The Winter Olympics and the Perception of Time

Watching the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Torino games last night, I was struck by an observation on my own mental state, which must have been bubbling to the surface over the last two weeks: the periodic nature of the Olympics has fractured my personal flow of time. Every four years, more or less the same athletes come back and resume their stories; during the opening ceremony, I see some of the old faces and hear their names, and it all comes rushing back. Then for the next two weeks I experience time as running on a track parallel to the main, day-to-day chain of events—the Winter Olympic track. This train started at Calgary '88 or so, but it makes slower progress than the train of normal time, as it runs for only two weeks every four years. The Summer Olympics run on another parallel track because the characters involved are usually different.

I think this is why watching the games is so beautifully comforting; when I jump into Olympic time I'm able to reach back with ease to 8 or 12 or 14 years ago, to a time when I was a child or an adolescent. Each of those two week Olympic periods gets appended onto the end of the last one, so all the great events of Lillehammer '94 (and whatever I was doing at the time) are as though they happened only six weeks past.

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