Growing up, my brothers and I were not allowed to have televisions in our rooms. On special occasions only, my parents would allow us to cart a tiny, nine-inch television up the stairs and into our bedrooms. There were not many occasions that warranted this privilege – usually PBS specials or election night coverage, occasionally a Disney Channel original movie premiere. But one event that we were always allowed to dust off the miniature television to watch was the Olympics.
I was four, almost five, when Atlanta’s 1996 summer games took place and do not remember much about them, aside from the red, white and blue “Olympic Team Cheerios” I would eat for breakfast. It was not until 1998, when Nagano hosted the winter games that I fell in love with the Olympics and everything they represent.
I distinctly remember setting up that television on my night-stand, staying up far past my bedtime to watch Tara Lipinski become the youngest athlete to ever win a gold medal at a winter games. I can still see her dazzling cobalt costume, I can still hear the excitement in the commentator’s voices as she landed the triple toe/half loop/triple salchow sequence at the end of her long program. It did not matter that I was watching it on a microscopic television screen, it was still a monumentally grand event to me – if Lipinski, a 15-year-old from Pennsylvania could win a gold medal, it seemed to me that anything was possible.
Since that moment, each year that the games take place, whether I am watching swimming or hockey, beach volleyball or the biathlon (cross-country skiing and rifle shooting), I find myself constantly inspired by the stories that these athletes have. There rarely seems to be an athlete competing who has not experienced some sort of personal failure or injury, a heartbreaking family tragedy, a setback or struggle of some kind. And yet, there they are, a representative of their country, competing in the Olympics, pushing the limits of their sport, constantly trying to do that which has never been done before.
As this year’s Winter Games are set to begin in a little more than a week, these kinds of inspirational stories have already begun to surface. There is the instance of Tracy Barnes giving up her spot on the U.S. Olympic biathlon team to her twin sister, Lanny Barnes, who placed one spot shy of qualifying due to an inconveniently timed illness. There is the heartwarming story of the Jamaican two-man bobsled team that qualified for the games, only to realize that they lacked the funding to travel to Sochi – so thousands of online donors chipped in to help make the trip possible. There are stories of the trailblazers, like snowboarder Shaun White, who is going after his third gold medal at this year’s games, even despite his crash during a slopestyle event just one short week ago. There are stories of redemption, too, like figure skater Ashley Wagner, who skated poorly and placed fourth at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, yet was awarded a spot on the Olympic team, giving her a second chance.
There is disappointment and heartbreak in these games, of course, but there is also triumph and celebration, a kind of hope. The Olympic games remind us that the word “impossible” is not a certainty, but a challenge – a challenge to prove to ourselves, to the world, that we are intrepid – we overcome.
The Opening Ceremonies for the XXII Olympic Winter Games is set to air at 7:30 p.m. on Fri., Feb. 7 on NBC. To keep up with all the action, visit the Sochi 2014 website.
Photo via nbcolympics.com/