Tom Sorensen

2018 Olympics inspiring, but my favorite Winter Games moment set a high bar

Gold medalist Esmee Visser of The Netherlands celebrates after Friday’s women's 5,000-meters speedskating race at the Gangneung Oval at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Gold medalist Esmee Visser of The Netherlands celebrates after Friday’s women's 5,000-meters speedskating race at the Gangneung Oval at the 2018 Winter Olympics. AP

I’ve been laid up most of the last week and as a result I’ve watched more Winter Olympics than I ever have. After two weeks, I know the commentators and feel as if I know the athletes.

The athletes that ski backward over jumps or leap high enough on snowboards to touch the sky are inspiring. I don’t even like roller coasters.

I’ve written about curling, and I’ve had time to learn the rules. It’s a pretty cool sport. The appeal is that we all think we can do it. What other televised sports make us think, “I can do that”?

Short-track speedskating and snowboard cross have grabbed me. Both are like a car race at a short track, part speed, part skidding, part demolition derby and part survival. Train four years for this, for the Winter Olympics stage, and you can get wiped out simply because you’re in the way. I’d like to see Austin Dillon on blades or a board. I guarantee the athletes in front of the Daytona 500 winner worry about being spun.

What I like most about the Olympics is that these are sports I don’t watch. I don’t have room for new sports in real life. But every four years, I can make some. The games, which began Feb. 7, conclude Sunday.

My favorite Winter Olympics moment was in 1980. The games were in Lake Placid, N.Y., and in a semifinal the U.S. played the Soviet Union in hockey. The Soviet Union had won hockey gold in five of the past six Olympics.

I worked in Minneapolis then and there was a bar that catered to the newspaper and cops and lawyers, and I stopped there on the way home. The U.S.-Soviet Union game was on the radio but not TV. Fans huddled three-deep around the radio inside the bar.

The radio was once how many fans received their sports news. That night, it was as if we had been transported to another time. The game was delayed on television. Radio aired it live. When the U.S. team, made up entirely of amateurs, upset the Soviet Union 4-3, strangers hugged strangers and danced and yelled. We cheered as if we were in Lake Placid.

MiracleOnIceAp
My favorite Winter Olympics moment was in 1980, when the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets 4-3. Above, the American squad pounces on goalie Jim Craig after the win at Lake Placid, N.Y. AP File Photo

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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