The U.S. women’s hockey players accepted their medals, trudged off the ice and tried to talk through tears about what just happened to them in an overtime loss to Canada.
None of them, in the tradition of skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, declared in wonderment, “I’m an Olympic silver medalist!”
Those scenes of defeat and triumph, with ultimately the same reward, will stick with me from the 2014 Olympics.
In truth, the Games are not really my games. If some of this stuff were staged in the park across the street from my house, I’m not sure how much I would watch. Yet there’s something about the Olympics that connects with me, that makes the stories meaningful and memorable.
It’s because the Games genuinely are about the athletes — not coaches, general managers, programs or franchises. Sure, there’s analyzing to be done of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the governing bodies of various sports. Yet more than any other sporting event, the Olympics have a way of steering the story to the actual performers.
That’s a good reminder. In Sochi, it struck me that every athlete is some mother’s child — or two children’s mother, in the case of Pikus-Pace. For some reason, I never think of quarterbacks or point guards quite that way.
The Olympics are filled with these magnified moments that families share, even aside from Pikus-Pace’s climbing into the stands to celebrate. I’ll always remember the joy and amazement of Ted Ligety’s parents when he won a gold medal in Italy in 2006. Eight years later, the emotions were so different — more of relief that the world champion skier came through in the window when everybody back home was actually watching, as opposed to the World Cup schedule.
Ligety handled the pressure of being the favorite in the giant slalom. In its own way, that was as impressive as his overachieving performance in ’06.
And there’s much more to savor from these Games. Several athletes with Utah ties are among the USOC’s nominees for the 2014 Best of U.S. Awards, and their performances were fun to witness.
The trick of covering the Olympics is guessing where to go each day. While catching the medal-winning efforts of Ligety, Pikus-Pace, bobsledders Steven Holcomb (twice) and Chris Fogt and snowboarders Kaitlyn Farrington and Torah Bright — plus snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg’s epic news conference — I missed other opportunities.
This stuff never goes perfectly, like the night my fingers somehow typed “Nicole” Pikus-Pace. I guessed wildly wrong one time, choosing speedskating over the ski slopestyle event, in which Park City’s Joss Christensen led a U.S. sweep. Another day, I mistakenly assumed the cross-country skiing portion of the Nordic combined event would be staged at the cross-country stadium, not the ski jumping site. Recovering from that trip to a deserted venue meant a 15-minute walk down the hill, a tram ride, two bus rides and a climb up the stairs to the interview area, where Park City’s Billy Demong was just arriving.
Now, that was an Olympic moment.
That venue also framed my lasting image of these Games. Having women’s ski jumping in the 2014 program was a triumph for Utahns, even if Sarah Hendrickson’s knee injury kept her from living up to expectations. Lindsey Van was the face of the fight for inclusion, and she was rewarded by finally competing in the Olympics at age 29.
“Everything I went through was more than worth it,” Van said. “I mean, I just got to see somebody win a gold medal … whether it was me or anybody else.”
After 18 memorable days in Russia, I know the feeling.
Vote for best Olympic moment
The U.S. Olympic Committee is conducting fan voting for the 2014 Best of U.S. Awards in the Olympics and Paralympics, via the Team USA Facebook page. Olympic nominees with Utah ties are the following:
Best Male Olympian • Joss Christensen, freestyle skiing; Sage Kotsenburg, snowboarding; Ted Ligety, alpine skiing; David Wise, freestyle skiing.
Best Female Olympian • Maddie Bowman, freestyle skiing.
Team of the Olympic Games • USA-1 two-man bobsled (Steven Holcomb).
Moment of the Olympic Games • Men’s ski slopestyle podium sweep (Christensen), Noelle Pikus-Pace’s silver medal celebration, short-track speedskating relay silver medal (Eddy Alvarez, J.R. Celski, Chris Creveling and Jordan Malone).
Utah born and raised
Utah-born athletes with Winter Games medals:
• Ted Ligety, skiing combined, 2006.
• Steven Holcomb, four-man bobsled, 2010.
• Joss Christensen, ski slopestyle, 2014.
• Ted Ligety, skiing giant slalom, 2014.
• Brett Camerota, Nordic combined (team), 2010.
• Noelle Pikus-Pace, skeleton, 2014.
• Steven Holcomb, two-man bobsled, 2014.
• Steven Holcomb, four-man bobsled, 2014.