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DARRELL HUCKABY: Winter Olympics and a legacy of great performances

The Winter Olympics have come a long way since Squaw Valley, y’all. That was the first of the Winter Games that I am old enough to remember. Honesty compels me to admit that I don’t remember much about who did what back then — and there wasn’t wall-to-wall coverage on half a dozen television channels back then. Heck, there weren’t even half a dozen channels back then. Only three: 2, 5 and 11.

I’m sure we watched alpine skiing and ice skaters, but I don’t recall any of the contestants’ names. I do remember loving to watch the ski jumping, though. It looked just like those guys were flying to me. Now ski jumping is one of the tamer sports. The snowboarders and half-pipers make the jumpers look downright sedentary.

The only skier I really paid any attention to in my youth was the guy who represented the agony of defeat on the Wide World of Sports, but I don’t think he did that during an Olympics.

The first winter Olympics I actually remember getting excited about were the 1964 games in Innsbruck, Austria. I was 12, which is the perfect age for a boy. 1964 was a great year. Mickey Mantle was still playing and the Newton Rams won the state championship in basketball. I don’t think the U.S. was a powerhouse in winter sports back then like we have been recently, but Billy Kidd became a national hero when he won the silver medal by going downhill faster on two skis than everybody except one other guy.

Yep, that’s what I remember.

The ‘68 games were even more memorable. The great Jean-Claude Killy was at the top of his game in 1968 and for the first time in my life I learned to appreciate a competitor who didn’t wear red, white and blue. Well, he did, but it was the red, white and blue of France. I still pulled for him. Who could pull against someone with a great double first name like Jean-Claude. I’m guessing he was from Southern France.

I also came to appreciate Peggy Fleming in 1968. I don’t know if I watched her for her skill or the way she looked in her outfits, but I never quite got over Peggy Fleming and went to see her in person, years later, when she skated at the Atlanta Civic Center. I got her autograph afterward and said something really stupid like, “I watched you in the Olympics when I was little.”

They tell me the Winter Games were in Japan in 1972, but I was knee-deep in college and living in a dormitory room with no television and you couldn’t prove by me that they even had an Olympics that winter.

The year 1976, however, was a different story. We all remember 1976. That was the year that Franz Klammer made the most incredible downhill run anyone had ever seen and a short-haired girl named Dorothy introduced the Hamill camel and inspired women all over America to cut off their long tresses.

The year 1980? Lake Placid. Miracle on Ice. ‘Nuff said. And I almost got to spend a night in the Lake Placid jail because I stopped my car to take a picture of the Olympic ski jump — but that’s another story for another day.

I watched more figure skating in the 1984 Winter Olympics than I ever had before. There were four reasons. The first two were Torvill and Dean, the magnificent British skaters who achieved perfection in Sarajevo. The other two reasons were Katarina Witt’s magnificent legs, which she showed off in some of the skimpiest costumes ever seen. Hey, at least I am honest. Of course we were all horrified just a few years later when the Olympic venue we had all enjoyed so much was devastated by war.

I loved the 1988 games because I came to realize that Calgary has cowboys, too. I have since been to Calgary and can testify that it is a truly great city. They were having their annual Testicle Festival when I was there and every place in town was serving mountain oysters and prairie oysters. I did not participate.

The stars were plentiful for the 1988 Games. Katarina was still solid gold and names like Brian Boitano and Dan Jansen became household names. No star shone brighter than Italy’s Alberto Tomba, however.

The Great Tomba and Kristie Yamaguchi were the most notable figures in 1992, and I really don’t have much recall of any other athletes. All the events seemed to run together. I guess I lost interest after my favorite Olympian, Herschel Walker — bobsled — failed to medal.

In 1994 they began to stagger the summer and winter games and what finally happened in Lillehammer — Dan Jansen, Bonnie Blair — was overshadowed by the lead-up when Tonya Harding’s boyfriend knee-capped Nancy Kerrigan in an effort to help Tonya to the podium. I have seen recent photographs of Tonya Harding and she could be a podium.

What about 1998? Halfway around the world again. Tara Lipinski, only 15 years old, beat Michelle Kwan and curling returned.

Next, 2002. Ah! Salt Lake City! One of the best ever. It has to be with LeAnn Rimes singing in the opening ceremonies and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the National Anthem. Sarah Hughes provided the beauty and Apolo Ohno provided the controversy.

Then 2006. Torino. Yada, yada, yada.

And 2010. Vancouver. Shaun White. Bode Miller.

And now the 2014 Winter Games have come and almost gone and we have a plethora of new snow-bound heroes to celebrate and appreciate. Thanks for the memories. I wonder who we will be remembering from these games in 2042?