SALT LAKE CITY -- The 2002 Winter Olympics have been reduced to a memory now, one that will fade soon as we forget the American Olympians who commanded our attention over these past 17 days.
Such is the life of our winter sports athletes. They come out of the woodwork every four years, get us interested in bobsled, luge or downhill skiing for two weeks, then return to a nomadic competitive lifestyle that finds them more recognized in St. Moritz than St. Marys.
But some memories of the Salt Lake Games are going to last awhile. May I take two minutes to share some?
I watched a true Tough Man cry up in Park City on Saturday.
Brian Shimer had driven a bodsled in four previous Olympiads. He'd never medaled, though in 1998 he missed a bronze by just .02 second. People figured he was done then at age 35. Remember, the bobsled driver has to push, too.
But Shimer hung tough for four often injury-ridden years. He barely qualified for the Olympics and was all but written out of the medals forecast.
"Even my coach had second thoughts,'' he said. "I remember Janis (Skrastins, U.S. bobsled coach) saying that for me to medal here would be like the Miracle on Ice.''
The Miracle happened when Shimer's four-man sled posted two of the day's best runs in Saturday's finals, moved up from fifth to third and earned a place on the Olympics podium.
"It's a fairy tale ending to my career,'' the now 39-year-old Shimer said as he fought back the tears. "I prayed coming into here, 'Please, just let me stay healthy and do my best,' and God granted that wish. Any medal or anything else on top of that was just a bonus.
"Besides,'' he added with a smile, "bronze is pretty close to gold in color.''
His American teammates knew what the day meant, which is why they elected Shimer to be the America's flag bearer in Sunday's Closing Ceremonies.
The world won't remember Brian Shimer for long, but he was a big winner in this book. Here's a look at some others, as well as those who lost big time in missing on their Olympic moments.
--Biggest winners: Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. They got more air time and international sympathy in their rigged second-place finish than they ever would have received with an outright victory. These victims cried all the way to their booking agent's office.
--Biggest loser: Apolo Anton Ohno. Oh, he'll do fine with the marketing and accounting people, but NBC's pick to win four gold medals ended up with one silver and one gold after being the second man across the line in both.
--Second-biggest winner: Sarah Hughes. Hey girl, catch a ride home from school in the Benz?
--Most honorable mention: Jim Shea. Was there a dry eye in the house when he pulled his grandfather's funeral card from his helmet after winning the skeleton. Rough, tough and good-looking, he has the personality to take the roles Bruce Willis is to old to play.
--Second biggest loser: Michelle Kwan. Must now be satisfied with the lucrative obscurity of the pro exhibition tour.
--Buy recommendations: Speed skater Derek Parra, a Home Depot guy with personality and answers; SLOC president Mitt Romney, does he have any interest in becoming baseball commissioner?; Roots clothing store, not since Alex Haley has the word inspired this much interest; Australian fun-loving gold medalists Steven Bradbury and Alisa Camplin (Hef's hold on line 3).
--Sell recommendations: Picabo Street, U.S. women's hockey team.
--Hold recommendation: Figure skating. Does anyone care that the WWF isn't on the up-and-up?
--PR coups: Utah tourism, Utah people, the Mormon Church; big-name rock groups who performed gamefully in frigid late-night conditions.
--PR boos: Price-gouging Salt Lake restaurants, locals who left (for fear of crowds, gridlock), Atlanta (for old times sake).
--Losers who were winners but will always remain losers: Street scalpers.
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