Think for a moment on what it is about the Olympics that so captivates the attention of the world. For the most part, the sports on display are not the familiar competitions that spectators in America and around the world pour their money and their passions into week after week -- soccer, hockey, baseball, basketball. Some of the disciplines are downright arcane -- with names like halfpipe, skeleton, slopestyle and super G -- and others, like curling and ice dancing, simply charming.
And yet, beginning with Opening Ceremonies at 5 a.m. Central Time today, the eyes and hearts of the world will be riveted on Pyeongchang, South Korea. Our spirits will soar and dip and soar again as we share for a little more than two weeks the raw joy and determined intensity that young men and women from around the world put on display.
No doubt, much of the appeal will be the opportunity to watch competitions we don't get to see very often, and some of it will be in witnessing the peaks of achievement that can be reached in activities like skiing and skating that we are familiar with or may even participate in recreationally. But the compelling attraction, the thing that merits all the dazzle and spectacle of the Olympics is the show of pure excellence that determined humans can produce in an atmosphere of fierce but friendly competition.
For this, we have much to be proud of right here in the Chicago suburbs. As we noted in a front-page story Thursday, numerous Olympians have direct connections to our communities -- including Norge Ski Club members Kevin Bickner, Michael Glasder and Casey Larson; figure skaters Bradie Tennell of Carpentersville, College of DuPage alumna Alexa Scimeca Knierim and her husband Christopher; speedskaters Brian Hansen and Lana Gehring, both of Glenview, Emery Lehman, of Oak Park, and Chicago native Shani Davis; bobsledders Aja Evans, a Morgan Park High School graduate from Chicago and Seun Adigun, an Algonquin native who became a track standout at Homewood-Flossmoor and founded the Nigerian bobsled team she'll be driving in Pyeongchang; and hockey players Kendall Coyne, of Palos Heights, and Hilary Knight, formerly of Lake Forest. In addition, hockey coach Tony Granato, from Downers Grove, and assistant coach Chris Chelios, a Chicago native, also will bring local connections to the international games,
We'll be watching these stars with special pride throughout the competition, and with a certain gratitude for showing us how world class skill and determination can be nurtured and flourish right here in our midst.
These Olympic Games, like others that have come before, will again test our relationships and standings with other countries, teammates and competitors. But that's to be expected when competing against Russian athletes that were accused of doping; that's to be expected when athletes from North Korea and South Korea join forces to compete on the same team in a sport; that's to be expected when Chicagoan and Olympic veteran Shani Davis is disappointed to lose the honor of carrying the U.S. flag during Open Ceremonies as a result of a coin flip. What's important is what comes after those challenges, when teammates come together as one country or one sport and will themselves to achieve their personal best.
The beauty of these Olympic Games is that they also provide us with a glimpse into another country and culture that somehow makes the world a little closer, a little smaller as we embrace the years of sacrifice it took to put on this event.
No, these Olympians are not for the most part household names in sports Americans watch regularly throughout the year. But for 17 glorious days, they'll put on a unique show of grit and exuberance that's not only worth watching but merits celebrating.