Monday, March 22, 2010

USA hockey gold medal

The 2010 Paralympic Games have ended with a much sweeter outcome for USA hockey than we saw last month. Sled hockey, that is. Team USA didn't just win the gold medal at the Paralympic Games, they dominated every team. The games are set up tournament style, much like the Olympic Games. The U.S. beat Korea 5-0, Czech Republic 3-0, Japan 6-0, Norway 3-0 and Japan again 2-0 for the gold medal. (Japan beat Canada, which helped them advance to the gold medal game while team Canada played Norway for the bronze. Norway won, Canada did not medal in sled hockey.)

Team USA played five games and did not allow a single goal in the entire tournament. That is amazing. But that's just one of numerous amazing things I witnessed in the Paralympic coverage.

Every night last week at 11:00 p.m., I deprived myself of sleep to watch the Paralympic highlights. During this time, I watched amputees play hockey, I watched blind people ski down the hills in Whisler - slalom style. My jaw hung open, thoroughly impressed, as I watched a man with no arms cross-country ski. To my amazement, the event I was watching was not just cross-country skiing, it was Biathlon. He then proceeded to the shooting range, then got back up and finished his 12.5k cross-country ski. This was Josef Giesen from Germany, who went on to win the bronze medal.

Watching these athletes affected me very, very deeply. I enjoy watching sporting events and competitions, but the perseverance I saw in these athletes was awe-inspiring. Watching these people overcome the odds and achieve this level of competition is indescribable. You simply have to see it for yourself.

Therein lies the problem. NBC owns the rights to the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics, but they made the decision to show only the two hours of highlights on Universal Sports - a channel that most people don't have, or may not even know if they have it. Unless you go out of your way to seek out the Paralympic coverage, it is very easy to let the events just slip by you. I'm glad I did not let that happen, but I can't help but question who is making decisions for NBC. They decided not to show these games, but they had plenty of airtime for the Marriage Ref and other sub-par reality television.

It really perplexes me that there was so little broadcast coverage for the Paralympics. I understand that there is not an audience for them like there is for the Olympics, but there never will be if the public never has any exposure to them. It makes no sense. All of the tragic backstories of the athletes were dragged out and mentioned endlessly throughout the Olympic Games. The whole world wanted Joannie Rochette to win a medal for figure skating after her mother passed away. The suspense of whether or not Lindsay Vonn could compete with her shin injury was built up to a climactic and triumphant finish when she won the gold medal.

I don't wish to diminish the challenges the athletes faced, but I do wish to point out that perseverance and overcoming tragedy is a big theme every year in the Olympics. Yet the Paralympics, where every athlete who competes has already overcome odds, is not even mentioned in the mainstream. Du Haitao of China lost both of his arms playing with high-voltage electricity wires when he was four years old. Two of the four U.S. gold medals were won by Alana Nichols, the first woman to win gold medals at both the winter and summer Paralympic Games. I could go on and on, but I will spare you any additional rambling. I would simply like to argue that a double amputee does not compare with an injured shin on the tragedy scale.

Everyone in life feels discouraged at some point, and most of us have felt sorry for ourselves, feeling like the odds are against us at any given time. There is nowhere better than the Paralympics to truly witness the strength of the human spirit. If you ever find yourself feeling powerless and feeling sorry for yourself, watch a visually impaired person ski slalom down a hill. Or someone with no arms ski cross-country without poles. It will put things into perspective real quick. I hope the 2012 Summer Paralympics find a bigger audience. I also hope that the fact that Russia won more Paralympic medals than any other country helps ease the sting they felt at the Olympics. It's good to know that some Russian jobs are safe this time around.


Mark Miller said...

Thanks for raising awareness of this great sport. Do you want to meet the USA sled hockey players, see their gold medals, and watch kids and adults play live? Come to the USA Hockey Disabled Festival April 8-11 in Laurel, Md. Details at or email me at

Kathleen said...

I will be there!!