The Winter Olympics: Always a wild ride, from the comfort of inside

Mary Lee Hagert

This week I heard a TV announcer comment that the Summer Olympics are far more popular than their winter counterpart.  

“Could this really be true?” I wondered, as skiers on the screen did impossible-looking feats in harsh winter conditions, while I was warm, lazily sipping peppermint tea indoors.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought the Winter Games were the more interesting of the two Olympics, and every four years I’m startled at how quickly I become invested in arcane winter sports like bobsledding, biathlon — where people cross-country ski and then shoot guns at targets — speed skating and skeleton. 

Against all reason, I find myself on the edge of the couch cushions excitedly cheering on my favorite athletes, individuals who admittedly I didn’t even know existed just a week prior.

Part of the appeal may be that I’ve actually participated in a couple of the sports ... sort of.

When I was a child, civic leaders in my hometown encouraged unstructured outdoor play, even in the depths of winter. 

After heavy snowfalls, they had city workers block off a street on a steep hill so all the neighborhood children could go sledding. We would head to the unplowed street and spend hours racing each other on sleds and toboggans to see who could reach the bottom of the slick slope the fastest.

Those same city leaders had temporary ice rinks built in parks and on vacant lots scattered around town. Kids would walk to the outdoor rinks for after-school and weekend fun on the ice. 

My sister, Crystal, and I would lace up our figure skates and glide, albeit unsteadily, on one foot with arms outstretched trying to imitate gold medalist Peggy Fleming’s graceful artistry.

Instead of achieving any real level of expertise or elegance, our pirouettes and jumps ended in falls. But we never gave up trying.

Lay expert

Maybe it’s those experiences that convinced me, from the comfort of my sofa, no less, that I’m a fairly good judge of the skating sports, and once again I’m immersed in the world of triple axels, double toe loops, Lutzes, Salchows, flips ...

Just when I thought I was well informed on the skating maneuvers and spins, I watched what I thought was a dazzling ice dancing presentation last week and learned that the couple lost a point for “missing a third twizzle” in their footwork. Huh; I thought a twizzle was a single strand of licorice, not a skating move.

Then there were the pairs skaters who were criticized for “not surrendering to the music.” Oh, good grief, their skating was extraordinary. At this level all the skaters demonstrate exceptional skills and artistry. I realize the judges have to make distinctions between them to declare winners, but I find myself rolling my eyes at the TV announcers’ over-the-top overstatements of the tiny differences between the performances.  

But that won’t stop me from tuning in to root for the athletes to perform flawlessly despite being under so much pressure and pushing themselves to the limit of what’s humanly possible.

And there’s simply no denying the welcome diversion the Winter Olympics provides from our seasonal headaches — weeks of below-normal temperatures, cars that won’t start and knock-your-socks-off heating bills.

Maybe part of the draw for the Winter Olympics also is the fact that summers are fleeting around these parts, and there’s little desire to be cooped up indoors watching the Summer Games, when one could be enjoying swimming at the beach, barbequing in the backyard, biking around the neighborhood or mowing the grass. OK, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

Count me in for the Winter Games — you’ll find me hibernating on the couch, entranced by the figure skaters’ acrobatic leaps, the lugers’ 90-mile-per-hour runs on the track and the snowboarders’ death-defying aerial tricks.


– Mary Lee Hagert can be reached at

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