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Jamie Anderson of the United States celebrates on the way to the flower ceremony after winning the women's snowboard slopestyle final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Kiszla: Olympians at Sochi Games realize fame is fleeting
Olympics » Olympics are a multi-billion dollar industry built on cheap labor
First Published Feb 10 2014 02:44 pm • Last Updated Feb 25 2014 04:47 pm

Sochi • Here’s the cold truth about the Winter Olympics: The athletes are disposable heroes. Winners are toasted until dawn. Losers can’t sleep a wink.

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The fragile beauty of U.S. snowboarder Jamie Anderson’s gold-medal smile is impossible to fully appreciate unless you’ve also tasted the acrid tears of American moguls skier Hannah Kearney.

"I’m so happy. I feel so much gratitude. ... That’s a weight off my body. I have been waiting for this moment forever," Anderson said Sunday.

Set free from what the 23-year-old rider admitted was intense mental and physical pressure, Anderson became the golden girl of the moment. Defy gravity to win the slopestyle competition, which is a mash-up of snow and playground equipment, and your next cool trick is landing a seat next to Matt Lauer on the "Today" show.

And then the clock starts running on your 15 minutes of fame.

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A few days short of her 28th birthday, Kearney has been abruptly shoved from the mountaintop of her sport and now must figure out what to do with the rest of her life. She won gold skiing the bumps during the 2010 Winter Games at Vancouver. But with one wrong turn in competition Saturday night, the defending Olympic champ finished third, behind two sisters from Canada.

"It’s really disappointing to read headlines ... ‘Oh, the favorite let two other people beat her,’ " Kearney said.

The Winter Games are a sausage factory. That’s not a cynical view. That’s just the way it is. Do you really want to know how the sausage is made?

The Olympics are a multibillion-dollar sports industry built on relatively cheap labor combined with the starmaking power of television to make a kid-from-nowhere, red-white-and-blue American a success story. It’s like "American Idol," except the contestants ski rather than sing.

The five Olympic rings are cogs in a powerful sports machine. The athletes? They’re disposable parts who can go from top-of-the-world heroes to anonymous zeros in the blink of a television camera’s eye.

"I won a gold medal four years ago. It was downgraded to a bronze. And my Olympic career is over," said Kearney, who shed big tears after her third-place finish.

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