Let The Games Begin

February 13, 2010

The first Olympics that I remember were the Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria in ’76. Mostly I recall staying up late, sprawled out on the shag carpet in front of the television. People with unusual hats from places I’d never known existed were playing crazy wintertime games.

For the next fifteen years or so, there was a special vibe about an Olympic year.

(I think things lost a little specialness when they went to staggering the Winter and Summer games)

But I still watch and and there’s something about the opening ceremony that makes it absolutely riveting no matter how many times I’ve viewed one.

It’s stirring. It’s a moment where our species doesn’t look too damned bad. We clean up well and you almost want to yell, “Go humans!”

As an ex-jock, it’s impossible not to watch with a bit of awe. Anyone that ever played a sport knows how much work it takes to be merely good. The amount of sacrifice it must take to make it to the level of an Olympian makes my head hurt.

It’s all fascinating to watch and the unexpected is expected – bobsledders from Jamaica or a skier from Ghana.

One country – I forget which one – had two brothers, both competitors, sharing the duty of flagbearer for their nation. It made me think of the epic battles between me and my brother when one might have assumed – based on the grim intensity – that an afterschool air hockey game was indeed for global bragging rights.

Ireland’s flagbearer, bobsledder Aoife Hoey, bore a striking resemblence to Paloma. Not only did I have to wonder if she was a long lost cousin of Paloma’s from the old country, but I was reminded again that, of all the places I’ve traveled, Ireland might have the most beautiful women in the world.

There’s usually a few poignant moments like when the athletes from Georgia entering the stadium to a thunderous ovation just hours after a teammate was killed in a luge training run.

It’s hard not to smile at the sheer giddiness displayed by most of the athletes participating (see Canada’s Clara Hughes – who should never play poker). Even Iran’s Marjan Kalhor, the first female Winter Olympian from that country, appeared moved by the reception.

Most of the events are sports in which I have no interest and there are few that I have even attempted – I can only imagine the carnage had we opted to play “biathlon” as kids – but I’ll spend time over the next two weeks watching.

There’ll be names that will become familiar for a brief time and I’ll acquaint myself with rules and things to watch for in sports that I won’t think about again ’til 2014. There’ll be spectacular moments and some that will likely make our hearts ache.

Someone will end up on a box of Wheaties.

And, for two weeks, we’ll get a glimpse of the world as it could be – a peaceful gathering of nations engaged in (mostly) friendly competition.

(as well as unusual hats)

Personally, I thought Canada put on a stellar opening ceremony, especially incorporating music from Canadian acts into the program. Here is a quartet of songs from artists and acts from Vancouver (the first two acts actually having performed in the opening ceremony)…

Sarah McLachlan – Sweet Surrender
from Surfacing

I actually had received promo copies of McLachlan’s first two records and thought they were pleasant if unspectacular. It was album number three, 1994’s Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, that not only broke her to a major audience, it also burned me out on her (aided considerably by a co-worker who was unaware that there were lots and lots of other albums and acts out there).

There was something about Sweet Surrender that clicked with me, though and it remains one of the few songs of hers that I still enjoy.

Bryan Adams – Kids Wanna Rock
from Reckless

If you passed through the early ’80s on the way to adulthood, Bryan Adams was inescapable. And why not? No, he hardly reinvented fire, but up through 1984’s Reckless, the man managed to knock out songs that sounded stellar on the radio with seemingly little effort.

As for Kids Wanna Rock, the song pretty much seemed to sum up Adams’ approach.

Chilliwack – My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)
from Wanna Be A Star

Chilliwack has had a long, successful career in their homeland, but the band only managed a few songs that garnered airplay south of the border. My Girl was a mammoth radio track in our area of the Midwest and, with an undeniable hook, it’s easy to hear why.

(even though I’d wager a lot of people remember the song and couldn’t name the artist)

Loverboy – The Kid Is Hot Tonite
from Loverboy

Loverboy’s debut was one of the more popular releases with my classmates in junior high and, for the next few years, the band was a fixture on radio. Like Bryan Adams, Loverboy traded in no-frills, straight-ahead, guitar rock, but there was also a smattering of synthesizers in a nod to the burgeoning New Wave stylings of the day.

Turn Me Loose might have been the bigger hit from their self-titled debut, but I’ve always been a bit more partial to The Kid Is Hot Tonite.