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Sun, June 16

Olympics provide definitions of 'personal best'

Faster. Higher. Stronger. The Olympics give us all the chance to watch the world's best athletes attempt to achieve the incredible. Snowboarders, skiers and ice skaters flying through the air with the greatest of ease, defying gravity, common sense and physics! It is breathtaking to watch. Have you ever stood on top of a very large mountain, pushed off and attempted a series of forward twists and somersaults? Hmm... I didn't think so. Is this a sport or suicide? Amazing to watch, impossible to imagine, and extremely dangerous to achieve. This is why we love these games!

How about a game of curling? I do not completely understand it, but I have been practicing with a few Olympic dreams of my own. Just last week I started sweeping with my big broom a large rock that had landed in the middle of the breezeway of the barn. Not sure how it had gotten there, and no horse offering an explanation, I started curling in the breezeway. Hey, that sport is not so easy. It requires strategy! Also perfect sweeping skills! Sort of like shuffleboard with a broom. Oh yea, it is quite a thrill to watch Olympic teams "sweeping" a hunk of granite on ice with such brave determination.

Have you strapped on skis or a snowboard and barreled down a mountain lately? My grandsons go snowboarding all the time and have no fear. Hey, isn't fear normal? Snowboarding is like skateboarding, which one of my grandboys tried to teach me. So you balance on a little board (that is moving) on wheels and this is going to provide the "experience" needed to glide down a mountain? Dear Readers, do not try this without a helmet! I haven't had great luck with winter sports. The last time I went skiing I realized that stopping is my problem. You know you are going way too fast when people are screaming for their lives when they see you coming.

These Olympic Games in Sochi have not been without controversy. Missing luggage and equipment, hotels not yet finished, logistical nightmares, empty seats, yucky beer-colored drinking water, toilets not flushing, doors not opening (luger gets trapped inside his room) are but of few of the visitor "challenges." One CNN reporter tweeted, "To anyone in Sochi, I am now in possession of three light bulbs. Will trade for a door handle. This offer is real." Yikes, it has been one heck of a rodeo. Fortunately, athletes are a tough bunch.

Did you know there is a Yogurt Détente? American-made Chiobani Greek yogurt had 5,000 cups of their yogurt held up in a refrigerated warehouse in New Jersey waiting for shipment to Sochi for the U.S. athletes. Russian authorities said the U.S Department of Agriculture failed to provide the necessary certificate so the shipment is stopped cold. Sounds like a "cold war" to me. So tragic, since this is evidently the breakfast of choice of champions. Sadly, no amount of diplomacy has been able to free the yogurt, which is now being given to food banks.

It was pretty heartbreaking to see a world-class athlete on her way to winning a skiing event when she tumbled and slid past all of hopes of a medal. Dropping to her knees in utter despair, she watched with horror as a lifetime of practice and sacrifice were gone and the finalists sailed past her. Losing is part of the sport and crying is not just for girls. When winning is so close, defeat causes more than a few athletes to weep. We may cry with them, but it might not comfort those in the grip of agony. Losing hurts. And it especially hurts if a loss is by a fraction of a second.

It's always sad to see lost opportunities and highly trained athletes having "bad days" on the One Day that matters most in their lives. There are skiers slamming into gates and rolling like snowballs, snowboarders crashing into the sides of the halfpipe, and figure skaters tripping and stumbling onto the ice. Ouch! It reminds us spectators how dangerous and difficult a sport can be and how splendid it is when years of training and talent are rewarded with a medal.

The tender moments of the Games can also lift our spirits and restore our faith in the real event - people trying to do their best, for the love of the sport, the joy of competing, and the thrill of pushing the envelope to reach a personal best. These are the true "golden" moments. We get to relax at home in front of our televisions and experience the years of rigorous practice in a few minutes of an athlete's performance, marvel in exactly what the human body can be trained to do, ponder what the mind can overcome and feel pride for all those who try so hard.

I recall one Winter Olympics when a Canadian cross-country skier lost her pole. It was a "mystery man" from the sidelines who handed her a ski pole, letting her complete the event and win a silver medal. Who was this kind man? He was the cross-country ski coach from Norway. The Norwegian team finished forth, meaning that had he not handed over the pole to the Canadian, his team would certainly have won a bronze medal. Why did he do this? He said, "It was the right thing to do." His team, his country, and the Canadians agreed. We may love the winners, but we love those hearts-of-gold more than any medal.

What defines a "personal best?" A heroic attempt? A medal? An act of kindness?

You decide.

Judy Bluhm is a writer and local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at judy@judybluhm.com.

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