These turned out to be my kind of Olympics. At the opening ceremonies I was worried that we'd have a lot of baton twirlers indistinguishable from every other stadium show. But no, the Salt Lake people did it right, did it Western, did what I take to be my story, though of course I share this story with every Westerner, whether native or adopted.
We had two trains meeting to symbolize a continent spanned, we had coyotes and mountain lions; we had the proudest people on Earth in the five (remaining) tribes of Utah, presenting their blessings, we had puppets of moose and bear and other animals; we had hoe-downs and powwow drummers, whose drums evoke an indescribable power.
Television's Bob Costas, of course, didn't get it. "Just what I like to see," he said, a snicker in his voice, "coyotes on ice skates."
He likened the mountain lion-coyote confrontation to the gang-fight dance in the musical, West Side Story, which indicates he had no idea how to accommodate what he was seeing. This is not an uncommon Easterner response.Sacred dance So in the interest of helping Bob Costas out, let me say that West Side Story is not about sacredness, whereas the coyote and mountain-lion dance is. The former is dictated by the usual human stupidity, and designed to provoke tragedy. The latter is a dance as ancient as two scavengers wanting the same morsel of food, and as old as prey and predator. It is a dance to what keeps life sharp and awful all at once. You can see this dance on any Indian reservation, and ranchers still see it when lions get their sheep.
Perhaps I read too much into a casual dismissal on the boob tube. But I was delighted to find that the show won high ratings, that it was "the most watched opening ceremonies." Why? Because people saw the West's myth created by the folks who live here now, not by Hollywood or the New York publishing world.
We had pioneers o' plenty at the ceremonies, but not too many macho cowboys. We had no one wanting to shoot the animals - though in reality, those sheep ranchers would. We had Native Americans speaking their own languages, wearing their own finery, so that millions of viewers may have had their John Wayne misperceptions shot to high heaven.
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Indians aren't gone; they've just been mostly misrepresented.Fond aerial footage So I am gleeful. What a delight to finally see my neck of the woods done right at a national scale. And what a double delight that this took place at the Olympics, which, for all their squabbling and persistent scandal, remain at heart an inspiration. It is unfortunate that the ice skating brouhahas led to other countries feeling as if they could complain whenever things didn't go their way (South Korea in short track; Russia in just about everything). But this sort of petty nationalism was overwhelmed by the nightly medal ceremonies, with their respectful yet fun rock shows; by those gorgeous "Children of Light," who, like fireflies, translated so well onto the TV screen; by Utah's high country, to which NBC's aerial footage did fond justice.
Finally, the athletes themselves won me over: Time and again they showed a dignity that some watchers must find surprising, and which reveal the true heart of the games. There was Apollo Ohno, shaking hands with his opponents after winning a "disappointing" silver; there was ski jumper Simon "Swiss Air," who looked about 12 years old and was clearly astonished by his feat.
Likewise Sarah Hughes, whose delight and poise won my heart. And finally, the Canadians Sale and Pelletier skating, in the celebration of winners, side by side with their Russian counterparts, the women swooping to a death spiral together, the men in tandem too, as if to thumb a great big nose at all the judges' behavior.
I revert to childhood every time I watch the Games. I am reminded of the power of dreams and the splendor of the human body. Ignoring the commentary, I focus instead on just what it is the athletes are trying to do. This time I could also focus on where they were doing it, and be pleased as punch that the world saw a piece of the West in all its finery.
Kate Niles, a contributor to Writers on the Range (hcn.org), writes in western Colorado.