The names have been changed to protect the Googlers, or anyone from finding any of this with a search engine. The only hint I’ll give is the fact all of the events took place during the Vancouver ’10 Olympics and all of the people spoke english, to a proficient extent at least.
The hype is all on the players here naturally. Competitors. The key being current players and anyone else in the moment. Four years can be enough to change the guard or wipe a memory clean. We are a world in the now and next week, not yesterday or the past. A medal winner can return four years later to coach and be a nobody to the press or news departments. It’s a shock to the system for many. But I already learned that – at least not as hard of a way as some.
When I took a medal, one of my coaching staff won a medal that previous winter Olympics. It was the first time I saw him less than happy or enthusiastic. He wasn’t my favorite or who I worked most closely with, but he made an impact on me nonetheless. When everyone was gathered around and welcoming me back from the podium, he was off to the side a bit. Some part towards the end of the celebration party before our departure, I caught him out back as if he was looking for me.
He pulled me aside and said he had something to say. Usually this is the point where things get a little Hallmark, but he had an almost stoic face. He said this was what he was looking at instead of me listening to my anthem on the podium. It was a medal he won. The song being played for him rather than me. Holding it out, I could see it glint off a faraway streetlight. Putting it back into a pocket he told me, “Things change.”
I was buzzing pretty hard and feeling no pain, I’ll admit. I was in too good of mood to even let a speeding train stop it. But I dwelled on it later. Guess he had a hard time accepting it was over for him. He did win a short time ago. Maybe he would have competed– even in lieu of me- but he pushed too hard and this became his new role in an Olympic team.
If he took it easy, he wouldn’t have taken a medal, or competed at all. It’s the “exchange rate” which manifests inside the mind of us all. Some call it ‘the price of fame’ or whatnot. If he eased off, he would have had a slim chance to return to represent the country. Still no sure thing…and tack on four years. The human body is amazing but has a shelf life for certain things. Many would have given up much more to have the exact experience he did. The bust of glory as a dying star in the cosmos. To those, the exchange rate would have been beyond fair.
At least I took note from him as the what to and not do. I am supportive and encouraging. I feel nothing but pride when I am surpassed by one I have bestowed assistance on. I got out before I was injured or caused disgrace; joining with my country’s coaching staff. And so in Vancouver I was happily enjoying a beer in moderate anticipation. Until he walked in.
It seemed innocuous enough. A guy walks up and asks if a seat is taken. The Olympic Village is really a form of its own utopia. Like a rock concert with no egos. Most of the people are enjoying the limelight and having fun. Those with strife usually insulate themselves or stay secluded when not ostracized from the rest trying to have fun and promote peace. It also meant randomly sitting down at a table to share a beverage and soak up the hype or try to stave off the jitters.
So when the man sat down, it wasn’t such a big deal. We rambled about inconsequential things and then…
It was a setup. And I was mid drink. I wasn’t the type to choke when caught off-guard drinking. I was intrigued. Hoping I didn’t show my hand early, I slowed my drink and set the glass down.
“Didn’t catch that.”
“Short track. Really?”
At first I thought it was a prank. Maybe someone recruited a guy to hassle me or test my mettle. The team liked to put its members through the paces for the sake of fun. I looked from my glass back to him. His face was vaguely familiar. Or my brain was working overtime to make a connection.
“That’s right.” Pausing to say, “Short track.” before finishing my pint. Not many follow this sport outside of the Olympic grandeur once every four years. Less people actually remembered me outside of trivia or a diehard fan. Same for my switch from competing in speed skating to becoming a team member of short track instead. It was the right combination of circumstance and luck, and no regrets from my point.
“Talk about a bummer turn of events. I was hoping to go back up against you again.”
It was HIM. Not some long lost arch rival. It was someone who I hoped wasn’t holding a grudge. Being a guy more in the now than then, I haven’t taken much stock in my Olympic brethren. If I’m right, this is the guy who I edged past in my race to take a medal. He was in just that event, so it dashed his podium hopes whereas I went on with more chances. During the closing ceremonies I even remembered him hugging me at the time while giving a ‘no hard feelings’ air about it all. He said anything in print was his camp saving face, and only we knew what happened. Hopefully the guy hasn’t changed much.
“Nice to see someone from the old guard.” I went to tip another sip from my empty glass out of habit. Only foam and a tastebud’s worth of beverage.
“You remember me I hope. Sorry for my manners,” while crooking his head for the nearest server. The currency held up in his fingers attracted attention of a nearby female server. Taking the money from him, she lean in towards his whispering lips. She laughed while looking towards me.
She returned with a tray of shots and pub glasses; all filled of course.
His voice perked with condescending flair. “You know what they call a Boilermaker in Canada?”
The back of my throat already clenched from the scent of the liquor wafting from the glasses as they were set in front of me. Four in total. “Le Boilerfaire?”
“Is this guy a sport or what,” he fired in the direction of the server. “No pun intended,” her forced smirk acknowledged while leaving. “It’s called…” While arranging his glasses, “…an October Crisis.” Making himself laugh, “Canadian Club whiskey. Labatt 50 beer, and a dollop of fresh maple syrup. Canadian of course.”
I made a vow to myself I’d try not to drink any of the stereotypical local drinks. Just as Fosters is not Australian for beer down under, I hoped to avoid the likes of Molson or Labatt. But in the spirit of goodwill, I silently relinquished this promise I made to myself.
“You know I’m not who I used to be. I’ve slowed down in more ways than one.”
“Come on,” as he arranged my drinks in a similar lineup as his.
