Morton: Snapshots From Vancouver

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(HOST) After attending the Winter Olympics, commentator John Morton is now back home… and reflecting on the experience.

(MORTON) My wife, Kay and I were thrilled by the opportunity to attend the recent Winter Olympics. Having served as  U.S. Biathlon Team leader twenty- two years ago in Calgary, I knew the Canadians would host a spectacular Games. Overshadowing the impressive individual performances and memorable team efforts were three themes which characterized these Games.

First is the apparent shift from the traditionally powerful Winter Olympic nations. Switzerland, France, Austria, Germany and Italy did not dominate Alpine skiing as in the past. In fact, the USA emerged as the strongest Alpine team thanks to the success of Vonn, Mancuso, Miller and Weibrecht who won a total of eight medals.

Historically, on the Nordic side, the Soviet Union often took home the lion’s share of the hardware, with a few medals escaping to Scandinavia. The unification of East and West Germany created a twenty-year dynasty In biathlon, while Nordic Combined glory was shared by Central European and Scandinavian athletes. Johnny Spillane of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, signaled an end to that tradition with his silver medal in the normal hill competition, which inspired additional podium performances from the U.S. team including a gold for Bill Demong of Vermontville, NY. In biathlon and cross country Vancouver Olympic medals also went to athletes from Slovakia, France, Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland, Kazakhstan, Belarus and the Czech Republic in addition to the traditional powers.

A second observation was the phenomenal skill of the competitors. Not so long ago, a world-class biathlete was doing well to hit five targets in under a minute and to cover the ski course at a rate of three minutes per kilometer. The biathletes in Vancouver routinely hit five targets in less than 25 seconds, while the pace in the Men’s 50 K was under two-and-a-half minutes per kilometer in wet, slow conditions. And how about the flips, twists and spins of the freestyle skiers and snowboarders?

Our final impression of the Vancouver Winter Games was a reaffirmation of Calgary’s legacy, that our neighbors to the north simply know how to organize and host a tremendous Winter Olympics. The jagged peaks, the massive Douglas firs and the magnificent ocean vistas, quickly established our most frequent comment, "Wow!"  Equally as impressive was the efficiency and friendliness of the countless volunteers.

Congratulations to Team USA for dramatically improved Winter Olympic results, and congratulations to Canada for once again showing the world how the Games should be hosted.

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