At a glance, luge is sort of boring. Get on a sled, zoom down a track, try not to crash. Before Pyeongychang 2018, I always felt luge was the equivalent of getting into an inflatable tube and launching yourself down a frozen water slide. It was the kind of sport that made me scratch my head and wonder about the lengths very rich, very bored and very winter-bound people will go to enjoy a season that isn’t always kind to humans. But that was then, and this is now, thanks to CBC’s livestream of the Winter Olympics and my recent acquisition of a foldable, amplified, indoor antenna (Philips, $19.99 + tax. Cheap!).
I am neither rich nor very bored (this part is debatable), but I am definitely very winter-bound right now. My way of coping with the weather is the way almost everyone born in the tropics does it: pure avoidance. Oh sure, I’ll do an occasional bit of ice skating and maybe even do a little sidewalk shovelling, but actually playing in the snow day in and day out and going as far as saying I love winter? Nope. When forced to confront it, I will dress like the Michelin Man. Judge all you want, when it comes to snow, I’ve long since given up style over substance because I like having ten fingers and ten toes.
Thanks to the wonders of free TV channels and closed captions, I’ve been getting a crash course on winter sports for the past fortnight. Prior to this year, the most attention I’ve ever paid to the Winter Olympics is to watch figure skating, I’ve learned that the Dutch dominate long distance speed skating, the Germans are lugers par excellence, the Norwegians own skiing, and Canadians claim hockey as a matter of course (although the USA always begs to differ).
I also learned that lugers use their shoulders, calves and tightly controlled shifts of body weight to control a sled that’s speeding down a track going at least 120 km/h, a helmet their only protection from a tremendous amount of g-force, fast reflexes the only thing standing between success and total annihilation. I’ve been on the freeway, clutching my seat at a lesser speed than that, and that’s riding in a car with airbags. Definitely not like a waterslide. Luge is a badass discipline.
I’ve gotten emotional watching lugers lately. Hell, I’ve been getting emotional watching Olympians lately. There’s something about watching people get recognition for years of hard work and discipline, in an arena where only the best of the best get to compete. It’s hard not to get emotionally affected by their obvious pride and joy when they know they’ve done a good job, and represented themselves, their sport and their own countries as well as they ever could have in a sport that’s already difficult to master on its own, not to mention it being set in the harshest season of all.
Compared to the online Olympics we all live through these days, a steady onslaught of one-upmanship to see who has the most perfect life, Pyeongchang 2018 is something I can get behind a hundred percent. I like watching these athletes succeed. It’s great to see people overcoming the sheer adversity of winter. To turn a season that is at best uncomfortable and at worst, deadly, into an opportunity to have fun is something I find inspiring. And I don’t usually gush, but it’s been such a crappy winter, I think I needed to be reminded that fun can be had no matter how harsh the conditions, and that the harder the struggle, the sweeter the reward. That’s true #goals.