ‘the Suomi’s’, as if the name emblazoned on their jerseys refers to some animal they use as their team name.

Speaking of the Olympics, and hockey, and the Finns, here’s a novel proposal for a medal sport. Note the flags worn by some of the athletes.

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