What the games mean

February 23, 1994

Putting aside all the angst that has been spilled over Tonya and Nancy, credit the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, with restoring faith in the magic of sport.

For anyone who follows athletics, particularly as played by the professionals, it has been hard not to become jaded in recent years.

The American fan hungers for inspirational competition; the American sports world, instead, serves up a steady diet of half-stepping ballplayers, of millionaire bench-warmers, of egos that swell to grotesque proportions as early as the formative college years, of players hitting coaches, of coaches hitting players (even when the player is a coach's own son), of coaches hitting coaches, of players throwing firecrackers at children. . .

Had enough?

Enter, the Winter Olympics. Sure, there's a flood of commercialism. Sure, promotions with Dan Rather and Connie Chung gushing over each other's "humanness" can be unbearable. But hack through that bramble and marvel at competitions in which the smallest error, in a blink of the eye, can derail years of hard work -- a speed skater whose hand brushes the ice; a figure skater who stumbles at the end of an otherwise flawless performance, a downhill racer whose ski tips point up instead of down as they fly through the air at 70 mph; a luger whose sled slides a few feet too high up a curve. Compared with team sports we habitually follow every year, the Olympics seem to have no patience for sub-perfect performance.

While their feats seem superhuman, these practitioners of sport come off as immensely human: Dan Jensen weeping with his wife as he overcomes demons that kept him from winning in Olympics past; Tommy Moe shaking off a teen-hood of drug use to become an unlikely hero in Alpine skiing; speedskater Bonnie Blair climbing into the stands to embrace her family like the girl-next-door while becoming an Olympian of historic measure; Norwegian Johann Olav Koss sounding in an interview both modest and regal, like a benevolent monarch, after he conquered the long-distance speedskating events along with his countrymen's hearts.

Some say they are bored of the games' endless coverage, so dominated by Skategate. We say if you're looking for artistry and goodness in sport, you had better look for it here -- because you'll be hard-pressed to find it anywhere else.

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