A CLOSER LOOK Bronze medals are nice and silver are even better, but nothing shines like gold

The 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games began a lifelong love affair with the Olympics and its ultimate reward.

The Beijing Organizing Committee (BOCOG) recently unveiled the design for the upcoming Winter Olympics, and the theme of the medals is “Tong Xin,” meaning together as one. They have five rings, symbolic of the Olympic spirit and have a simple, yet classic design. They are understated, yet beautiful and will be treasured for a lifetime by their future recipients.

My first vivid memory of the Olympics was Lake Placid 1980, but it wasn’t the Miracle on Ice hockey game between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that stands out the most, it was what happened two days after it.

The puck goes past the feet of U.S. goalie Jim Craig as a tight defense stops the Soviet attack in the first period of the USA vs. USSR ice hockey game, Friday, February 22, 1980, in Lake Placid. Players are, from left to right: Mark Pavelich, William Baker (partially hidden), James Craig, and Soviet player Helmut Balderis. (AP Photo)
The puck goes past the feet of U.S. goalie Jim Craig as a tight defense stops the Soviet attack in the first period of the USA vs. USSR ice hockey game, Friday, February 22, 1980, in Lake Placid. Players are, from left to right: Mark Pavelich, William Baker (partially hidden), James Craig, and Soviet player Helmut Balderis. (AP Photo)

I sat inches from the TV screen and was riveted watching Team USA rallying to beat Finland 4-2 and win the gold medal. The scenes of pure elation and joy from the players and coaches will always stay with me. I remember captain Mike Eruzione motioning for all the players to join him on the podium after the national anthem played and players wrapping themselves in American flags.

What an amazing feeling it must be to be the best in the world at something. If you’re an Olympic athlete you usually get one chance, maybe two, at gold medal glory. All your training, practice and dedication come down to a few minutes, or even seconds to perform. The ability to bring your best when it’s called for is a beautiful thing to see and feel.

Growing up I played a variety of sports but was rarely the best player in my neighborhood, much less the entire world, so my dreams of winning an Olympic gold medal in anything were put to rest quickly, well before my teenage years.

It never stopped me from watching every four years and dreaming. Moscow, Sarajevo, Los Angeles, on and on, seeing athletes with tears streaming down their faces as the gold medal was put around their neck, hand over their heart, and standing tall as they proudly sang their country’s national anthem. Sure, I pulled for the Americans to win but I knew the language and importance of an Olympic gold medal crossed all borders.

FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 100m - Medal Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 2, 2021. Gold medallist, Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy poses on the podium REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 100m - Medal Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 2, 2021. Gold medallist, Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy poses on the podium REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

I’ve been blessed in my years as a fan and journalist to cross a lot of items off my sports bucket list. I’ve seen my favorite teams win championships, met some of my sporting idols and have been to the biggest of events, but the top item on my list remains unchecked.

I’ve never held or even touched an Olympic gold medal.

Once I held a silver medal in 2002 (thank you Irina Slutskaya!) and that was very cool. I didn’t dare put it around my neck, as some very serious looking body guards and agents were hovering inches away from me, but they allowed me the privilege of holding it and looking at it for maybe 30 seconds. I cradled it in my hands like a new-born baby, terrified to drop it. It was an unforgettable experience for me, and I’m in awe of any Olympic medalist, but surely they would agree there is no comparison to gold.

I remain hopeful someday I can put someone’s gold medal on my neck, close my eyes and imagine, for a few seconds, the feeling of being on the top step of the podium with a giant American flag behind me as the whole world watches, and knowing I beat them all when it mattered most. For the athletes who best exemplify the spirit of Tong Xin in Beijing next February, your moment is coming soon. Embrace it and never forget how fortunate you are.

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