Friday, February 17, 2006

Sports: Tough day to be a US female Olympic athlete

Lindsey Kildow who had crashed on the Alpine downhill earlier in the week and was hospitalized crashed again today. Excerpt:
Kildow's tough Olympics took another nasty turn when she lost her balance midway through the run and fell on her backside. Although the wipeout was nothing compared to her free-falling crash in training for the downhill -- a crash that required an airlift to a Torino hospital -- Kildow lay there for a moment, then worked her way to the sideline.

"I couldn't go five gates without having to sob and recuperate because my back hurt so bad," Kildow said. "I just can't ski the way I want, so it's really frustrating, but I'm happy to be here."

She called her fall a potential "blessing in disguise" because, instead of racing Saturday, she'd be able to rest and for Sunday's super-G.
Kildow is truly a competitor. No one would have blamed her if she decided to take some time to recover. Instead, she went out there to compete knowing she wasn't at her best and would not win. She nonetheless finished eighth in the downhill. Americans love winners but we also love fighters who go out there and push the envelope giving it their best no matter what.

The USA Women's curling team finished second last year in the world championships raising expectations. The past week has been a hard lesson on competing on the world stage. They suffered two previous losses by just one point each in the extra end. Today's loss was another one point extra end heartbreaker. Rooting for the "Curlgirls" to keep at it in their three remaining games and keep up the competitive spirit.

Both USA and Canada's women's ice hockey teams knew the footsteps of the other nations were getting closer. Team USA didn't plan on it overtaking them today when Sweden defeated them in the shootout after going to a 2-2 tie.

I had previously posted a profile on Chanda Gunn the USA goalie. With a shootout where the cameras would be on the goalie, I could picture in my mind that Chanda would take the loss very hard. And indeed, in this story, we find that she felt that burden deeply yet found it within herself to lead her team in the ceremonial handshake and to express her loyalty to her teammates. Excerpt:
Gunn had been the hero of last spring's World Championships, when the Americans defeated Canada in a shootout to win their first gold medal at that tournament. This time, she raced to the bench as the Swedes spilled onto the ice and flung down her gloves and mask.

She appeared headed for the dressing room when coach Smith stopped her, and she returned to the ice for the ceremonial handshake, actually leading her teammates before disappearing quickly into the changing area.

"I was the only person who could have won or lost the shootout for my team, and we didn't win, so I wasn't feeling great," Gunn said later, her voice cracking, eyes red. "The first thing I wanted to do was get off the ice. The last place I wanted to be was hanging around the celebrating."

Asked what her teammates had said to console her, Gunn sobbed. "My teammates. I wouldn't choose 19 other people in the world to play beside," she said. "They're all very supportive of me."
I'm sure her coach and her teammates told her, you didn't lose this one. We have won as a team and today we lost as a team. Chanda, you are one of the reasons we got this far. Have yourself a good cry, we all will. Do what you need to do to unwind. Get some sleep. We'll be back to take on the Finns and we'll need you and we will do it together.

But the athlete feeling the heat from the critics (and I would imagine she is her own worst critic) the most has to be Lindsey Jacobellis who on her way to a gold medal crashed in snowboard cross finishing second for the silver.

Her gaffe is joining the list of unfortunate events ripe for criticism and mocking.

Initially, she gamely tried to stick to the "cover story" that she was trying to get more stability while in the air. But in the end, she had to fess up and be a stand up girl and own up to her blunder. Excerpt:
In the moments after the race, Jacobellis insisted it was pretty much standard operating procedure and that she did it only to "create stability."

A few hours later, in a conference call, she held to that point, but also conceded there might have been some showboating going on.

"I was having fun," she said. "Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens."
I would imagine that Lindsey's friends and family are telling her: Here is a big bear hug. There are enough people beating you like a pinata and you are beating yourself up over it. You'll be the punch line of a lot pithy sports headlines and the video of today's event is going to live on for decades in blooper shows. In time, the hurt will go away. But for now, no doubt about it, some people will judge you on this one thing alone and be quite harsh about it. Those people aren't your friends. You know who you are and that your life isn't this one thing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I guess i am one of the critical ones about this topic. Who knows how LJ really feels about her race? It seems like she is not too botheres. I am totally enjoying the olympics and particularly snowboarding, but am just a little annoyed with how a couple of the athletes don't really put much stock in competing. Hey, if you're not that competitive, great for you, just don't come represent the US, after getting picked from I am sure MANY who would LOE to be there who have a passion for the competition and take a last run of a race as an opportunity to accomplish their personal best, not an opportunity to have a little extra fun and goof around. There are probably many a snowboarder whose dream it was to be there sitting at home thinking how they would have puched it to the end. Oh, well, I am sure she will get another chance in 4 years, and with all her endorsements and sponsors on a silver platter. Good for her for her successes--i just hope she "gets it" and doesn't take for granted what she has in the future.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Rene said...

The American athletes at the Olympics have been a mixed bag. I've been drawn to reading about and blogging some of the positive stories. Win or lose, compete with a good attitude is what I'm looking for. For the various good examples; unfortunately, we have some really bad ones.

One bad example has been all the controversy around Bode Miller. His mouthing off and acting out just turns my stomach.

Another sad case has been the public yapping between the two male speed skaters Davis and Hedrick. I don't know if the media is overplaying it and I'm not blind to the fact that athletes have egos and will have their differences but can we keep quiet and just compete?

As for Jacobellis, I haven't tracked down whether she has made any more post-event comments. I too hope she gets it and learns from this episode.

I remember several Olympics ago, a Japanese figure skater made a public apology to her country for losing. I think that is excessive.

Having said that though, I do hope Lindsey will grow as a person from her very public blunder. Whether sports figures want it or not, they are role models.

9:25 PM  

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