As a child growing up, way before the current age of technology that brings the world's borders closer together in an instant, I remember there was one event every four years that did that very same thing. Every four years, the Olympic Games, both summer and winter, brought the world together in peace. It was a venue to share common ground and peacefully compete with good sportsmanship and mutual respect.
As many other children growing up in Canada often do, I was involved in sports as an extra activity. I chose to focus on figure skating and took lessons and practiced for tests and local competitions but never did I ever imagine that I would become an Olympian. That is what indeed happened and my journey to the Olympics was an amazing adventure to say the least.
Even before I became aware of the possibility of becoming a Canadian Olympic team member, I always felt the Olympic Games were amazing. Fast forward the time machine to today's age and one could safely label the Olympic Games as an outstanding extravaganza. It is always evolving into something bigger and better than the one before. With the Olympic Committee's wise decision to change the schedule for the venue to be held every two years now, splitting the winter and summer games into their own four year intervals, we no longer have to wait the long four years to enjoy the experience. With this change, we have the opportunity to witness unbelievable bouts of strength, speed, skill and endurance every two years and with each host country taking the Olympic reins, we are invited into a new culture.
I was so excited that first moment I heard my name announced as a Member of the Canadian Olympic Team. I felt an unbelievable sense of National Pride when I put on my Red and White Team uniform with CANADA written across it. I had to pinch myself to prove I wasn't dreaming. The Winter Games I competed in were in Innsbruck, Austria and that meant a trip to Europe which excited me because it was always fun to experience life in a different environment. It meant different food, a different language, a different audience and a different view.
I still vividly remember arriving at Olympic Village and registering as a participant. Around me were athletes and officials from all over the world and from all different sports. This was much bigger than even a World Figure Skating Championship because there were suddenly skiers, speed skaters, hockey players, ski jumpers, bobsledders, etc. all around me. I found it difficult to absorb everything because there was always so much activity around me. To help explain that, I was so taken aback by everything that I managed only to take about two snapshots the entire time I was there. Hard to believe because I have always been someone who takes countless photographs of even a simple trip to the beach! What was I thinking? To this day, I cannot believe it. It was even difficult to sleep because of all the emotions. Today, when I see athletes at the Olympic Ceremonies taking countless pictures, I can appreciate their enthusiasm because I have felt that very same thrill and then I smile and say, "good for them... they'll have pictures to look back on, one day!"
The media coverage today is exceptional. They really capture the essence of the movement. They bring all sorts of human interest stories and mini travelogues into our living rooms and we learn to appreciate and embrace the world's differences. From the first moments of the official Opening Ceremony, with all the sights and sounds and creativity of the show to the entrance of the athletes and lighting of the flame, the spirit builds. With the daily events with all the stories and results and interviews, there is a constant energy force that is continually fed and it builds and grows until it reaches the peak of excitement. Sadly though, it does come to an end but before the media coverage is over, we thankfully get one last dose of exhilaration. We get to experience the final Closing Ceremony.
As an Olympian watching the Games on TV now, I still remember the feelings and thoughts I had in Innsbruck and I reflect back on it fondly and with great pride. The most difficult part for me to watch is the extinguishing of the flame, it gets me every time. For an athlete, there is an unexplainable sadness that comes with that manoeuvre, perhaps it is because that dream is done.
The remedy is to cherish the memories and look forward. With every Olympics, we are assured to have an action packed, thrilling experience filled with amazing stories of hopes, dreams and wishes. There will be those that will see their dreams come true, perhaps resulting in a gold, silver or bronze medal and with that the promise of fame and fortune. Every dream is different, there may be some of just finishing and that should be looked at as a success, too. There will also be hopes dashed and dreams crushed. There is always the dreaded possibility for injury or disqualification or for a finish of fourth, or seventh, or 19th, or 115th place. Not all of these stories will be of those that are medal worthy; however, they are successes nonetheless. These gifted athletes represent the best their countries have to offer and they achieved greatness the moment they qualified as an Olympic participant.
Every participant at the Olympics qualified as the best. The medals simply go to the best of the best.
Viewers must not lose sight of the fact that there are no losers at the Olympics. As you watch these athletes march onto the Olympic stage in the Opening Ceremony, appreciate all the years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice that was necessary for them to make this journey. They are already successful, they made it. There are many more back in their home countries that had that same dream of qualifying too.
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London is just about to begin and it promises to be a spectacular event. I await the Opening Ceremony with great anticipation and I will be glued to my TV to take in as much as the airwaves will bring me. As an Olympian, I encourage you to tune in as well and enjoy the experience. As you watch, take in all the excitement, feel the positive energy and remember to appreciate the efforts of the organizers, committee members, officials, coaches, athletes and their families. It is a monumental task taken on by so many to make this a success.
Realize whether these athletes and teams medal or not, they have achieved greatness in their field, every one of them is already a winner. After all, as they step onto the Olympic stage, they will become Olympians and they will forever be known as Olympians.
"Once an Olympian, Always an Olympian."