Let the games begin!

Remembering the excitement and hubbub over the Olympics “in the old days,” as my 9-year-old refers to the years of my childhood, I recall the anticipation we all felt at watching American athletes compete for the gold against individuals and teams from other countries. The triumphs of Mary Lou Retton, Carl Lewis, Greg Louganis, Scott Hamilton and Brian Boitano, among others, remain in my memory. My mom would shush! us as we sat around the television at odd hours of the day and night, waiting to catch competitions and replays in an era that predated DVR and on demand.

How did Greg Louganis twist and contort his body so quickly on those high dives? How did little figures such as Mary Lou Retton flip and tumble with such ease? How was it possible for Scott Hamilton to execute back flips wearing ice skates? ICE SKATES!?! What was a “triple Salchow” jump anyway, and where on Earth did they come up with that name? How could mere hundredths of seconds be the difference between medaling and going home empty handed? I did a lot of wondering and amazing at those athletes as a kid. Now, I simply watch these individuals and I wonder how in the world a person could pull off that kind of determination and practice schedule.

I was too young in 1980 to fully understand the importance of the U.S. hockey team’s defeat over the Soviet team, but I do recall my mother – a woman who believed ice skates belonged on graceful figure skaters gliding and twirling to Tchaikovsky – whooping and rejoicing when Herb Brooks and his Miracle team did the impossible by dethroning the Soviet team, and eventually bringing home the gold in men’s hockey. At four years old, I learned one thing during that game – the Olympics were a big deal and made people even like my mother stop and watch sports with the rest of the world.

As the Games in Sochi, Russia get underway, my own children have a lot of questions about the Olympics. Jack looks forward to watching the snowboarders (he and I are feeling some camaraderie for fellow redhead Shaun White), and Maggie anticipates watching the figure skaters (I bet my mom is more than willing to watch with her). But both kids are wondering such things as “how do they earn their points?” and “what does ‘qualifying round’ mean?” Good thing their dad is a physical education teacher, coach, and sports enthusiast. I’m more interested in things like what the pairs skaters’ costumes will look like.

In celebration of the Olympics, we’re having some Olympics festivities of our own here at home, and I’m not talking about just eating Wheaties for breakfast. To commemorate the Olympic Torch Relay, I made cake-filled ice cream cones topped with orange and yellow spikes of frosting. Cute as can be and yummy, too! I sent the kids off to school today with little after school snack bags. Tucked inside were gold-wrapped Rolos and snack size Twix bars, with a note encouraging “Go for the Gold!” Weekend plans include sledding and ice skating, and I even have some prizes lined up for the “Clean Room Competition” and “Bed-Making Battle.” A trip to the library resulted in a couple children’s books on the history of the Olympics, which we’ll save for bedtime.

Perhaps you’ve considered making a chart to hang on the refrigerator to allow your children to track American medals for these Olympic Games. Maybe a few Olympic-inspired movies are on the list of plans for the weekend. Miracle is a favorite of mine, and Cool Runnings, starring John Candy as the Jamaican bobsled coach, is another hit. For those looking to reach back into the vault, Chariots of Fire took home some gold of its own with four Oscars, including Best Picture. A kid-free get-together might include imbibing on some round-the-world beverages (a vodka tonic, perhaps, to commemorate the 2014 host, Russia?), and a viewing of Will Ferrell and Jon Heder’s comedic romp Blades of Glory or Steven Spielberg’s action-drama Munich.

Whether you’ve got the garden hose outside turning your backyard into a speed skating course, or are digging out your downhill skis to hit the slopes, the Winter Games and all the incredible athletes it showcases are a reason to celebrate. While we all might not be able to land a triple Salchow or shred the half-pipe Shaun White style, we can cheer on our favorite athletes and celebrate US victories.

Let the games begin!

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