Every four years, the world gathers to participate in an event so grand, so epic that even the least sports-oriented TV watchers tune in to see. Interest in this event was, for me, certainly not hard to come by.
Sports were kind of my thing. Well, my dad’s and my thing, I suppose. (Basically, it’s his fault I’m the sports fanatic I am!) We’d watch anything together. So when the Olympic games came around, we were both glued to the action, no matter the event. (Curling is actually really fascinating, by the way…)
Having grown up believing the Olympics were the highest pinnacle of success, the creator of truly magical moments, and the epitome of being a champion, I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I first heard that the Winter Games would be held in my home state…practically my home town!
A Park City, Utah native, I was used to a little bit of international flare. We were a resort town that bustled year-round with events unique enough to draw a world-wide crowd. We were especially proud of our winter sports. After all, we had the best snow on earth! Don’t believe me? Check the license plate, buddy. It’s all right there: “Greatest snow on earth.”
Yeah, we’re just that cool.
Anyway, back to my story…
For the years leading up to the Games, everyone I knew complained about the construction. They complained about the crowds that would be around. They complained about the spotlight being shined on our cozy little resort town. The official host of the Games was our valley neighbor and state capitol, Salt Lake City. But don’t let that fool you – we were one of the many surrounding towns preparing for our own piece of the magic, and the “beautification process” had begun.
I’ll admit, the amount of work that was done did get annoying at times, but while it seemed everyone else was complaining about the process, I couldn’t wait for what was to come.
Fast forward a few years.
They were finally here. People really were everywhere. Traffic really was a little crazy. But it was the coolest thing EVER. I’ll never forget, walking into Walmart behind a European ski team and thinking, “This is crazy! I’m literally feet away from real-life Olympians!”
And it was then that my love for all things Olympics became ever more clear. For those two weeks, I soaked up as much of the Olympic spirit as I could. And let me tell you, that spirit is real. It’s not just a word, thrown about to make you think this international sporting event is something to get excited about. It’s as real as the letters on this page, and boy, did I feel it as I walked up and down Main street.
We were only hosting a few events (bobsled, snowboarding, and ski jumping…), but our little, old-town Main street was the place to be.
The Coca-Cola tent was always packed full, never more so than when we heard the announcement that the US men had swept the podium in the half-pipe competition.
I got to meet former Olympic greats at the Chevy tent and get my picture taken with a real Olympic torch.
I sat in the Jamaican bobsled at the official Jamaican Bobsled Team Store, and watched a trash can band travel up and down the little street.
What, you’re probably thinking, does all of this have to do with figure skating?
Well, as you’re also probably aware, the ladies figure skating event is pretty much the prime event of the Winter Olympics. At least it’s one of the top draws. This was no excuse. And in 2002, the one-and-only Michelle Kwan was supposed to finally take home the gold.
As I said in the last post, I’d always been a “fan” of the sport, and that fandom was founded upon my admiration of Kwan. I was crushed for Michelle in 1998, but awestruck that a little girl with the same name as me could skate away as Olympic Champion.
But in Salt Lake, everything changed for me as I watched the competition unfold.
I saw a champion stumble, and another young spark plug have her own magical moment. I watched Timothy “The Quad King” Goebel do something no one thought he could do as he landed on the podium, and two Russian rivals left it all on the ice in a dual for gold. And I saw two pairs teams robbed of their own moments by the back room politics of the judging system. I saw it. I lived it. And I was hooked.
After the event, I studied everything I could find about skating. I joined online forums, searched for YouTube videos, and checked out every single figure skating related book at the local library (…literally, every last one). I immersed myself into this new world, and the more I learned, the more I fell in love. With the grace, the power, the freedom, the skill, the risks, the rewards…everything. The “fire” was most definitely lit.
The little girl who was a sports fan now had a favorite.
Now, the grown-up girl who is a really big sports fan still has a favorite. Skating has brought me so much. It’s brought me joy and sorrow, peace and anxiety, big dreams and broken hearts. I’ve found friends, I’ve taken trips, I’ve made memories, all leading up to today, where I begin a new chapter in this story…a chapter I get to share with you.
And I couldn’t be more thrilled. Well, maybe if I could go to another Olympics. That would probably be as thrilling. But you get the idea…
So we begin this chapter with a glimpse at the past. Here, at the “Opening Act,” if you will, and then at the next event to “change it all.”
(P.S. – check out the vlog below to see some memorabilia from the Games!)