By John Burbank
If you are like me, you have been spending a little too much time in front of the TV, hoping to see your favorite events in the Sochi Olympics. Some of the events, like slopestyle snowboarding, just make you wonder about the amazing athleticism and sanity of the participants. Others, like curling, just make me fall asleep. (That means I am not a Canadian!) Of course, there are too many ads and NBC cuts away right at exciting times, hoping we will stay tuned. But all in all, it is great to see winter sports and these amazing athletes in our own living rooms.
Washington state is well represented at the Olympics. I am familiar with our cross country ski team members. We have Olympians on both sides of the Cascades, five in all. Holly Brooks graduated from Garfield High School. She grew up cross country skiing at Snoqualmie Pass and at the Kongsberger Ski Club. She was a very good skier, not stellar. Then she went to Whitman College over in Walla Walla, where in her best race she came in 20th! After graduation Holly moved to Alaska to work at an environmental consulting firm and coach the high school cross country ski team. Those folks in Alaska saw potential where others hadn’t, and pretty soon Holly was gunning for the Olympics in Vancouver. She made the team, skied in the Olympics, and she became part of the cross country elite.
So now she is in Sochi, skiing her heart out, for herself, her team, her state, and her country. She won’t be a medalist. But she will be a competitor, respected and admired by her competitors from all over the world. And that is the essence of sport.
From over in the Methow Valley, a sister and brother combo is skiing in the Olympics. Sadie and Eric Bjornsen grew up skiing. We watched them progress from really fast kids to very serious racers. Sadie has hit the big time this year, moving up to 38th in the World Cup rankings. Her brother was a surprise qualifier for the Olympics team. Young for a world class skier, at age 22 Eric came in 42nd in his first Olympic race. Brian Gregg is another Methow Valley skier who has been a journeyman at the top level in the United States for several years. This year, at age 29, he broke through to the Olympics.
And then there is Torin Koos from Leavenworth. At age 33, he is one of the older athletes, in his fourth Olympics, a career stretching back to Salt Lake City in 2002. Naturally, his sponsor is USA Pears, as he grew up in orchard country. Here is what he says about Sochi: “For the most part, the Olympians you see representing USA are hard-working, blue-collar guys and gals who compete for the love of the sport, and see the Olympics as the event where they can put their skills on display for a world audience.”
None of these athletes will get wealthy through their sport. If that was the case with cross country skiing or any other sport for that matter, we might as well just cull out the 7,000 most well-trained and supported athletes in our state and have the remaining 6,890,000 of us watch. That would be like the top one-tenth of a percent vs. everyone else. But sport, unlike the economy, doesn’t work that way. We can all be athletes. We can all be physically fit and mentally strengthened by our exercise. It could be a run, a day of skiing, a pick-up football game, or a walk during lunch.
It is inspiring to see the fitness, strength, grace, finesse, and endurance of the Olympic athletes. That’s what makes watching the events so captivating. There are only three medals awarded in each event, with dozens of the top participants in the world competing. Win or lose, participation is inspiring. And it inspires those of us, satiated with the Olympic Games on TV, to turn that box off and walk, run, bike, or simply stroll around the neighborhood and dream big dreams of our own goals for sport and competition, or simply, good exercise and good health.