John Grindrod: Warming up to the Winter Games after some Olympian indifference

First Posted: 2/4/2014

Generally, I try to avoid writing about the same topic two weeks in a row. As I think the kids still like to say, it’s a matter of “keeping it real.” After all, when your journalistic niche is human interest, I kind of like to come at you on different topics and from different directions.

Now, there are certainly those out there like one of my bar patrons who, employing a classic left-handed compliment, recently told me that while my columns are well-written, they are also “more sizzle than steak.” Although no one likes criticism much, I kind of considered the source and figured, as a lawyer, he probably knew a whole lot more about matters of the court than the true nature of human-interest prose and directed him to the editorial page for a George Will column.

So, indeed, I’m going to go back to that Olympic well again this week, and the reason for my doubling up has as much to do with my shifting attitudes about NBC’s $894 million Russian baby in Sochi as anything else.

During the first few days, I just couldn’t fully invest in these Olympics, for reasons I’ll articulate later, and, that was certainly an unusual stance for me to take. You see, I’ve always been a real devotee of both the summer and winter proceedings. There has always been something about athletes who train for such long intervals for one shot at what they perceive to be the ultimate golden moment and then have it often decided by tenths or even hundredths of a second that is, to me, riveting.

I remember when my fascination with the Olympics really took root. It was a shared interest that developed between one of my recurring cameo characters who periodically drops in, my childhood pal, Jim Fry, and me. During our seventh-grade year with Tom Whitney, who was a stern teacher-taskmaster who did more to change some disturbing behavioral patterns in me than the entire army of those good Sisters of Charity could ever do at St. Charles Elementary, Jim and I both purchased the same book, The 1964 Olympic Guide.

The book, published by Avon, cost 50 cents, which was pretty standard back in a time when, say, a $1.50 was a rather extravagantly priced paperback, and was written by John V. Grombach. Before you start complimenting me on my preternaturally developed memory, stop. The reason I know such things is I still have the book, just as I still have baseball and football cards and sports magazines from 50-plus years ago and countless other items acquired during a childhood where Jim and I both worshipped at the foot of the altar of all-things-sports. We even watched with rapt attention barrel jumping on Saturdays on Wide World of Sports.

The book looks at the events and record-breaking performances of the Olympics, with far more emphasis on the summer rather than the winter versions. And, since we weren’t from a winter wonderland, say, somewhere in Minnesota or Wisconsin, Jim and I also paid a lot more attention to the Olympic Games that played out in Tokyo in ’64 in the warmth of the sun between our seventh- and eighth-grade years.

But, as the years rolled by, I just decided that the games of winter were far more intriguing. As for the summer games, listen, I’ve seen guys play basketball and wrestle and run around tracks and put the shot countless times.

But, biathletes skiing and then slowing their heart rates down enough to shoot targets, or lugers on tiny sleds rocketing down a half tube of solid ice at 90-plus miles an hour, or skiers careening down a snow-covered steep decline on a couple of toothpicks like Julia Mancuso, well, now you’ve got my attention!

As for my tardiness in warming up to these games, I think a lot of the pre-Olympic press had a lot to do with it. Stories of stray dogs being rounded up and euthanized and brown drinking water and side-by-side toilets in the same stall and such made me think, just how good can any event be when you can’t even get the basics right?

I think another factor in my initial disinterest was an almost instant dislike for a guy I’ve never met, Russia’s president, Vlad Putin. I don’t know. He just doesn’t seem like a guy with whom I’d want to share a beer or a shot of Stolichnaya Red Label vodka.

However, starting a week ago Tuesday with Shaun White, the subject of last week’s offering, and his failed attempt to grab gold or even medal in an event that surely John V. Grombach could have never envisioned, the halfpipe, that old Olympic allure returned.

Yes, I was drawn back to the luge and its kissin’ cousin, the skeleton, with our own Noelle Pikus-Pace snatching the silver and Matthew Antoine the bronze with their noses hanging over their sleds, a scant inch or two off the ice; back to the rink with that captivating USA hockey team’s shootout victory over the host country last weekend; and back to the slopes with Mancuso.

My only complaint? That’s got to be the weather. With temps in the high 50 and even the 60 when I’ve been heading out to work in subzero conditions, well, there’s something not quite either right or fair about that! Would it be too much to ask to see a few people in mittens for crying out loud?

Otherwise, suffice it to say, the Olympics and I are back on speaking terms.

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