Szwaja's Sports Blog

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I'm back, and I can't get enough of the Olympics. For 17 days every 206 weeks the winter Olympics take over my sporting world. Summer, winter, doesn't matter. I prefer the seemingly stronger brotherhood among countries in the winter Olympics, but both consume me. However, following the Olympics can be a real chore when the competition happens in a place like Turin ... Torino ... whatever. The sportscenter reports every 20 minutes on ESPN Radio 1000? I'll take a pass, turn the volume down. SportsCenter? One of, if not my favorite shows. But not for two weeks, don't even watch it, too worried about knowing the results. I'm all for NBC showing all events on tape delay. I'm not one to chastise the network for not showing the events live. There's too much money involved for NBC. Any of us would do the same thing. Long story short, I have no problem watching sporting events on delay. Anyway, this is going nowhere fast, I have to get to my point here.

There's only one thing this time of year that can trump the Olympics: Illini basketball. March is coming fast, and soon, if not already, my daily mood will be directly related to how the Illini hoops teams performs. Tuesday night, Dee, James, Rich, Brian and everyone else in Orange had me dumping the clutch on my stick shift, slamming doorss, kicking empty boxes on my bedroom floors. Two hours later, my eyes were tearing up and tingling was making its way down my back. Admitting that is sorry enough, but, just wait, it gets worse. I was watching figure skating.

Before I knew it Emily, Sasha and Irena had made me all but forget Dee, James and the rest of the boys. There was Emily Hughes, not even on the Olympic team nine days prior, her hair set perfectly, her blue skirt fluttering with grace and, most importantly, a smile that leaves you with no choice but to smile back. There was Irena Slutskaya, with a golden smile of her own, wearing her slightly rebellious pants and with her back against the wall at age 27 knowing there will be no Vancouver. There was Sasha, the perfectionist who never seems to actually be perfect, holding her skate above her head, almost taunting the rest of the girls as to say, "Look what I can do, beat that, ladies." And nobody could on night one, not even the 27-year-old with her back against the wall, all be it by .03 of a point.

Yes, that was night one, but there are two nights. And as I write this, I watch night two. Look, there's Emily Hughes smiling. Does she ever take that smile off? Apparently not even when she's complaining about something in her eye, because that's what she's smiling about.

I digress. There are no athletes at the Winter Games who under more pressure than the women figure skaters, yet they seem to have the most fun. Emily's smile has been well documented. Irena's gap-toothed laugh seems like the anithesis of a Russian athlete. We think of cold, driven beings who walk around with their brows taught and their intimidating eyes. Not Irena. Then we have Sasha, the I-Pod wearing little rebel who goes through coaches like Ben Affleck goes through fiances. And her smile? Not one that makes you smile yourself and shake your head like Emily's. Not one that could bring you up like Irena's. Rather, one that could pierce your heart and make you run away. Hold on, Emily's skating now, I'll take a break...

Okay, so she fell, and there will be no medal to hang next to sister Sarah's, but you'd never know it. The smile is there.

I'm going to end this now so I can watch the big guns skate. Irena and Sasha. Okay, so they might not be Frazier and Ali, but Frazier and Ali, their careers didn't come down to four minutes every four years. Pressure? They wouldn't know it if it hit 'em like an uppercut in the 12th round. These girls? They know it all too well. Enjoy the skating. Let's do it again 208 weeks from now.


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