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Links for 3/1 – A memorable Olympics

The Olympics have come to an end, but many moments and stories from these games will stay with us.  From the joyous to the tragic, these 21st Winter Games have been one for the ages.  For two weeks, the world came to the beautiful Canadian city of Vancouver and, for two weeks, we were inspired, amazed and entertained by these incredible athletes.  For two weeks we heard some incredible stories, cheered for people we had previously never heard of and sung along as our national anthems played in celebration.  From countless moments that will live on, here are my list of the top 5 moments.  Some are happy, some are sad.  But these 5 stories will not soon be forgotten.

5. Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn– From Andrew Weibrecht to Julia Mancuso this USA alpine ski team was very impressive.  Their eight medals set them apart and, amazingly, well-above traditional ski powerhouses.  However, the wins by Miller and Vonn are what people will long remember.  For her part, Vonn came into these games extremely banged up, but facing extreme pressure to perform well…and she did not disappoint.  The first American woman to ever win the downhill race, she lived up to the enormous expectations she was facing and is now an Olympic champion.  No one knew what to expect out of Bode Miller after his lackluster performance four years ago.  Disinterest in Torino was replaced by dedication in Vancouver and the results spoke volumes.  With medals of each color, Miller has changed perceptions about him and his legacy is now and forever, Olympic champion. 

4. Bill Demong and the US Nordic Combined teamThese games were the 4th for Billy Demong and, by far, his best.  From winning the first-ever Nordic Combined gold for the Americans, to getting engaged to his girlfriend to being chosen as the US flag bearer for the closing ceremonies, this man, widely regarded as one of the nicest people in the games, had quite the couple of weeks.  But we will not only remember his accomplishments, we will remember and celebrate his class.  In his first Olympic event of theses games he finished 6th, but had this to say about his teammate, Johnny Spillane, winning silver ““I’m ecstatic right now…I’m really, really happy that Johnny got silver.” And, according to his teammates and those who know him well, he truly meant it.  Rather than complain about the jumping conditions that probably put him out of contention, he chose to celebrate his teammate’s accomplishment.  That says it all about Demong and his finally breaking through this year was one of the best moments of these games.

3. Canada wins the hockey gold on home iceThe USA wanted to win the gold medal…but Canada NEEDED to win.  And, in one of the most exciting sporting events of all-time, win they did.  Everything about this game – the energy, the USA comeback and game-tying goal with less than 30 seconds left, the stakes, the passion and, of course, the OT game-winner by the best hockey player in the world – made it worthly of a gold medal game.  You could almost hear the nation-wide sign of relief when Crosby’s shot flew past Ryan Miller – this was the most important medal to them and despite some very good competition, they rose to the occasion and delivered for their country. 

2. The tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili There is not much more that can be said about the extremely tragic start to these games. People will debate for years about whether the track was safe and what caused Kumaritashvili’s accident.  But, regardless of what the cause, the fact remains that a young athlete lost his life pursuing his dream.  The raw emotions this moment produced were evident during both the opening and closing ceremonies as athletes and fans rose as one to honor their fallen friend.  To make it to the Olympics, we ask these young men and women to sacrifice so much – time with their families, friends, money, a normal life – but risking your life should never be prerequisite to competition.  And, when it happens, it is nothing but tragic and devastating. My heart continues to go out to his family and to his entire country.  We will also remember Kumaritashvili and his spirit will forever be a part of these Olympic Games. 

1. Canada’s Joannie Rochette bronze-medal winning performance – There are not words sufficient to describe the profoundly beautiful performance that Joannie delivered in both the short program and free skate.  After losing her mother mere days before her first skate, the world wondered how she would be able to perform.  Not only did she perform exceptionally, she stole our hearts in the process with what she was able to do.  Her skate (especially the short program) is something I will never forget.  From the determination, the beauty of her program and the pure emotion as she finished, she earned our respect and admiration.  No one would have blamed her had she chosen to withdraw…and everyone was applauding her medal-winning performance.  In a time of personal tragedy, she had the world on her side and her performance was one for the ages.

Thank you Canada for a Winter Games we will not soon forget.  Despite the challenges and tragedy, these were a games that brought out the best the world has to offer and reminded us all just how special this bi-annual event can be.

Link for 2/24 – the good and the bad of the Olympics

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.