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Friday, Dec. 26, 2014

Hoops isn't the only happening this month

Posted Wednesday, February 10, 2010, at 3:16 PM

When the Super Bowl hoopla has died down and when the girls basketball tournament is in full swing, there's something else sports fans might want to take note of -- the Games of the XXI Winter Olympics.

For those of you who might not be aware, which I seriously doubt that anyone doesn't know it's an Olympic year if you've watched any of the NBC stations recently, this time around the Games are being held in Vancouver, Brittish Columbia, Canada and are set for opening ceremonies on Friday.

Once again the world will come together for two weeks of competition, friendship and unity as well as giving sports fans a full-blown buffet of events to keep you entertained.

The Games have evolved from where they were just a few years ago. I say a few years ago, but in reality it's more like a few decades ago.

My fondest memories of the Winter Olympics include the likes of Franz Klammer and Dorothy Hammill in the 1976 games.

I remember Klammer rocketing down the slopes near Innsbruck, Austria barely hanging on to the edges of his skis much to the delight of his fans and fellow Austrian countrymen.

He was the 12th skiier to come down the mountain that day and what a show he did provide.

Known as the "The Austrian Astronaut" among other monikers, Klammer took off and found himself trailing defending Olympic champion Switzerland's Bernhard Russi.

At the 1,000 meter mark Klammer still trailed Russi but he didn't waiver in his determination. He took many risks and barely made turns as he closed in on the finishing gate.

When he reached the final jump of the course Klammer went into his tuck for the final time and tripped the timing light in 1:45.73.

Much to the approval of the crowd he had beaten Russi's time by a mere .33 seconds.

He would say afterwards "I thought I was going to crash all the way" and later adde3d "I gave myself terrible frights."

At the other end of the Olympic excitement spectrum was the Ladies' Figure Skating competition that same year.

It's when the young and lovely Hammill pushed her way past the compeition to earn gold.

Hammill had burst onto the figure skating scene during the 1974 world championships. It was there that she took the ice behind a German skater who had received what the crowd perceived as bad marks from the judges.

Hammill took to the ice amid a chorus of boos and whistles directed toward the judges. It shook her up so bad that she left the ice in tears. When the crowd finally settled down, Hammill performed nearly flawlessly, but still fell short of East German Christine Errath.

In 1975 she won a second silver medal at the world championships, this time behind Dianne de Leeuw of the Netherlands, but ahead of Errath.

That set the stage for a battle on ice between Hammill and de Leeuw -- who held dual citizenship in both the USA and Netherlands -- that came down to the final night and the free skate.

After the first round of competition, the elementary figures, Hammill stood second, but knew with good performances in both the short and long programs, she could capture gold.

With a little encouragement from her friends that were on hand, she put together what back then was considered a perfect performance in the long program and bested both Errath and de Leeuw for the gold.

Then of course there was the "Miracle on Ice" at Lake Placid in 1980 and don't forget Eric Heiden's sweep of the Speed Skating medals the same year.

There were only six gold medals handed to United States athletes in the 1980 games -- five to Heiden and one collectively to the hockey team.

Heiden was the first athlete to collect five individual gold medals in an Olympics (three of Mark Spitz's medals in the 1976 Summer games were relays) and his sweep of all five men's events has never been duplicated since.

The hockey team, under the direction of the late Herb Brooks, was an unlikely group of heroes.

They averaged just 22 years of age and had been seeded seventh of the 12 teams in the first round.

To make them even less attractive as potential gold medalists, in an exhibition game against the powerful Russian team just a week before the Olympics, they were routed 10-3.

Despite the odds, the homestanding USA team advanced with a 4-0-1 record in the preliminary round and set up a meeting with the Russians in the semifinals.

This came as a morale booster to myself and other members of the Army base where I was stationed in 1980 (Merrill Barracks in Nuremburg, Germany).

We sat around listening to the game on the Armed Forces Network and were excited to hear the 4-3 victory over the Russians on Feb. 22.

To cap off their run to the gold, the USA team defeated Finland 4-2 to capture the gold medal, I believe it was two days later.

We sat around in a local Nuremburg park listening to that game and were happy to celebrate an American victory.

While this year's edition of the Winter Games might bring us such fond memories like the ones I've just described, I'm sure you can find some of your own in them if you just take the time.

While I encourage you to watch your favorite high school teams go for a tourney title, I also encourage you to take some time and make private memory of your own courtesy some of the best athletes in the world.

Rick Curl is a sports writer with the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487 ext. 20 or via E-mail at rcurl@gcdailyworld.com



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