“The thrill of victory…
The agony of defeat.”
That’s what we heard every Saturday afternoon when Jim McKay took the mic for ninety minutes as ABC traveled the globe bringing us back footage of events both noteworthy and curious on “Wide World of Sports.”
We looked forward to it. We knew the record for jumping barrels at Grossinger’s. We watched antique timing in faraway cities.
And we dreamed.
Life is about dreaming. When your fantasies are gone, you’re done. You’re always dreaming of a rainbow, of a valley over the mountain, of a better place, it keeps you going. And on the journey there are unexpected highs.
Like watching the Olympics in South Korea.
I’m a Winter Olympics guy. I’m a snow sports guy. I grew up on the east coast when there were no track and field clubs, no swimming teams with 6 AM practices, none of the start ’em before consciousness and groom ’em for greatness. We were just kinda normal. We went to school, we changed into our dungarees after class and played in the park. We were exposed to greatness on television, but it was far from our everyday experience.
Then came the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley. We did not know they were a charmed event never to be repeated, all athletes in one small area for a week. The destination was perfect, all snowy and alpine, and the last time I checked the United States victory over Russia’s hockey team was still on the scoreboard in the ice arena.
But that was decades ago.
Now Americans are good skiers.
Now athletes are jocks.
Now they’ve modernized the events to appeal to the younger generation.
But it’s the oldsters who are watching.
And they don’t exactly know why. It’s tradition. It’s a way to connect. It roots you to who you once were.
Now for a moment there, live events were all about tweeting. About broadcasting your opinion to the masses. But the great communications revolution is not Instagram, not influencers on YouTube, but one on one connections, when your phone lights up with an iMessage or text illustrating that your relation miles away is doing the exact same thing you are.
My little sister in Minneapolis was waiting for the slalom to begin.
Mikaela Shiffrin is not that lovable. Certainly less than the oft-injured Lindsey Vonn. You see she’s a machine. And sports used to be for everyman. Before you had to exclude other activities and spend hours in the gym. I’m into dominance, I’m into success, but when you give up a powder day to run gates, what are you gonna do with the rest of your life?
Have fun, like Shaun White.
Sports are most interesting when they’re created on the fly, before the codification, before the rigidity. When like-minded acolytes are developing the rules.
Shaun White was at the tail end of that, the grommet who grew.
And then he became an American story. He failed, he played music, he lost his muse.
And now he was ready for his big comeback.
In the semis he performed.
He excelled in the first of three final runs.
And then the Japanese competitor from Breckenridge pulled ahead.
And this is where the humanity comes in. The Flying Tomato psyched himself up for his next run and…failed.
We’ve all been there, behind the 8 ball, how do you rise to the occasion?
Most choke. Some exit altogether. But it’s the nature of life, you’ve got to stand up and compete, or lose.
And it’s easier to lose than win.
But winning moves you further down the game board of life, where your fantasies lie.
And this is not digital, this is not ones and zeros. There’s no help, no cheating, just you and the elements. Could he do it?
I wasn’t sure.
It’s easier to lead than to come back, especially at this elite level.
He failed in his second attempt.
And now it was down to his final chance.
It was the driver’s test. It was the SATs. It was the bar exam. But it only comes every four years and you age out. Imagine the pressure!
But losing is no big deal. After all, White is already rich, already famous, his life is set, he’s got his gold medal, but…
The line between victory and defeat is a razor’s edge, in a moment you can lose it, how do you ride the serpent?
Now many people go into the arts to avoid sports, they don’t like the competition, they’re more into exploration.
But the truth is we’ve all got to deliver, we’ve all got to serve somebody, we’ve all got to answer to ourselves.
So Shaun White threw down.
It’s meaningless. A sporting competition. Not involving nuclear weapons or diplomacy, not about hunger or health. Still, all our little lives are important to us. These moments, these hills climbed, change the course of our existence.
So, Shaun White does his best and then…
Credit NBC, they didn’t repeat his run, they just lingered on White, as he stood there anxiously, both elated and worried. He knew he threw down a good one, was it good enough?
And when it turned out it was…
He slapped hands.
And then he cried.
Big boys do cry. But too many big boys hold it inside, are controlled, refuse to let their real feelings out. They’re compromised.
Which is why we look to sports for our better selves, to be instructed.
The failure in Sochi, the accident Down Under, all the practicing…
It came down to one run. A gauntlet. A superpipe. His destiny.
So we feel good for Shaun White. And we feel good for America. In one run he eclipsed all the b.s. in Washington, all the hate, all the division… He draped the flag on his back and then it slid to the snow. Was this offensive? Is this what we’re discussing? It’s not about the country but humanity, about people. And those in power have forgotten how to live, or at least how we live.
Most of what we do no one is paying attention to. We roll the dice and move our pieces down the board. We take risks, we look for instruction but there are false gods everywhere, telling us they know and we should follow them. It’s hard to hew to your own line, hard to keep your eye on the prize.
And then you see someone do it and EUREKA! The clouds part and the sun is bright and you can see the path, you know where you’re going, you believe you can get there, you don’t care if anybody’s paying attention, you’re doing it for yourself.
That’s when you smile inside.
When you feel part of a community, when you gain inspiration from the trials and tribulations and triumphs of another human being.
When you see Shaun White win the gold medal at the Olympics.