I've always loved the Olympics. When I was little, they seemed to take forever to come around--four years being a much bigger chunk of my life back then, and the winter and summer games not being biennially staggered yet, the way they are now.
Every time the athletes march in for the opening ceremony, full of hope and expectations, I think how there will be the same stories we've seen before: the coronation of an expected gold medalist. The surprise winner, who medals though he or she wasn't supposed to. The scrappy heart-stealing competitor bouncing back from some personal tragedy. The winner who nearly loses but comes through at the last moment, unbelievable grace under unbelievable pressure. And always, there's at least one star who was expected to win, but lost because of one moment's lapse in concentration, one slip, one stumble. There's the one who comes achingly close, losing by a millimeter, or by one one-hundredth of a second. There may be a fall from grace, a disqualification due to some form of doping, or unsportsmanlike boorishness.
There are also the stories we don't see--the athletes worked tremendously hard but will lose in the qualifying rounds, the ones with no medal hopes. I remember one year the broadcasters showed us such a skier, just so we could appreciate the flashy downhill winners all the more. And truly, this skier seemed to be moving in slow motion by comparison. But I have never forgotten him, that skier determinedly taking his downhill run on Olympic snow.
In just two weeks' time, there are so many stories, so much tension and heartbreak and triumph. We've seen the stories before, but they remain compelling, because we can never be sure which players will get the happy ending, which the near miss, which the tragic fall, until the flame is extinguished.