February 18, 2006


When I was twenty years old, I was spending as much time as possible learning about things that people told me to learn about.  Here’s what I wasn’t doing:  becoming the world champion in snowboard cross, becoming an overall Grand Prix champion, winning medals all over the world, competing in two different disciplines of an elite sport, or crowing about being undefeated when I was 18 or 19 years old.

Lindsey Jacobellis, age 20, apparently screwed up.  Having made it to the finals in the Olympic debut of women’s snowboard cross, she decided to enjoy her ride, give something to her fans, and throw a little “method air” on her second-to-last jump.  The result?  Not so good.

So now the 20-year-old knows something else:  what it feels like to be disappointed.  Disappointed with a silver medal at the Olympic Games.  Sounds a bit strange, yes?

She’s been compared to every great sporting collapse/disaster/nightmare in history.  The one that hit me hardest was that of Bill Buckner, the tale of the ball rolling between his legs, the easy play that never got made.  I was 16 years old when that ball rolled through.  Lindsey Jacobellis wasn’t even born yet.  It was a devastating moment – something I still find hard to watch or talk about – and not, I think, really relevant to the tale of the athlete that they once called “Lucky Lindsey.”

She’s not alone in her disappointment.  The women of the ice – the American women’s hockey team – lost to Sweden in a shoot-out.  It was the first time they lost a game to anyone other than Canada.  Disappointing?  Yes – they may only come home with a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.  Disappointed with a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.  Sounds a bit strange, yes?

Figure skater Michelle Kwan was only in Torino for a few days, deciding that she could not skate at what would have been her third Olympics, making way for young Emily Hughes.  Kwan will have to settle her life with a silver and bronze medal from her previous Olympic performances.  Disappointing?  Yes, that elusive gold medal is the only thing that the 9-time national champion does not have on her resume.  Disappointed with a silver and bronze.  Sounds strange, indeed.

When Baron Pierre de Coubertin created the modern Olympic Games in 1896, he established what has become the Olympic Creed:  The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.  The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

We know that this is harder to live by than aspire to.  We know it is a lie to say that it is just an honor to be nominated or that anyone is really just happy to be here.  Athletes want to win.  But sometimes the rest of need to understand that winning is not merely defined by the color of the medal around one’s neck, or even about whether there is a medal there at all.  Just ask figure skater Evan Lysacek.  After skating what he surely will remember to be the worst short program of his life, fighting a stomach flu and feeling horrible all-around, he came back with an inspiring long program that brought the fans to their feet, landing himself in fourth place with a personal best score that almost became the comeback of the Games.  He leaves Torino without a medal.  He was disappointed.  But now he looks pretty happy to me.

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D U R I N G  T H E  W I N T E R  G A M E S ?

C L I C K  H E R E
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m o r e

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Online CNR Winter Olympic Games Diary.

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