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Skiing, skating, sledding grab our attention


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We’re about halfway through the Winter Olympic Games. Elite athletes from all over the globe have gathered near the Russian city of Sochi to compete in the spirit of brotherhood — inside a heavily guarded fortress.

The Olympics are about two weeks long and are conducted every two years, alternating between the summer and winter games.

For many of us, the games mean that for two out of every 104 weeks, we care deeply about sports such as curling, archery and ski jumping. The other 102 weeks, not so much.

While the Summer Olympics feature more than 40 sports, the winter version has only 15. But a closer look reveals that the winter games feature some variation of just three skills: skiing, skating and sledding.

Of the 15 sports, seven involve competing while wearing snow skis or on a snowboard. Five involve competition on an ice rink, and the final three feature some form of riding a sled down an ice-covered course.

I must confess, I love the Olympics.

While I prefer the summer games, primarily because of my devotion to women’s beach volleyball, I still enjoy the winter games.

So, for the first time since 2010, and likely the last time until 2018, I will gladly watch cross-country skiing, sort of the Olympic equivalent of watching paint dry.

I will holler at the TV, cheering on valiant Americans who, armed with nothing but small brooms, attempt to make a large stone slide on ice well enough to claim the curling gold medal for the glory of the USA.

I will marvel at the skill it takes for downhill racers to ski down a mountain at breakneck speeds and the courage required to go back up the mountain and do it again.

I will stay up way past my bedtime to watch competitors of questionable sanity lie flat on their backs on tiny sleds and plummet down a course made of ice … on purpose.

Though I’m not a hockey fan, for the duration of the games, or until Team USA is eliminated, I will pretend to enjoy it.

And yes, I will even watch figure skating, though I find it to be a cruel sport. Every four years the TV broadcasters tell us how young American skater Jenny Skates has, every day since she was 2 years old, gotten up at 3 a.m. to practice six hours a day in hopes of achieving her one and only goal: winning Olympic gold.

As young Jenny takes to the ice for her final — and hopefully medal-winning — routine, all of America loves her. We’re on the edge of our recliners, pulling for Jenny to achieve her dream and win the medal she so richly deserves.

Then she misses the landing on her first jump and falls. We gasp.

Once the routine is over, the TV camera focuses on poor Jenny as her low scores come in and her dream dies. The camera zooms in as the devastation pours from her eyes, runs down her cheeks and drips off her quivering lips.

Back home in the United States, we watch Jenny’s suffering and perhaps feel a little less guilty about not getting out of bed at 3 a.m. every day to achieve greatness.

But while every Olympic Games has its share of heartbreak, it also includes many moments of pure joy. For every Jenny Skates who sees her dreams shattered, there is a Billy Bobsled or Susie Slalom whose dreams do come true.

On Feb. 23, the Sochi games will end, and the athletes will return to their homelands. Many immediately will begin preparing for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The rest of us will start the countdown to women’s beach volleyball … I mean the countdown to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

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