Freezing temperatures. Shoveling snow and slipping on ice. More cloud cover and reduced daylight hours. Yes, winter can be quite depressing for those of us not basking in the Sun Belt.
Starting Thursday, though, a sudden burst of joy will brighten the world. The Winter Olympic Games will open in PyeongChang, South Korea.
World records will fall. We will witness, as ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” coined many years ago, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Why, even the Opening Ceremonies will provide spine-tingling moments with the parade of athletes and the lighting of the cauldron.
For most athletes, this will mark a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And, if there is another shot at an Olympics, they’ll have to wait four additional years for the chance.
For certain, the Games are not perfect.
Some good — North and South Korea coming together — is offset by bad — using sports as a propaganda tool. (But will you truly be swayed to sympathize with North Korea because its athletes put on a good face in PyeongChang? If so, I have some swamp land that may interest you.)
Some bad — host countries going into debt to construct what will become white-elephant facilities — is offset by good — necessary infrastructure upgrades that will last for decades.
Some observers will see a doping problem because, inevitably, some athletes will be disqualified. The other side of the coin is that the Olympic organization actually takes doping seriously and ferrets out the cheats, and has been doing so for decades. Can Major League Baseball, for example, make such a claim?
The Games are THE showcase for winter sports. Viewers who don’t know how to play shuffleboard will suddenly become intrigued by curling. Folks who don’t know what a hockey puck is will become instant experts on ski jumping, snowboarding and luge.
The athletes’ stories will be gripping.
Hockey’s “Miracle on Ice.”
Nancy Kerrigan versus Tonya Harding. (And Oksana Baiul.)
Dan Jansen falling, falling again. Then, in his finale, striking gold in world-record time, followed by a victory lap with his infant daughter.
The Winter Games will make us aware of legends from other parts of the globe — such as Norwegian heroes from the past Johann Olav Koss (speedskating) and Bjorn Daehlie (cross-country skiing), to the emergence of a competitive bobsled team from Jamaica and a ski-jumper from Great Britain (Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards).
There will be more compelling stories than can be absorbed. Did you ever hear of Petra Majdic? The guess here is that the answer is no.
At the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Majdic was warming up for her cross-country race when she skied off course and crashed. In great pain, she nevertheless went to the starting line and made it through the qualifying round. Then the quarterfinals. Then the semifinals. And then the finals.
She won a bronze medal.
Afterward, she learned the extent of her injuries. Four broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
If the Olympic Games do not brighten your winter at least a bit, I’m not sure what will.
In PyeongChang, Nigeria will be represented in the Winter Games for the first time. Simidele Adeagbo, a former All-American triple-jumper for the University of Kentucky, will represent her parents’ homeland in skeleton. Adeagbo isn’t likely to win a medal, but the Games are about so much more than medals.
As Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympics, stated: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning, but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well.”
The Olympics are so very special.
Let the Games begin!
Mark Maloney is a retired sportswriter living in Kentucky who covered 12 Olympics (Winter and Summer). He wrote this for InsideSouces.com.