Published 12:00 am Monday, February 9, 1998

L’Observateur / February 9, 1998

For the next two weeks, the eyes of the sporting world will be on Nagano,Japan as athletes from around the globe compete in the XVIII WinterOlympic games.

The Winter Olympics has seen tremendous growth from its humblebeginnings in 1924 to the spectacle it is today. Over 2,000 athletes willrepresent 71 nations from all points of the globe at Nagano. All will bebringing their dreams as well as that of their countries for one moment inthe spotlight.

But while the Olympics may be the premier sporting event every twoyears, the Games are not for just for sports fans. Millions of fans, some ofwhom who have never followed a sporting event before, will be tuning into see how their country’s athletes are doing.For 16 days, we will be transferred to a world of ice and snow, of beautyand grace. For a time, we can forget about the sex scandals at the WhiteHouse. Or the problems in the Middle East.

Speaking of which, in Ancient Greece, wars were stopped for the originalOlympics. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could resolve all disputes in thesporting arena?

The United States will be following the exploits of its 195 athletes, thelargest contingent at the Games. The most watched event, if recenttradition is upheld, will be figure skating. Fans will be watching to see ifMichelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski and Nicole Bobek can sweep the women’ssingles for the United States. Canada’s Elvis Stojko and America’s ToddEldredge will duel in the men’s singles.

Canada and the United States are also the favorites for gold in ice hockey.

Both teams, and a host of others, will have NHL players on their rostersfor the first time, making this perhaps the most competitive tournamentin history.

Americans will also be following Chris Witty, the United States’ best hopein speed skating. Tommy Moe and Picabo Street will try to duplicate theirgolden performances at Lillehammer four years ago in skiing. The bobsledteam will try to break a 42-year medal drought, while the United Stateswill also look to capture its first ever medal in the luge.Fans will also get their first look at a number of new sports in theseGames. Women’s hockey makes its debut as does curling. Then there arethe sports that have been around for centuries such as nordic skiing andfigure skating.

But the events are not what the Olympics are about or even the medals.

The Olympics are about competing, not winning, although they seem to begetting away from that ideal in recent years. The stories of the athletesand what it took to get them to Nagano are what make the Games special.

Who could have foreseen the U.S. hockey team’s improbable defeat of theSoviet Union in 1980? Dan Jansen overcoming years of frustration andpersonal tragedy to win a gold medal in speed skating in 1994? A youngorphan by the name of Oksana Bauil winning gold in the figure skatingcompetition and capturing the world’s hearts that same year?

The Olympics are supposed to be about courage and determination. Aboutgrace and beauty. About competition and sportsmanship. About what issupposed to be good about mankind. May these Games emphasize those ideals and let us not focus on theresults of the competition but the effort involved.Let the Games begin.

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