“Now who’s changing sports?”
“I didn’t hear that,” while letting go of the last glass and settling back in his seat. “Olympic partying rules state you gotta drink what’s in front of you. Otherwise some sort of incident might ignite.”
“This is more a main course than an appetizer for me, keep in mind.”
“Duly noted,” with a flourish of his fingers. “One to rush, and one to take easy.” Picking up the shot glass between two fingers, “You with me?”
Mimicking his actions, “I’m game. Don’t want to get accused of poor sportsmanship after all this time.”
“Not from me, hey.” Hovering the whiskey shot over the pint, “This ain’t getting any warmer.”
Post time. I dropped mine in and forced him to play hurry up. Clack, bloop. Clak blop. The glasses went up and the liquid down. The sound of the pints clinking to the table with the empty shots clinked out an audible tie; at least when factoring in jumping the gun.
He was right though. The second was slow. Then a third and fourth pint of whatever for us, and a shot in between. Maybe more. I was at the point where I was certain he had an agenda, but I didn’t care either. There was a score in his eyes which couldn’t be officially settled.
So there I was on the ice in a suit. Both of us really. This was the only way to prove it. Mild bickering settled we were going on the honor system for a thousand each: being short track and speed skating both at a thousand meters. Both sloshed and wearing “camel packs” of liquor, we weren’t about to let either’s buzz fade. I started on his turf; speed.
He’s been doing it all this time and maybe he did jump a bit early, but he took it. Not by much, but I could accept it clean. Then it was my turn. I never had the right stuff for short track when I was in my athlete days, but that’s how I ended up with my coaching gig. I had a little extra to bring to the stew with my unique perspective. Taking a medal home also increased the solid factor. I learned, changed and adapted. He stuck to what he was good at. Needless to say, I took that race. He tried to cling to a ‘gimme’ difference which he soon dropped…knowing he would have fared worse if we had a short track rematch.
The weirdest thing was how loud it was in there. Not when we actually competed, but when we were all alone. It felt like the blades scraping ice could have been heard a mile away. Nothing like when we raced our event in the Olympics. The wall of sound had a containment effect. Hearing the two of us in the throws of each other’s speed was almost deafening. That or the booze, but we both seemed to have a grip on reality even though it was more rose colored that our respective usual.
We proved what we had to but didn’t feel complete. There was no way we could skate in any friendly way. We got where we did by having the competitive spirit locked in the on position. This was probably the worst part of our little tale, but it still wasn’t as felonious as some people get when drinking.
Feeling a bit scampish, we went through the locker room. There was a group who must have beat the rest in the early bird category. We found a set of equipment for the greatest equalizer on ice: curling.
We were feeling no pain and wanted to keep the feeling up. Back on the ice, we tried to figure out how to play the game – cobbled together from practicing we witnessed at various times. I had a broom and he had his turned around to push that stone. The grinder or whatnot. We made a good team of taking turns and marking the end point with a beverage can. The same can we used as the “winning bell” skating.
Things got more competitive (of course) and we tried for new variations of the game. At fist he coaxed me to sit on the stone, but it was tough to keep balance. I slid off from a divot or bad equilibrium. My jaw took the brunt of the fall and the rink echoed the sound of my teeth banging closed. Thankfully the pain died out after thirty or so seconds.
The next variation was something closer to the realm of those Jackass skateboarders. One of us sat on the ice and faced away while the other pushed the stone as hard as possible. And when the right trajectory, it ended up against our backsides. A few times even causing a large slamming sound from the stone picking up and landing again on the ice. When it was a direct hit, both of us had to laugh since it seemed much more funny than it probably actually was.
All of the reverberating noise, or dumb luck, brought attention to us on the ice. I remember some interjection of a language I couldn’t understand. Caught in the headlights…he and I turned towards the person making the sound. The utilitarian lights were just enough to obscure more than hair which seemed to float and have light pass through the edges.
Stepping towards us showed the contradiction. Someone who could have been a downright beauty any other time had anger lines on her face, and gorgeous flowing hair which could have burst fire from the tips if they were matching her discontent. Muttering to herself and every tenth word making it to my ears though not anything I could decipher. I had images the next place would be this guy and eye sitting beside a door to the principal’s office.
Language switching more towards english, we ended with a verbal reaming I felt guilty as she went on to tell us about this sport which was literally dying. How the stones are cultivated from only one quarry in Scotland or something. A special granite to repel moisture to keep a true path. I promised myself to look it up and make a conscious effort to follow the sport.
Then as an act from the heavens, my competitor diffused the entire situation. Whatever charms other females seemed imperious to worked on this one. He apologized for both of us and cited we were trying to learn the sport rather than insult it. Maybe she believed him, or maybe she knew it was her own fault which lead up to us finding her gear.
She succumbed and decided to ease up on her anger lines and body language. It may also be the sip of whatever he let her have also while deciding whether to keep her grudge.
Producing more appropriate equipment, we did some practicing. I never knew where was really a bullseye thing we were supposed to use. The three of us rotated out positions when trying to make it curve different directions from the sweeping. She even demonstrated the difference between the mens brawn and girls skill and accuracy.
This woman consumed all we had left, but it was a fair tradeoff. We all met up a few more times during the Olympics and even had a chance to see one another off. I even ended up with one of those stones autographed by her. No clue if it was in competition or just a practice one. It has her signature and I treasure it for the little secrets the three of us stared within the empty rink.
Who knows what may happen four or even eight years after it. Remember, I am still the one who prefers living in the present.