The Hero Podium

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For Olympic viewing, this is the equivalent of the seventh inning stretch. We’re in to the last few Alpine events and deep into the ice dancing. This is a fantastic time to watch or re-watch Blades of Glory and round out all your fresh figure skating knowledge. Two words here: Iron Lotus. Take two minutes if you can, and relive the moment:

Up until now I have held one Olympic hero above all others, and I realized recently (thanks to another teammate who shares this reverence) that I’ve never properly called her out. She is a competitor who never participated in the Olympic Games, yet embodies the Olympic spirit more than anyone I’ve encountered, in any field of play.

Kristi Terzian, now Kristi Cumming, was one of the top American Alpine skiers through the late Eighties and early Nineties. Her 17 top 15 results in a single season (89-90) was an American record. Due to the vagaries of bad luck and injuries, however, she narrowly missed competing in all three Olympics during her time on the World Cup. Once, in 1992, she actually gave up her rightful spot on the Olympic team to the next skier because she knew she wasn’t physically able to compete at her highest level. In 1994, she might have raced under the Armenian flag, but didn’t want to play the foreign passport game. To her, that would have missed the whole point of going to the Olympics. If she couldn’t represent her own country, in top form, as a contender, she wasn’t going to go.

On top of that general Olympicness of her approach, Kristi never once complained or made excuses and was the most supportive teammate I ever knew. That last part—being a good teammate—is the clincher. By this point, whether in Ski Racing, in the New York Times or in pretty much any Olympic coverage, we have all no doubt read about the positive correlation between team strength and individual success. Kristi was ahead of her time.

For all those reasons and more, Kristi is still my Olympic hero. BUT, I think she will graciously make some room on either side of the podium for a couple of newcomers, namely Ester Ledecka and Anna Veith. Ledecka earns her spot for the sheer awesomeness of her Olympic upset, and for her sustained look of utter beffudlement in the finish. It was exciting and genuine and had an unscripted purity that is all but extinct in these made-for-TV Games. It was so unscripted that the production machine missed it entirely, which made it even better.

Ester Ledecka, in her beautifully clueless moment…

Anna Veith earned a spot on my podium for keeping a smile on her face as her golden moment turned silver and the spotlight panned entirely to a new star. To be sure, having a gold medal waiting back at home helps with perspective, but still, I’m not sure I could have rebounded that quickly from that kind of surprise. So, good on you both, and honorable mentions to both Lindsey Vonn, for featuring gratitude in her post Super G interview, and Mikaela Shiffrin for handling 4th place in SL with honesty and grace.

..and when it all got real.

I’ve got a pretty solid Olympic hero podium, and anticipate it holds; but, it is the Olympics, and as Ledecka reminded us all, you never know what can happen. The notion of surprise is what makes the Games so fun to watch, and for good surprises from the Americans, the women’s speed team is our best bet. For sure I’ll learn something new from Bode’s commentary. His perceptive analysis of everything—from technique to equipment to snow conditions to course set to mental state and approach—makes even the nuances of ski racing clear and intriguing. Bode knows skiing! Case in point: This lunch room exchange caught by Steve Porino.

As detached from reality as these Olympics have felt (is it the venue? the time change? the empty stands? the complete lack of native skiing, ski culture or natural snow?) I’m pretty excited for the last few Alpine events, and—who would have guessed—for Alpine snowboarding. Let the end of the Games begin!

 

 

 

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