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Little moments live large

Forget the big disappointments. Remember these Games for their poignant snapshots of life.

By GARY SHELTON
Published February 27, 2006


TURIN, Italy - Picture the furrowed brow peering over the screen of the laptop. Picture the hand rubbing across the neck as a man ponders what to type.

It is time to sum up these Games, and the words do not come easily. How do you remember the forgettable? How do you spotlight an Olympics that shined so dimly?

The writer moves around the room, gathering the images of 21/2 weeks like socks scattered across the floor. He loves the Olympics, really, but in so many ways, these were flat. He searches the Internet, pondering a Google search for "inspiration."

No, I am not talking about myself.

I am talking about Jacques Rogge.

It is hours before the Closing Ceremony for Jacques, and I have to believe he's struggling as much to wrap things up as I am. How do you translate "pretty good" into Italian without sounding whiny? How do you say "Hey, they can't all be Lillehammer?"

And, really, that's the final impression. There were some nice moments to these Games, but they stopped short of the magical level of most Olympics. Crowds were smaller. Ratings were lower. Records were scarcer. There were some good memories, but not many of them were golden.

Perhaps this is the key: Perhaps you forget about the big disappointments. Perhaps you should cling to the little moments.

Forget about the way an American skier turned the Alps into Bode's-on-his-Back Mountain. Instead, remember the way a short-track skater slid onto the ice, her head down, and how she left with tears.

Kimberly Derrick competed Saturday night, a day after her grandfather died of an apparent heart attack. When the paramedics opened Darrel Edwards' wallet to find out his identity, the first thing they saw was a photo of Derrick. She didn't skate well, finishing last and being disqualified in her heat, but she skated. For her granddad. And is there a better way to describe an Olympic moment?

Forget about the way Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis turned speed skating into a soap opera cat fight. Instead, remember the way the stands boiled with the silly, wonderful Dutch fans, who think speed skating is better the oxygen.

They dress in orange, each one trying to wear a goofier hat than the next, all dancing to the all-volunteer pep band called "Small Beer." Listen to them, and man, do you want to be Dutch.

Forget about Mike Modano picking the hockey team's final shortcoming to whine about the lack of a charter airline. You tied Latvia, Mike. You're lucky you didn't have to take the bus. Instead, remember snowboarder Rosey Fletcher, Flat Rosey, winning a bronze.

Throughout the Games, Fletcher carried a small cardboard cutout drawn by Lillian Kozlowski, an elementary school student in tiny Girdwood, Alaska. Kozlowski gave it to Fletcher because her class is reading the Flat Stanley children's books. Yeah, but did Stanley ever win a medal?

Forget about the blood doping scandal, the one that included police chasing a former Austrian coach through the Alps. Instead, remember the exuberance of Italy's latest heartthrob, skater Enrico Fabris.

Fabris won two gold medals and an orange crown. "I'm the king of Italy," he proclaimed.

These Olympics were like that. They were filled with churlish behavior. There was Todd Hays, the American who groused about how much more money the German government puts into bobsled science than his does. And snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, whose hot dog move cost her the gold medal. And Italian ice dancer Barbara Fusa Poli, who gave a death stare to partner Maurizio Margaglio after he dropped her. Imagining that glare pointed toward you was the most frightening moment of the Games.

Ah, but there were other moments, too, sweet little slices of the Games. Sometimes those are better than gazing at the stars anyway.

Did you notice that Russian speed-skater Svetlana Zhurova finally won a gold medal? This was her fourth Olympics, and she's 34 and had a baby two years ago. Still, she won.

Did you notice Canadian medal collector Cindy Klassen, a former hockey player who turned to speed skating? She won a gold, two silvers and two bronzes, not bad for an athlete who was cut from the hockey team eight years ago. Considering the way it men's hockey team played, Canada should be quite the speed-skating power by 2010.

Did you notice Robel Teklemariam of Ethiopia, who finished 84th in the men's 15-kilometer cross-country race? "I would have finished if I had to crawl on my knees," he said.

There were moments. The breathtaking skate of Evgeni Plushenko. The easy wit of Johnny Weir. The way Sasha Cohen salvaged a silver after falling. The Flying Tomato. The Herminator. Grandma Luge.

Okay, okay. Even the competitors noticed there was something missing from these Olympics. Italian speed-skater Maurizio Carnino called the Olympic atmosphere "a delusion" and said the people in Turin "don't feel so much" toward the Games.

Lindsey Kildow, the resilient American skier, said the same.

"You know, it doesn't really seem like anybody cares this is the Olympics," Kildow said. "It doesn't seem like there are a lot of people here. Last time in Salt Lake, they did such a good job organizing. You could feel the excitement. Maybe it's just me, but I don't feel it here."

That wasn't rare. Weir grumbled that the Olympic Village felt dirty, and he groused repeatedly about missing a bus. American skier Resi Stiegler referred to the dining as "cat food." American luger Tony Benshoof called the idea of three villages for athletes "just plain stupid."

See. That's why organizers asked the athletes to wear big red clown noses during the Closing Ceremony.

Beneath the grumbling, there are keeper moments. My favorite? The heart of Joey Cheek, who gave all of his prize money to help the children of Sudan. The honesty of Chris Witty, a survivor of child abuse. And the memories of ex-Grand Torino soccer player Sauro Toma, who was supposed to be on the plane that crashed and killed all of his teammates.

No, not everyone can claim the gold, not even the Games themselves. But if you look long enough, you can still bring home a memory.