I know nothing about hockey. I went to a game once, though, when my good friend, Gayle Latimore, a St. Louis Blues fan, got tickets when they played the now-defunct Kansas City Scouts. She convinced me to go. Here’s what I remember: It was cold. Whoever heard of an indoor sporting event’s being cold? She explained that the large expanse of ice keeps the arena “chilly.” I didn’t care. I was cold, so I didn’t like hockey.
That didn’t keep me, however, from sitting in front of the television in 1980, enraptured, watching the United States hockey team make Olympic history as they beat the cocky – and professional – Russians to take the gold medal. I jumped up and down, yelling, “USA, USA!” and “Eruzione!” along with millions of Americans who were beyond ecstatic.
I was watching hockey because I really like the Olympic Games. Being somewhat athletically challenged – OK, VERY athletically challenged – I nevertheless watch in wonder and awe to see what finely honed athletes can do with their physical gifts. It never occurred to me in my younger years that a game such as beach volleyball even existed, but Misty May and Kerri Walsh Jennings made me a fan. I watched these tall, strong women, unafraid to appear in teeny-tiny bathing suits (they didn’t even have to hold in their stomachs), run and jump and pound a little white ball, and other teams, into submission.
I even like to watch the Dressage events, as massive horses and their riders gracefully glide around a field beset with danger – a fence, a little pond, a hedge. I love to see the horses’ power as they take each jump, and the riders’ calm grace as they become almost a part of the horses as they leap smoothly over the barriers.
But the stars of the summer Olympics, for me, are swimming, gymnastics, and track and field. I have friends who run, and Emily did gymnastics for a while; she also was on Smith Cotton’s swim team, and so I understand the discipline that goes along with these sports. My friend Carolyn ran a marathon – her first – on her 60th birthday. She trained for months, getting up at Zero Dark Thirty every day to run outside, regardless of the weather or the temperature. I am a fair weather walker – I walk outside in temperate weather. Otherwise, I hit the treadmill. I can’t imagine going outside on a dark, cold morning in January to train, but track athletes do that.
I watched Zina Fudge teach Emily, when she was a little tyke, how to move her body into pretzel positions so that she could do walkovers and backbends and roundoffs, things I could never have hoped to do. I was also really proud of the girls on Joe Arbisi’s swim team during Emily’s high school years. They practiced for two or three hours daily, swimming long distances and short sprints, and getting themselves into remarkable shape. I remember the day Emily swam a mile one afternoon after school. What an accomplishment!
Of course, none of these people has made it to the Olympic Games, but their dedication and desire make them stars in my book. I can’t imagine what it takes to become an elite athlete – one of the best in the world.
The Olympics also remind us that the world is not always a kind place. Ten athletes will be competing under the Olympic flag as refugees from different parts of the world, and I remember the Munich 1972 Olympic Games, when nine members of the Israeli team were murdered by Palestinian terrorists (https://www.olympic.org/munich-1972). And this year, several Russian athletes have been banned from the Games because, simply said, they cheated.
Even so, the Games show us the best in the world, the camaraderie that can exist among those whose purpose in life is to compete fairly, and the hope we can have in humanity. So I will burrow down for the next few days to watch people who have trained for a lifetime, who risk being the last to cross the finish line, who are the pride of their countries. And I will be awed once again.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.