6 December 2009

Let's Have Fun: Winter Edition

According to the television channels responsible for broadcasting next year's Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver (and surrounding environs), Canada, it's already time to get excited about the event, which begins two days after my birthday.

It's still 68 days away, but meh. Let's get excited anyway, shall we?

The first time I remember watching a Winter Olympics was in 2002, in Salt Lake City. I've long been obsessed with SLC and the state of Utah, owing largely to my own religious beliefs (I identify with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and also because I remember reading, as a six-year-old, that a two-year-old named Michelle Funk held the world record for longest submersion in water. She fell into a creek in 1988 and remained underwater for 66 minutes. A revolutionary technique was used in hospital to warm her blood and she survived - she is now a BYU graduate. Last I heard, she was completing her service to the Church.

Haven't heard of me talking about religion before? This is going to sound very self-contradictory, but I'm not religious - I don't believe in God, that Jesus was anything more than a guy who liked to help out people and build stuff before his death, that he was resurrected, that Adam and Eve were from Jackson County, Missouri, or in any sort of afterlife. At all. I had a phase in life where I was a fairly strict Mormon, in part inspired by my uncle who is a missionary and an English professor at BYU. But now we're getting off-topic.

It seems odd to me that I didn't watch a Winter Games until I was sixteen, given my longstanding obsession with the Olympics (I watched my first at age two, in 1988), especially as I had quite a wintry childhood - what with living in Russia, the UK, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. I ice-skated, and was terrible at it. I've never skied, or boarded, or taken part in any sort of snowsports. It was not for lack of wanting, however. The opportunity just never seemed to arise.

In SLC, I loved the long track speed skating, the downhill ski racing, the freestyle moguls and aerials, and the figure skating. Growing up, Midori Ito had been a favourite. I took little interest in the Nordic skiing events, though in the years that followed I seriously considered taking it up as a second sport, because I desperately wanted to become one of the few who competed in both Summer and Winter Olympics.

I followed Torino's Games in 2006 with much more interest. I distinctly remember Sasha Cohen failing to win her much-anticipated gold for figures, and then performing to "Don't Rain On My Parade" in the gala. The rather canny television commentator remarked that it was a bit late for that. I had brief but all-encompassing obsessions with Hannah Teter and Shaun White. I became an expert on aerial skiing, as well as following the alpine events with much candour. Bode Miller was my favourite, despite his failure to live up to expectations.

And now it's Vancouver's turn. The Games open on February 12th, and it seems as if most of the action will take place in beautiful Whistler.

I'm not a fan of Olympic mascots, but here they are anyway. In Sydney they had the weird Syd, Ollie and Millie and Athens presented Athina and Phevos, which bore more resemblance to penises than anything else. The Athens Paralympics' Proteas was cute but still irrelevant, and last year in Beijing there were FIVE mascots, Beibei, Huanhuan, Jingjing, Nini and Yingying. The Paralympic Games definitely drew the short straw there, with an odd, multi-coloured cow named Lele.

Sumi, Quatchi and Miga

Yeah, they're pretty weird. I'm not going to lie though, I do like the medals. I've long been a fan of the Winter Olympic medals over their Summer cousins. Here's the 2010 medals.

Winter Olympic Medals

Their Paralympic cousins are more than a step-up from last years' 1960s-inspired loot from Beijing. Urgh.

Moving on.

The sports to be contested at the Winter Olympics are:
Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Bobsleigh, Cross-Country, Curling, Figure Skating, Freestyle Skiing, Ice Hockey, Luge, Nordic Combined, Short Track, Skeleton (bound to become my personal fave), Ski Jumping, Snowboard and Speed Skating.

New Zealand has 22 "hopeful" athletes, with final selection to take place in January. Random fact: there are no Skeleton tracks in our country, but we have three Skeleton athletes gunning for selection.

Now that's something everyone can enjoy...

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