Road to the Olympic Games: Remembering my love for sport

Hosted by veteran broadcasters Scott Russell and Andi Petrillo, Road to the Olympic Games chronicles athletes' journeys on and off the field of play. Here's what to look for on this weekend's show on CBC Television and CBCSports.ca.

I was thinking about what I'd be writing today and the story there is to tell about the sports we'll show on Road to the Olympic Games this weekend.

And it struck me that I don't need to delve too deeply into all the things that might serve to distract from what will actually occur on the fields of play.

In other words, all the embellishment in the world, all the back stories, all the fancy graphics and social media traffic about what the players and observers are saying about sport won't sway me from watching the actual competition.

Because sometimes, I just need to cut out all the noise and focus on sport for sport's sake.

Yes, the freestyle aerialists will compete under the lights in downtown Moscow on a man-made scaffold bearing artificial snow and ascend to the start line in an elevator which sometimes breaks down. 

All of these sidebar stories will no doubt add to the spectacle. But more interesting to me is the chance to watch the wizardry of the high flying Qi Guangpu of China, and the unthinkable tricks which he is capable of on skis.

I find it amazing, and yet I don't know anything about him beyond the fact that he seems to be the best on the planet in his chosen sport.

Armani clothes

Similarly, the women will race the downhill on the next Olympic alpine course in South Korea this weekend. I'll be watching Lindsey Vonn to see if she can win. Not because there's controversy about this Olympic host city or because Vonn has recently appeared in a fashion show wearing Armani clothes and posted countless images on Instagram, or that she has been vocal about the safety concerns at the last race in Switzerland. 

No, I'll be watching because when she's on her game Vonn is the best ski racer in the business, maybe the best there's ever been. I want to see if she can become the most prolific ski racer of all time, regardless of her gender or the struggles with injury she's had to overcome recently.

And on the subject of Pyeongchang, isn't it strange that we haven't heard a lot about the drawbacks of the place only 11 months out from the Olympics? There has been virtually no talk about cost overruns, security concerns, lack of readiness, or human rights abuses. 

In fact, one of our senior producers who traveled to the host community recently sent an email back telling me about the place.

"The people here love sport," she enthused.

That's all I needed to know. 

It means I can't wait to get to Pyeongchang.

Iron men and women

And in Hamar, Norway at the famous Viking Ship oval which hosted the Olympic speed skating events at the Lillehammer Games of 1994, the iron men and women of the sport will contest the world allround speed skating championships this weekend.  

These are the workhorses of skating.

The venue will be full of knowledgeable fans and the atmosphere will be festive. The "in-game experience" as coined by the marketers of sport, is bound to be second to none. But the stars of the show will be the athletes themselves, and in particular, the phenomenal Dutch star Sven Kramer, who has won more of these titles than anyone in the annals of ice racing.

To see this guy dominate and go the distance is to behold one of the wonders of athletic achievement. There is no question in my mind that the quintessential Dutch skater, which Kramer embodies, is an indelible sporting image and worthy of admiration in its own right.

On another matter, the Canada Games bid evaluation committee has just completed its rounds of Ontario this week. There are four communities vying to host the national games in the summer of 2021. 

At each stop the reception has been wildly enthusiastic and large crowds in Sudbury, Ont., Niagara Region, Waterloo Region, and Ottawa have stepped up to extol the virtues of hosting the ambitious next generation of Canadian athletes in their own backyard.

One Olympic legend who is an integral member of the committee marvelled at the impact the tour had made in each of the four potential host municipalities.

"Sport brings us together," concluded Olympic champion Catriona Le May Doan.

This, to me, is a telling observation.

Sport itself is the key. 

Above all it is the reason we watch and cheer. 

The competition itself is at the heart of the conversation. It's all about discovering who wins and who loses or who can go faster and higher than all the rest.

As I was thinking about this and why I love sport I remember reading the words of Sir Roger Bannister, the first human being to run a mile in under four minutes. He always considered himself an amateur athlete. He ran to see what was humanly possible and his reflection on the meaning of sport has always resonated with me.

"Sport, like all of life, is about taking your chances," Bannister said.

"The reason sport is attractive to many of the general public is that it is filled with reversals. What you think may happen doesn't happen. A champion is beaten, an unknown becomes a champion."

And that's what I'll be watching for this weekend. 

I'll be eager to see the great mystery of it all unfold. Not what somebody predicts or says will take place on myriad fields of play, but what actually happens.

The game's the thing.

And this week for me it's all about sport for sport's sake.