If you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains, you’re lucky enough!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Remembering great moments of sport . . .

Today is a very different kind of post . . .

Seeing 2001 Women's Mountain Bike Champion, Alison Dunlap yesterday got me (K) thinking about a couple of incredible moments of "great sport" - you know - those wonderful moments that give you goose bumps, that make you smile, that might make you cry, that leave an indelible image forever etched in the memory bank. Those special memories provide energy, inspiration, enthusiasm, awe, and a reminder that lots of good still remains in a world where so much bad seems to pervade. The finish at the 2001 Mountain Bike World Championships is the first image I will never forget. . .

Steve and I drove up to Vail, CO for the day to watch the men's and women's Cross Country World Championship Mountain bike races. The race was taking place just a week after the devastation of 9/11. For us, it was a brief respite from the reality of the heart-rending tragedy that had just shell-shocked our country. We were there to cheer on our favorites of the sport. The women's race was first and all of the favorites jumped to the front at the start gun. The U.S. fans went crazy when Colorado Springs local, Alison Dunlap, took the lead on the final lap, passing Canadian and multiple World Champ, Alison Sydor. The course was a multi lap, 3 loop clover leaf pattern covering 12k per lap and allowed great spectator viewing. The energy was electric as AD pushed hard to stay ahead of AS. We watched on the big screens, at the finish, as AD and AS entered the last mile or so together, that would wind through the quaint streets of Vail Village. As the two women charged into the twisty streets of the Village, their images disappeared from the screens. The announcer reported that the two women were neck and neck. I remember the literal collective inhalation and breath-holding of 15,000 fans at the finish, waiting to see who would emerge from the Village the victor. The crowd was completely silent. The announcer was silent. The blaring, festive music stopped. Everyone was holding their breath. Then, the silence erupted into thunderous cheering. There she was, Alison Dunlap, rounding the corner and pedaling toward the finish line, grabbing a U.S. flag, crossing the finish, and falling into a heap, overcome by emotion. It was awesome. But what was even more awesome, to me, was seeing the great Alison Sydor cross the line, close behind, for second, throwing her bike to the ground, running up to AD and wrapping her up in a big bear hug. AS grabbed AD by the shoulders and shook her and we could read AS's lips, "I am so happy for you!". To see such genuine joy and exuberance for a fellow competitor was extremely moving. It is one of those great moments of Sport I will never forget.

The second great moment of Sport I will never forget is an image from the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Steve and I enjoy watching cross-country skiing - it is a hard but beautiful sport. At that time, Bjorn Daehlie from Norway, was the king of cross-country ski racing. He was awesome to watch - so much raw power combined with efficient, graceful movement. We had just watched the television coverage of Daehlie win the 10k Classic race in 26 minutes. Instead of removing his skiis and getting warmed up for the medal ceremony, he stood and waited in the cold at the finish. Racer after racer crossed the line. 90 racers crossed the line after Daehlie. The medal ceremony was delayed. Daehlie continued to stand at the finish and wait. Spectators started to leave. Twenty minutes passed. All of the racers had come into the finish except one.
Daehlie was waiting for that one racer, a Kenyan named Phillip Boit. Boit had never seen snow until two years previous. To see the mighty figure of Daehlie waiting alone at the finish for Boit was another one of those great moments of Sport. Seeing him embrace and congratulate the exhausted and awkward Kenyan when he finally crossed the line was unforgettable. It was a "goose bump and tear in the eye" kind of moment - a mental picture that will forever be embedded in my mind. I LOVE those kinds of moments! Inspiration at its finest.

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