There’s been no shortage of programs catering to middle-aged men over the last — say, when was the TV invented? — but the 2022 Winter Olympics is dealing out entertainment to the 30- and 40-something sets in a big way.
The stories are international in flavor, what with it being the Olympics, as Claudia Pechstein competed on the edge of 50 years old and Ireen Wuest becoming the first athlete to take at least one gold in five Olympics, breaking a tie with absolute legends Carl Lewis, Michael Phelps, and Al Oerter.
Now look at Team USA, prepared to soon undergo a sort of incredible, dynastic changing of the guard but still buoyed by veteran energy from Shaun White, Lindsey Jacobellis, Nick Baumgartner, and Elana Meyers Taylor.
With age, in many cases, come families. And this Olympics has seen no shortage of emotional family stories.
A tournament that started with skier Mikaela Shiffrin speaking near the anniversary of her father’s accidental death also showed us new fatherhood within Team USA as biathlete Leif Nordgren virtually attended the birth of his baby. And let’s not forget Meyers Taylor’s COVID-19 tests leading to her isolation from the family that joined her in China to watch her go for gold.
Baumgartner’s stories include valley, peak of fatherhood
So if your familial emotional strings hadn’t been sufficiently plucked by the time Baumgartner’s story took center stage, the orchestra was plenty warm for his tumultuous 48 hours on the snow.
It doesn’t take extensive experience as a parent, guardian, or mentor to understand the depth of love a human can feel for a younger charge. But if it did, it’s fair to say Baumgartner’s interview on NBC after missing out on the men’s snowboard cross final sure goes a long way to sufficiently telling the tale.
And even if you did watch Baumgartner’s post-race talk with Hailey Hunter, there’s a chance you tapped out before he got to an emotional gut-punch of a closing thought in referencing his kid.
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Already in tears, Hunter tries to reassure Baumgartner by mentioning that his family is watching at home and very proud of him.
And you can see another wave of pain hit “Dad” as he speaks to his family halfway across the world.
“Thank you guys. Thanks for the support. Landon, I love you, sorry bud.”
The video went viral, and there may not have been another Olympians on the minds of neutral fans.
What was missing from the video was the context that Baumgartner still had more Olympics to run, and boy did he ever, showing off the team-first attitude that has made him a mainstay of Team USA.
Baumgartner gave Jacobellis a lead in the Winter Games debut of mixed snowboard cross and the 36-year-old brought home the gold. There was a camera on the 40-year-old as he cheered Jacobellis over the line, then helping her unlock her boots from her board to celebrate.
Even that was easy to miss, though, because so many of our minds were drawn to the crestfallen dad of just a few days before he won gold.
“This gold medal is awesome, but [Landon]’s still the best thing that I’ve ever done and ever will do,” he said, via NBC Sports’ Liam Nee. “For him to see me fight through that adversity and do stuff right before he’s about to graduate high school and go on to figure out what he’s going to do in life, is huge.”
Maybe advancements in medicine and strength-training mean there will be more and more greybeard Olympians, so-to-speak, in future Games. Professional sports have seen Jaromir Jagr, Tom Brady, and Vince Carter stayed on our screens well beyond the norm… but could they become the norm?
If so, perhaps the stories of the Nick Baumgartners of the world won’t be quite as rare, but we doubt it. Here’s to the triumph of the will, and setting a fine example for the next generation, related or not, through defeat and victory.
For every inspirational moment athletes give to kids, ripped from the commercials, this Olympics has done plenty to bring inspiration to an older generation of Americans. To that, we send an virtual high-five across the world to Baumgartner, Jacobellis, and the rest.
Amazing stuff. And imagine how it’ll feel if the aforementioned mom, Meyers Taylor, delivers a medal on Sunday.