I love the Olympics, and I especially love the winter Olympics, and it all goes back to one of those moments in life that just burns itself into your very identity, like how going to the movies could never lose its wonder for me ever once I had watched the speeder bike chase through the forest of Endor on the big screen at the age of five when “Return of the Jedi” came out.
The moment that the Olympics became magic to me was during the Calgary games in ‘88. It was February vacation. My parents were away, and I think my brothers were staying elsewhere, but I was staying on Sunset Street with my grandfather and my aunt Eileen. They let me stay up well past my bedtime to watch on the condition that I had to lie down quietly on the couch while we did so. I can remember lying there more clearly that I remember lying in my own bed this morning: my head on a pillow, satisfying weight of the solid old crocheted afghan on me – made by my great-grandmother, or maybe my grandmother – sense of my aunt looking at me from time to time to see if I was still awake.
I liked all of it, but the figure skating most of all. I loved every event: Katarina Witt reigned supreme among the women, Brian Boitano for the men, and I enjoyed watching both, but I was absolutely entranced by Gordeeva and Grinkov in the pairs competition. I thought she was so beautiful, and he so handsome, and their performances so exquisite. It didn’t matter a bit that they were Russians and supposed to be our rivals. I was swept away by them and practiced my pronunciation of their names over and over in the time between their short program and long.
I wasn’t really a doll girl or a dress-up girl or a makeup girl as a kid; I was a book girl and a Star Wars girl and a stuffed animal girl. Eileen knew this as well as anyone, and toward the end of the week, she brought me home a little stuffed rabbit she had picked up for me in the gift shop of the hospital where she worked. It was small and gray with little tufted ears and an extra-soft white belly. I named her Екатерина.