When I began figure skating in the mid 1970’s, it was because I was inspired by the grace, beauty, elegance, and athleticism of the sport, as well as by the joy it brought to the faces and spirits of those skaters I admired most. When I applied to college (eventually gaining admission to Georgetown University), it was my father’s idea to write about my role models – which not only included my dad and my grandfather, but also Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton. I was and remain inspired by their commitment to excellence in their chosen craft, their tenacity, work ethic, and in Scott’s case – courage in the face of adversity.
I call each Winter Olympics my Super Bowl, specifically the Ladies Figure Skating event. Beginning with watching Dorothy Hamill on a small black and white TV in 1976, to watching Annette Poetzch and Linda Fratianne LIVE in Lake Placid in 1980, to Tara Lipinski on the Internet in 1998, to Sarah Hughes on a huge flat screen TV in 2002 – there was one consistent theme: joy in the face of triumph and (with the exception of Tonya Harding) grace in the face of loss. We did not see joy in the face of triumph this time around, nor did we see grace in the face of loss. But we did see joy in the faces of all of the American skaters, and grace in the face of loss – and to me, they were the winners of the Beijing Olympics.
The three American ladies had no quads and just one triple axel, but all of them expressed joy and gratitude for close-to-completely clean skates, and most of all, for the opportunity to have the Olympic experience. Mariah Bell in particular had gorgeous performance, and shed tears of joy at the end – not because she knew she had won a medal, but because she had the time of her life. She touched Olympic ice like a kid in a candy store, savoring the moment, while also supporting her teammates, and rising above the fray – smiling the whole way through. She (like Dorothy and Scott) is an exceptional ambassador for the sport I love so much. This is magnificence. This is figure skating to me.
Regarding the Russian skaters, I have such empathy for 15-year old Kamila, now the poster child for abuse of our youth in sport for gain from the adults who stand to benefit at the young person’s emotional expense. Though she should not have been allowed to skate at all, she was, and in the end, her fall from glory was met with harsh reprimands from her coaches as she left the ice. As the world watched the scene unfold on live television, the gold medalist sat alone and was expressionless – clearly bereft with only a stuffed bear for solace – in the face of triumph. The silver medalist threw a temper tantrum of epic proportion that showed a lack of sportsmanship like anything we have ever witnessed. What we saw was not only the worst possible display of conduct, but also the karmic result of a competition that was destined to end the way it did.
I am so proud of our United States Figure Skating Team – Ladies, Men, Pairs, and Dance. You all represented our country so well. Obviously we are thrilled that Nathan Chen brought home the Gold, but medals or not, you all skated your very best and behaved like true Olympians. Some of you may not be a part of the “Quad Squad”, but you are part of a much more important squad: timeless role models for the next generation of figure skaters and aspiring Olympians. Bravo, U.S. Figure Skating Ladies and Gentleman – and to the entire Team USA, Bravo!