Bob Bestler

Exciting Olympics provides pleasant distraction from week marred by tragedy

I once went on an executive team-building assignment in Miami, asking people why they read - or didn't read - the daily newspaper.

Of a dozen or more responses, I still remember only one.

An older gentleman, dressed rather shabbily, said he mainly read the sports pages because reading about athletic achievements gave him hope in his own life.

I'm not sure I fully understood, yet it was one of the most thoughtful replies we received.

During the past two weeks, as I watched the 2018 Winter Olympics amid the horrible news out of Parkland, Fla., I found myself recalling his words again and feeling uplifted many times.

I happen to be among those who bleed red, white and blue at every international competition, whether the Olympics or the Ryder Cup or Wimbledon or whatever.

This year, there were many reasons to admire America and its athletes.

In one of the most dramatic endings to a grueling cross-country race, Jessica Diggins pushed her way to a gold medal in the final seconds. Along with her teammate Kikkan Randall, it was the first medal ever for American women in an event that has been owned by Europeans. Diggins will be honored by carrying the American flag in closing ceremonies.

Chloe Kim and Shaun White lived up to every expectation in their snowboard events. It was White's third gold, while Kim's gold, her first at 17, put her on the cover of Sports Illustrated and on the front of a Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Too bad, Wheaties.

Another 17-year-old phenom, Red Gerard, claimed America's first gold, then headed back to the States to take his bows on several TV shows and pose for a People magazine shoot - before returning to Pyeongchang for another event this weekend. Ah, to be 17 again.

The Americans' excellence in X Games-style events continued with David Wise, who repeated his 2014 gold from Sochi with another winning freestyle skiing performance.

Mikaela Shiffrin won gold in the giant slalom and silver in the downhill, but early thoughts of winning four or five golds went out with a brutally cold wind that delayed Alpine skiing for several days.

Meanwhile, her mentor and teammate Lindsey Vonn could manage only a bronze in the downhill, still a monumental achievement considering the numerous and seemingly career-ending injuries she has fought through over her career. Vonn proved a winner in another way as she spread her beloved grandfather's ashes on the mountain at Pyeongchang, a stone's throw from where he fought during the Korean War.

And then there was the women's hockey team, which won a punishing 80-minute battle with Canada. It was truly a battle of giants. It took three periods, one overtime and a six-round shootout to defeat the Canadians 3-2. This wasn't the Miracle on Ice of 1980, but rather a battle between the best in women's hockey - and finally the USA brought home gold after a 20-year drought. You had to be proud.

At this writing, the United States is in fourth place in the medal count while Norway is running - skiing? - away with the Pyeongchang Olympics. That's OK. I'm pretty sure we could beat them in basketball. Or baseball. Or football. Go USA!

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