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Tube Talk: Winter Olympics athletes risk quite a bit to do something they love

February 17, 2010

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

Remember all the hoopla when Chicago was in the running for the 2016 Summer Olympics? Rio won out, leaving some locals feeling dejected while others breathed a sigh of relief.

As Vancouver’s Winter Games were fast approaching, I asked one of my editors who’s located in British Columbia—not much farther from Vancouver than we are from Chicago—what the general feeling was there. Were they excited? Inconvenienced? Indifferent?

She said her town wasn’t too excited. Apparently, they’ve long been inundated with Olympics-related advertising. She also said there is some resentment among smaller towns in and around the area because Vancouver proper is getting all of the attention and funding while many events are taking place in surrounding communities. Of course, her lack of enthusiasm may also be because their office will be one person short as an employee takes a month off to volunteer at the Olympics.

Hosting the Olympics is an honor and a challenge, and so far, Vancouver seems to have risen to the occasion (even if one of the four legs of the interior torch didn’t rise during the opening ceremony). The unusually warm and rainy winter weather has posed a surmountable problem, thanks to snow machines. However, the fatal luge crash of Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili during a practice run mere hours before the opening ceremony lent a somber air to the Games’ first few days. It also served to remind viewers how dangerous winter sports can be.

While fatal accidents are rare, debilitating injuries are always a risk. Watch the slickly-produced biographical segments about the athletes, and you’ll see that many of them have endured serious injuries en route to the Olympics.

NBC anchor Brian Williams contributed a segment about how dangerous some of these sports can be. That, plus knowing that some competitors with several years’ experience are mere teen-agers made me wonder how or why some of them first started training. What did their parents think when their pre-teen future Olympians came home saying, “I want to be a snowboarder/skier/bobsledder/speedskater”?

Some parents might fret about the cost of equipment and training, but it seems more likely they’d fixate on the idea of their child hurtling through the air, down a mountain, or over the ice and getting hurt. Even figure skaters risk injury—especially pairs skating where the guys literally toss their twirling partners into the air, trusting that they’ll land safely. And they also love those dramatic death spirals.

Suddenly, hockey doesn’t sound so bad! At least hockey players can wear more protective padding since they aren’t worried about aerodynamics.

There’s no question: it takes a special type of person to participate in winter sports, and a special type of parent to encourage their kids’ passion knowing that risk of injury is part of the deal. So, while you’re watching NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, take a moment now and then to consider how much these athletes really risk—despite numerous precautions they and their trainers take to keep them as safe as possible—to do what they love. Could you risk as much to follow your dream?

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

From the Feb. 17-23, 2010 issue

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