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Forget Sochi shortcomings, Olympics are still about the Games

Updated: March 8, 2014 6:40AM



First off, lots of love for my Sun-Times brethren Rick Morrissey and Mark Lazerus who will be bringing the 2014 Winter Games home to all of us in Chicago and wherever we may be!

Better you fellows than I. Just kidding!

I would love to be there with you, but I sometimes drink from indoor faucets, so I’m not sure how long I’d survive. Still kidding!

I know you traveled, sleepless, for more than 24 hours, but they’ll have your beds ready soon. About that I am serious.

I’ve been to six Olympics, and Morrissey has been to several more, and there are certain things that always hold: accommodation screw-ups (my kingdom for a cot!), transportation screw-ups (buses that drive aimlessly to wrong venues, even ­cities), technology screw-ups (don’t talk to me about my techno frazzles in London or the Rube Goldberg ­Internet connection system in Sydney), viewing screw-ups (could you put us higher in the stadium, please? No? Thought so.)

That is what happens when the wheel is reinvented every two years in a new place, summer and winter, as a sort of twisted offering to countries and cities willing to nearly bankrupt themselves for the glory of sport.

Lazerus is on his maiden Olympics journey, and he’ll find, through the endless journalistic whining that flows ceaselessly like (brown) water from an unplugged fire hydrant, that complaining is to the press corps as methane exhaust is to a cattle herd. That’s just how we roll.

But beyond the hardship and language mistakes and surveillance weariness and odd food dishes lies a joy that no journalist can deny. These are the Olympics. These are the real deal. This is the extended competition that was started in summertime in ancient Greece nearly 3,000 years ago to show the gods that people cared and were thankful.

No matter how corrupt (bribes and kickbacks are said to be a third of the astounding $51 billion Russia spent on Sochi) or idealistic or inane, the Olympics are a platform striving to show humankind at its competitive best.

Winter Olympics are different from Summer Olympics, obviously. Many of the summer sports are ones that the average American, for instance, has dabbled in or at least experienced. Who hasn’t played basketball or sprinted or jumped over a hurdle of some kind or played volleyball or swam or wrestled (even if it was in the TV room with your brother) or run as far as you could until you nearly — or actually — hurled?

To see those summer champions is to recognize how much better those athletes are from the rest of us. It is to appreciate genius and the practice that hones genius to a diamond point.

The Winter Games are more of a curiosity than a display of democracy or meritocracy. That is, a whole lot of the world has never seen snow, let alone snow skis. How many times have you, personally, strapped on speed skates? Is there a luge run in your neighborhood? Mine, neither.

But the Winter Games are amazing in that we can intuitively recognize the fearlessness of ski jumpers, the endurance of cross-country skiers and the gracefulness of ice dancers without ever having tried any of those sports. We can see results of the single-minded pursuit of excellence and know that we have seen something as impressive as great art, great music, great drama.

The Winter Games started in 1924 in Chamonix, France, and though they have only been around for a fraction of the Olympics run, they have created sports heroes as great as any we have: Sonja Henie, Jean-Claude Killy, Franz Klammer, Eric Heiden, Bonnie Blair, Dan Jansen, Lindsey Vonn, and of course, the entire 1980 “Miracle on Ice” USA men’s hockey team.

I know Morrissey will be missing his beloved pooch, Brewster, while in Sochi, so I suggested before he left that he find one of the many stray dogs over there and take it in for the duration. Use it for companionship and warmth and even as a pillow. (I hear there is a pillow shortage in Sochi, too.) But he’ll have little time for that since he and Lazerus will be enjoying the heck out of an odd foreign culture and the splendor of the contests they’ll be witnessing.

I remember traveling to Olympus during the 2004 Athens Summer Games, and watching the first sporting events to take place in those ruins since ancient times. It was hot and the sun blazed down and there was no shade (complain, complain, complain), but history nearly overwhelmed me. The whole world was watching, and we all were looking back at our earliest selves, marveling at us.

It’s good to be at the Games.



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