Thursday, December 12, 2013

Olympics, the story behind the athletes

Will you be watching when the fanfare starts and the athletes from all over the world come together to compete in the Winter Games? For me, it isn't the athletic performances themselves that draw me in, it's the stories behind the stories, the individual journeys that led these competitors to a worldwide stage. It's what inspired me to write Race for the Gold, a story about two short track speed skaters striving for that elusive spot on the podium. I had plenty to draw from for the novel. I remember watching Apolo Anton Ohno's amazing story unfold over the years. His career faltered, sputtered and nearly died until his single parent father took him to a remote cabin and left him, still a teen, to decide if he wanted to compete or quit. Fortunately for the sport and fans, he decided to grit it out and went on to become the most decorated winter athlete of all time.

Going further back in time, I remember watching speed skater Dan Jansen's heartbreaking ups and downs. At the Calgary Olympics, he was the favorite, but his sister died just hours before his race and he failed to finish any of his heats. Four years later in Albertville, he stumbled and again, did not medal. At the 1994 games in Norway, it seemed he was doomed to fail once more. Another stumble and he was out of his best race, the 500 meters. His last race was the 1000 meters and I remember gasping aloud when he staggered, but this time, he recovered and won, earning a gold medal and carrying his daughter Jane, named after his late sister, for the victory lap.  Like most Americans, I remember stories like Jansen's and Ohno's not because of their speed or skill, but because their triumphs underscore the amazing power of the human spirit. Will I be watching the Winter Games in this year? Absolutely!

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