There are always so many amazing stories that come out of the Olympics, and following them is one of my favorite parts of these two weeks. Sometimes they are heart-warming and inspiring; other times they are depressing. As luck would have it we have had, in the past few days, a great example of each.
On the bad side, Yevgeny Plushenko apparently can not accept that he lost out on the men’s figure skating gold medal to Evan Lysacek. Disappointment is one thing. Poor sportsmanship is another and that is exactly what Plushenko has demonstrated. From his ridiculous assertion that anyone who did not do a quad does not deserve to win – that’s like saying if a team doesn’t score a touchdown or hit a home run they don’t deserve to win – to awarding himself a platinum medal on his website, Plushenko has set a terrible example for all those young aspiring athletes. One of the great things about figure skating is that competitors have the opportunity to design their program to play to their strengths while calculating what risk is worth taking. As I understand it, each element has a degree of difficulty and, the higher that number, the more points you can score with the element. So, while the Quad may have the highest degree of difficulty (and higher scoring potential), Lysacek made up for not having one with other elements. In addition, from what I’ve read of figure skating experts, his cleaner skate helped him overcome not having the highest degree of difficulty element. Lysacek won. Plushenko didn’t. Get over it.
Contrast that with the response to the tragic passing of the mother of Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette just 48 hours before Rochette was to start her Olympic games. Letters, cards, tributes came in from all corners of the globe – American speedskater Dan Jansen who lost his sister just hours before his race in 1988 reached out to her – people just wanted to let her know they were thinking of her and praying for her. It didn’t matter what country you were from or who you were rooting for, people wanted Rochette to know they cared. And, I would guess there were not too many, from any country, who watched her phenomenal skate in the short program who weren’t pulling for her. One needs only read this line from the NY Times, to understand what a moment this was “…the crowd at Pacific Coliseum, seemingly split among Canadian, South Korean and Japanese supporters, got to their feet and began waving Maple Leaf flags, trying to buoy her with their support.” It wasn’t about what jumps she would do or who they were rooting for – they understood what the Olympics are all about and were doing everything they could to give Rochette a chance to succeed.
Sitting there, watching her skate, I was amazed by how much I was caring about and rooting for this young woman who I had never heard of a week ago. How much I wanted her to do well. How nervous I was with every jump. And how thrilled I was with how she did (Scott Hamilton wasn’t the only one who got emotional!) This wasn’t about the medals (although I’m sure she would love to win one), but it is about her reaching the pinnacle of her sport and creating a moment that no one who watched will ever forget.