This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
As the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games open tonight, we here in the suburbs of the 17-day event should be keeping our fingers crossed – and not just for the 11 Washington athletes seeking Olympic glory. We should also wish our neighbors to the north some serious good luck (bonne chance, in the spirit of Canadian bilingualism).
After all, when the British Columbia city won its quest to land the Winter Games seven years ago, who could have foreseen that they would take place during the worst global economic plunge since 1929 – and in an El Niño year to boot. That weather pattern is creating unseasonably warm conditions, forcing Vancouver organizers to haul snow in by truck and helicopter.
By all accounts, Canada has made herculean efforts to prepare for the games. The total cost for infrastructure and presenting the games is expected to be in the neighborhood of $6 billion. Estimates are that British Columbia will reap anywhere from $4 billion to $10 billion in direct and indirect benefits, and some of those are likely to trickle down to Washington. Visitors passing through the state to and from the games might stay in a hotel, have dinner and notice that this would be a nice place to visit in the future.
While we can hope B.C. has success with the games, we’ll be pulling even harder for our local athletes. The big name, of course, is Federal Way’s Apolo Anton Ohno – the rock star of short-track speed skaters and most certainly the only one who has a “Dancing With the Stars” disco ball trophy. If the five-time medalist wins two medals in his four events, he will have the highest medal count of any winter Olympian.
Other South Sound competitors in the Washington contingent include another short-track speed skater from Federal Way, J.R. Celski; bobsledder Bree Schaaf from Bremerton; and curler Nicole Joraanstad from Kent. We wish them all a great games – but most of all to have the time of their lives.
Not all of them have a realistic shot at standing on a podium. Just having the opportunity to compete in the most prestigious of competitions is honor enough. In many cases, they have had to overcome serious injuries, and they and their families have made hard sacrifices along the way. Those who compete in the more obscure winter sports often lack sponsors and endorsement deals and must hold down jobs to help pay for their athletic passion.
That passion is one reason we’re so entranced by the Olympics. In the comfort of our warm living rooms, we watch them hurtle at astonishing speeds down steep slopes, punish themselves on cross-country trails, perform aerial acrobatics on skis and plunge headfirst down a track of sheer ice. Their athletic skill is matched only by their courage and determination.
Win or not, they will always be Olympians.