Voluntary capitivity part of Olympic experience

By Clyde Davis: Local columnist

How many of us, like myself, have been held semi-captive by the Winter Olympics?

It is, needless to say, a voluntary captivity. Nobody forces you, or me, or anyone else, to tune in to channel 14 or 4 respectively, entering by virtual reality, or wishful thinking, the world of cross country skiing, snowboarding, bobsledding, and almost any other winter sport (except curling, which no one understands).

Wishful thinking, of course, refers to the desire, not only to be in Torino, but to participate. Cross country I have done, bobsledding I would if I could, and snowboarding — well, that’s a would-if-I could-and-were-younger.

The wishful thinking is especially poignant for those of us who, homesick for any kind of snow this winter, have not only seen its lack in our area, but in our usual close-by haunts, such as Ruidoso.

Be that as it may, the fascination for me began sometime in the 1980s, but received a giant thrust forward during the winter of 2002. I was at that time very weak, recovering from chemotherapy, and unable to play in the snow, not due to lack of snow, but to lack of energy. To be perfectly honest, I would not have bet on my chances of ever enjoying winter again. Now the Olympics come round again …

The ultimate heartbreak, whatever your favorite winter sport, was doubtless the Michelle Kwan story. If there was anyone in the USA not pulling for Kwan, it would be best to keep it to yourself, since the rest of us were 110 percent in her corner. Will there be another Olympics for her? Open question, though it can be hoped for.

On the other end of the spectrum, given a low tolerance for cheating of any kind, it’s hard or perhaps nearly impossible to muster much sympathy for the Austrian ski team situation. No doubt there were some innocent parties hurt by this, and that is a shame. However, any time people in leadership positions make a decision to cheat, they damage not only themselves, but their players.

What is it about the Winter Olympics that captures the hearts and the minds of a great many people? It isn’t just the obvious superiority to reality TV. In my line of thinking, it has to do with accessibility, familiarity, and therefore identification.

In other words, at least from my neck of the woods, almost all of us have ridden a sled. Maybe not a bobsled, but a sled. I still have, greased up and ready to go, my 40-plus-year-old Flexible Flyer. (No, you can’t buy it, ’cause you can no longer find one around.) Yes, it still ran fine, as of last winter.

Many of us have tried skiing at one time or another, and found it enjoyable, whether cross country or Alpine. We are not Bode Miller wannabes, but can at least identify with what is going on in the athlete’s mind as he or she navigates the hills. Ice skating and hockey were never in my realm of experimentation, but were winter staples for many of my friends. It was just happenstance that led to my never attempting them, but the familiarity was still part of my world.

All in all, there’s a much stronger feeling of identification with what goes on in these games than is present with many athletic events. They seem, to me, to represent something we either do, at some level, or believe we could do, at some level. Like I said, if there had been snowboarding when I was 20 …

At any rate, we have now gotten our four-year fix. I can go back to being pretty much oblivious to television schedules, and others can go back to the reality shows, etc. At least until — let’s see, it’s 2010, right? And did I hear Vancouver? Now, that’s doable in person … time to start saving my quarters.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at:
clyde_davis@yahoo.com