Olympic spirit: Hannah Kearney, the splendid young Irish American skier who won an unexpected gold

This is usually my bah humbug! column about the excessive cheerleading at the Winter Olympics and the failure of NBC to show the rest of the world as well as U.S. athletes during the games.

Not this time, however. I have to say the coverage has struck a chord with me and obviously millions of Americans who are tuning in in record numbers.

I think it is easy to see why. These are not easy times for Americans, with job losses and recession headlines haunting us every day.

What better way to blow away those doom and gloom headlines than an Olympics where superb young athletes prove once again what a talented country we live in?

That reassurance is sadly needed. We have political gridlock, nasty economic tidings, a sour electorate and a widespread sense that things have gone wrong.

Into this gap we now have young Americans proving all over again that when it comes to excellence, this country can really do it.

It started for me with Hannah Kearney, the splendid young Irish American skier who won an unexpected gold, and it has not stopped since.

Yet one of the great stories for me is not about triumph, but tragedy.

The death of his son Brendan in a recent traffic accident still haunts U.S. hockey team general manager Brian Burke, who is very much in the spotlight in these games. Burke is one of the great general managers in history, a rough and tough character who “wears his Irish heart on his sleeve” as one journalist wrote.

Burke arrived in Canada and broke down to the media talking about his son, who had just announced he was gay before he was killed. Burke, a macho man in a very macho sport, stood foursquare behind his son and accepted his choice of lifestyle.

He held an Irish wake after his son died and said that he felt his spirit was with him at the games. However, it has been tough.
“It's like that Jackson Brown song -- here comes those tears again,” Burke told the media after attending another service for his son, who died a few weeks ago.

"It's like constantly getting hit over the head with a two-by-four. I just didn't stop crying all day.” Burke was referring to the service where his son's former college teammates wore their old hockey jerseys with shamrocks patched on to show their love for him. It caused his father to break down again.

“It is part of the therapy," said Burke. "All of the experts have told me what to expect and how to handle it. Stay busy. Watch your health. And that's what I'm trying to do.”

Burke is in Vancouver with his wife and their children Gracie, Mairin, Molly and Katie from Burke's first marriage. His family continues to get over his son's tragic death.

"You never get over losing a child but you learn to live with it," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do."

Last Sunday, despite his grief, he masterminded the amazing U.S hockey team win over Canada, a story that was the most significant win since the mythic victory in 1980 by the American team at Lake Placid.

Brian Burke and those amazing young athletes are what the Olympic spirit is about, a never say die attitude in the face of adversity.

The Winter Olympics have come at a perfect time for a country badly in need of a li