Winter Olympics a special occasion

Every four years when the Winter Olympics roll around I become mesmerized with these snow-covered sports that are so far from our minds in the years between the Games.

Just when we’ve grown weary of plowing and shoveling, slipping and sliding, we’re given a wonderful reason to celebrate snow.

Even though Sochi, Russia is struggling with warmer-than-ideal temperatures, the seemingly small seaside city with its pristine mountains, glistening ice rinks and snowy countryside invite us to embrace the winter season as athletes from around the globe pursue their lifelong dreams of Olympic glory.

The Games last only a couple of weeks, so we have to cram four years of interest into one exciting fortnight.

Opening Ceremonies set the stage for the competition, recapping the history of the host country in a modern-if-not-futuristic forum.

Then like their summer counterpart, the Winter Games open, testing the skills of cold-weather athletes: measuring speed, strength, balance, grace and artistry on a world stage.

The ice skaters and dancers are the movie stars of the Olympics, with their sequined costumes and throngs of fans. They need not only power, stamina and poise to complete a clean routine, but also focus and mental toughness.

With the NHL on break, the pro stars shine along the world’s best amateurs in the ultimate hockey tournament.

In speed skating, athletes glide around the ice rink with unbelievable skill on blades that are just 1 millimeter one wrong move, one catch of the blade can send them into the wall and end a quest for gold.

Then there are the skiers: some tackle the brutal moguls, bouncing over mounds of snow juxtaposed with amazing flips; while in the downhill, athletes can reach speeds of 80 miles per hour.

The jumpers slide down the mountain and into the air, landing with nothing but their skis, a favorable angle, and their own sense of balance to break their fall; aerials add artistry with twists and turns mid-air.

The snowboarders come across as the rebels of the Games with their graphic uniforms and free spirits. But whether they are flying down the mountain, or floating and flipping through a half-pipe, they combine the disciplines of speed and creativity in mesmerizing fashion.

Bobsled, luge and skeleton showcase extreme versions of backyard sled riding, with the added elements of teamwork and danger. In skeleton, for example, athletes zoom through a track with drops, curves and turns at terrifying speeds, their faces just inches from the ice beneath them.

Even the quieter sports are addicting, like the sport of curling, where athletes send frozen stones across the ice with sweepers clearing the way with astounding precision.

Years of dedication, training, commitment and sacrifice propel these athletes to the Winter Games. While we are paying attention to baseball and football, they are on mountains and in ice rinks around the world, working toward these special few weeks every four years.

So set the DVR, wake up early, and stay up late, because every minute of the Winter Olympics is worth watching.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.