Friday, March 21, 2014

Olympic Men and Women to Machines


By Courtney Pierce

From daring feats to digital art to drones. My voyage of watching the Olympics over the past forty-five years has followed our progression as humans to a non-human age. We held our breath; our eyes filled with pride and tears, but this time around I watched in fear as these young men and women pushed their bodies to feats programmed on computer models, devised no less by BMW.

But even rocks crack. Witness the decision by Russian skater, Evgeni Plushenko, who inched away from the men’s skating competition because his health was more important than winning another medal. I was riveted.

He was human in that moment; a star who wanted to remain one to his fans. After twelve surgeries on his lower back before the age of thirty-one, he will surely be thankful he glided off the ice when he watches himself on an archived video at sixty, seventy, or eighty. It takes a true human to make an Olympian call in defiance of sponsors and country.

I love the emotion of the Olympics. Hundredths of a second separate a hero from a zero, our new measurement of human achievement. Olympic emotion, though, was mostly relegated to the backstory segments, such as those of the U.S. team members, Amanda Bird and Gus Kenworthy, who rescued stray dogs in Sochi to bring them home for a better life. Or the Canadian free skier, Alex Bilideau, taking on air to please his brother with Cerebral Palsy, his true hero. Those are the heart-felt moments we watched off the ice that allowed us to connect as humans.

Remember when millions of women wanted a Dorothy Hamill haircut? We didn't watch the counter; we watched Dorothy. She exuded personality.

And who would dare whack the knee of Nancy Kerrigan, America’s skating sweetheart? One of our own skater’s entourage stood under the camera lights for that unthinkable act in 1994. The stakes rose. Do anything to win. Nancy went on the ice, buoyed with charged emotion from the fans, and won a silver medal. My own knee ached as I watched. Like a thriller, we wanted the bad guy to go down.

This year, I became fascinated with the strange mechanical shadows as skiers soared to new heights on their snowboards in baggy pants. They were drones. The little flying machines recorded the faces in the crowds and followed the Olympians should there be an act of terror. I get it, but geez. Empty seats. Globalization is kind of immobilizing, the opposite result of its goal. Many were too afraid to go to Sochi because of media-infused threats.

There are still thrills and spills to fascinate us. Comcast even had an on-demand selection for those moments on cable: Olympic light. But then my cynicism vanished as the figure skater, "Queen" Yuna Kim of South Korea, sailed across the ice in a near-flawless performance that dropped my jaw with its beauty. Wow! So young to exhibit such mature grace. Yuna didn't seem real.

Photo: Jackson Hole News & Guide
My uncle, Harry Baxter, has been a professional skier since 1938. He didn't make it to the Olympics due to the war in Korea. A hero of a different kind, but an Olympian nonetheless. After more than seventy years on skies, Harry still competes and instructs young hopefuls to be their best. He does it with my bionic aunt, Martha. A major ski event has been named after Uncle Harry: The Harry Baxter Challenge. And in January, 2014, he won his category at the age of eight-four. (Yes, that's a photo of my uncle on his latest winning run!)

Will Evgeni Plushenko be skating at eight-four? I wonder and worry since he experienced so much pain in his final Olympic moments. My uncle is both a hero and a star while he continues to ski. But more than that, Harry’s an example for human athletes in the future: Achieve, live a full life, and continue to follow your passion. The Olympic spirit shouldn't stop at thirty when sponsorship fizzles and fans have gone home to hibernate for four years.

What heartens me is what happens after these Olympics. Some 2014 athletes will come home with rescued canine orphans, give back to the families and friends who supported their journey, and inspire young athletes to be better than they ever dreamed . . . and thrill us with their backstories four years from now.

Here’s to the true Olympic spirit!

Courtney Pierce is a fiction writer living in Milwaukie, Oregon. After a twenty-year career as an executive in the Broadway entertainment industry, she switched her focus from the magic of theater to her passion for writing. Courtney is currently in the Hawthorne Fellows program at the Attic Institute and is Vice President and board member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA). Her short story, 1313 Huidekoper Place, was published in the 2013 NIWA Anthology of Speculative Fiction. Her first two novels of a trilogy, Stitches and Brushes, follow the trail of two sleuthing boomers who want a little magic in their lives—and magic what they get when they find a mysterious artifact at an estate sale. Her third book of the trilogy, Riffs, will be published in 2014. For more information, visit Courtney’s blog: 


Patti Shene said...

I'm with you, Courtney. I absolutely love the Olympics! Thanks for this article that brought back lots of memories of the recent games and those of years past.

Claude Nougat said...

Great post Courtney! I'm afraid I missed the last Olympics but I'll make an effort for the next one...