I have always loved the Olympics. I think it started with Al "Do
You Believe in Miracles?" Michaels and his coverage of the 1980
games. With his little blue knit sweater and wide collared shirt,
Mr. Michaels understood the pulse of a nation anxious for something
to rally behind. America had lost much of its swagger by 1980.
There was high unemployment, a deepening recession, and hostages in
Tehran. There also were a lot of very ugly clothes. With an endless
supply of orange paisley vests and plaid suits, it is no wonder the
country found itself in a deep funk.
So when the dominant Soviet hockey team squared off against a
bunch of unknown college kids that cold February afternoon, many
Americans were desperate for a sign that things could turn
Americans needed a miracle.
Even back then, I recognized how much the incredible victory
over the Soviets meant to the country. I remember how excited
people were to talk about hockey. Ironically, hockey had never been
the cause celebre of the sports world, a distant fourth behind
football, baseball, and basketball. Three periods? Icing?
Empty nets? Even the most basic tenets of the game remained a
mystery. But it didn't matter. David slew Goliath. Americans shook
off those dismal 1970s browns and harvest golds and started opting
for shoulder pads and bright neon hues.
There was nothing to be ashamed of anymore. Americans stopped
hiding. And instead, they started dressing like the cast of
In watching the Olympic coverage this year, I have found myself
longing for more Al Michaels and less of everyone else. The
reporting has been abysmal. Starting with the breathtaking opening
ceremony, the announcers were apparently given only one set of
directions: BE SNARKY. What was supposed to be an artistic
interpretation of Russia's sordid and complicated past quickly
de-escalated into a bunch of mean girls talking smack about the
prom queen. The remarkable spectacle was, at one low point,
compared to signage at a carwash. While it is true that Russia's
history carries its own share of tragedy, hubris, and military
aggression, it was neither the time nor place for cheap pot
The interviews with athletes after victory or defeat became a
game of "let's bring up the dead relative and make 'em cry." The
sadistic poking and prodding of emotional men and women left me
physically ill. It also had me wondering: is this the kind of
country we have become? Are the boundaries of human decency, grace,
and decorum pushed so far back that they are no longer
But that's when I heard the story of slopestyle skier, Nick
Goepper. Here was a kid from Indiana. INDIANA. Where the hell do
you go jumping off mountains in Indiana? No matter. The kid and his
dad built a rickety old backyard training course. When his father
lost his job, Nick pulled weeds and babysat. His mom believed in
him every step of the way.
And the kid from Indiana won a bronze medal.
The story of Americans who dedicate their lives and risk it all
to represent their country on a global stage is why I watch the
Olympics. I don't care about Bob Costas' pink eye, the
much-maligned speed skating suits, or political conspiracy
theories. I don't want commentators worrying more about being
"witty" than being factual. Al Michaels, more than anything else,
was a true commentator that afternoon in 1980. While his passion
was obvious, his command of language and respect for the worldwide
stage upon which he sat were unmistakable.
In today's cynical environment, I am not sure if a single moment
can ever again alter the course of history. I do not know if our
national mood can improve based upon the results of a simple game.
I do not know if a world restored of optimism and unity will ever
again be within our grasp. But I pray it is, as I just can't help
After all, I still believe in miracles.
Marianne is mother of three sons and the wife of a southside Irish fireman. She has learned that sometimes you're just too dumb to know what makes you happy. She blogs regularly at We Band of Mothers (webandofmothers.com) and curses with even greater frequency. Her material is written for the imperfect, the imprudent, and the impatient mothers who know that all this stuff is really very funny if you just give it a minute.
See more of Marianne's stories here.
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