After last week’s featured word (Superbowl) here’s another with a sporting theme, prompted by the start of the Winter Olympics from Pyeongchang in South Korea. “Luge” is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries website as a noun (“A light toboggan for one or two people, ridden in a sitting or supine position”), a mass noun (“A sport in which competitors make a timed descent of a course riding luges”) and a verb (“Ride on a luge”).
I was watching some of the competitors luging away yesterday morning and reflected on how few memories I have of Winter Olympics past. I was aware of the three big figure skating wins for the UK in the 1970s and 80s but didn’t watch any of the events live. The years and the names of the competitors and host cities are still familiar to me many decades later: John Curry (1976, Innsbruck), Robin Cousins (1980, Lake Placid) and Torvill and Dean (1984, Sarajevo). In 1988 Eddie the Eagle Edwards was all over the news for his contributions to the Calgary games, but after that it all gets rather hazy and I’ve had to look up the details. There was Albertville (France) in 1992, the last time that the Summer and Winter Games took place in the same year. From 1994 (Lillehammer, Norway) the Winter Games have taken place in the same year as the Football World Cup, two years apart from the Summer Olympics.
I have no memories of Lillehammer (1994), Nagano in Japan (1998) or Salt Lake City USA (2002). I was in Utah during the 1990s (twice, for the Sundance Film Festival) and recall the local enthusiasm about winning the Olympic bid, but the event itself passed me by. Similarly I have no recollection of Turin (2006) or Vancouver (2010).
The last Games (Sochi, Russia, 2014) did leave some memories, mainly for technical reasons. I was working on a project at a place that had regular problems with internet bandwidth. There were a couple of significant bottlenecks and there would be times when the whole system would function at about the same speed as our dial-up connections in the 1990s: very nostalgic for some of us but a cause of great annoyance to many. The problems were compounded by the number of people watching the Winter Olympics from Sochi. You could walk through a large open-plan space and find that at least half of the screens were displaying the BBC’s coverage via the web. There were TV screens placed throughout every building, which could be (and sometimes were) tuned into the games, but many people chose to watch through the BBC website. And then complained about how slow the internet connection was.
This year I plan to watch the action from Pyeongchang with more interest than previous Winter Olympics. I have already caught some of the luge, freestyle skiing and snowboarding but the events that I am actively looking forward to are in speed skating.
Last December the BBC featured speed skater Elise Christie in their shortlist for “Sports Personality of the Year”. Her story had passed me by in 2014. Following disqualification from her events in Sochi she received a heap of abuse, including death threats, through social media. She has come back stronger, setting world record times and winning World Titles in her events. Over the weekend we saw her set a new Olympic Record in her heat for the 500m, for which she also holds the World Record, and this isn’t even her strongest event. (Her Olympic record was broken within 20 minutes of her setting it, in another heat.) She has never won an Olympic medal and in the weeks ahead we’ll be cheering her on from several thousand miles away, hoping that she can make up for four years ago.
There are teams and sportspeople that I will always make time to watch, like Kilkenny (hurling), Ronnie O’Sullivan (snooker) or Roger Federer (tennis), and I have enjoyed seeing them win major titles stretching back over many years. Elise Christie has joined this select band and I will be arranging my time in the days ahead in the hope of seeing her win her first Olympic titles. I’m a fan.