The Olympics as a Metaphor for Life

With the 2010 Winter Olympics now history (all over but the whining…), several of the matches were poignant reminders of how fate, kismet, destiny or whatever you believe drives the reality of the moment, regardless of whatever else you done up to this moment in time.

Nowhere (other than perhaps Chile) was it more apparent how important it is to live in the moment, as was demonstrated in the final days of the Olympic competitions. Several events come to mind: the falls taken by a few competitors on the slopes and on the speed tracks, Cheryl Bernard’s loss of the gold medal in Women’s Curling, and the all-out battle for supremacy in the Canada-USA men’s gold medal hockey final.

Cheryl Bernard and her team fought, practiced and drilled their way up the ranks to reach the gold medal match against the Swedish team skipped by Annette Norberg. Norberg, a previous two-time gold medal winner, was no stranger to the Olympic final test. Bernard was tasting her first Olympics, and by all accounts, was seriously challenging Norberg for the gold.

This was evident right up to the last end of the extended final set with both teams tied, and with Cheryl having both the strength and the tremendous burden of the last rock. Unlucky enough not to have a house that was secure before her throw, Cheryl had to set aside everything that had been achieved before, to try and confirm the final, last, defining moment of the past four years of her curling life.

Alas, her final rock was good enough, but not fast enough to clear the house. There, but for a push of a muscle, or the sweep of a colleague or God knows what lay in its path, the sum total of all of the years gone before was reduced to an infinitesimal amount of energy in an infinitesimal moment of time, and it wasn’t quite enough.

It would easy to dismiss the loss as “she didn’t make it”, but that would be doing a great disservice to her and her team mates that brought her and the country to that “infinitesimal moment in time”. Bernard and her team mates played as the champions they are, bringing the game, and the medals, down to the moment where she had to let the stone go, and hand the outcome to fate.

I’m not so much feeling sorry for Cheryl as to how it turned out, but rather, comiserating with her that it turned out the way it did. There really was no second place in this particular competition and it was evident that Cheryl felt it as she made her way down the ice after the rock had ended its journey in the house. Everything was riding on that last rock, and fate did not smile on her. It was a gold medal run, but unfortunately there was only one medal to hand out.

Similarily, the Canada-USA men’s gold medal match came down to the same pair of short straws. This time Canada, via Sidney Crosbie, pulled it out of the bag in overtime at the last moment.

But the Olympics are no different than life. The sum total of all you have done may result in no more than a footnote in the history of life, and lucky if it is at least that. The proverbial stepping off the curb to meet the oncoming bus lies in wait for us all. Life happens in the moment, and its in the moment that Canada’s Olympic athletes are obliged to live. That alone, should be the signal metaphor for us all, each and every day.

Paul Coppin