While the Olympic winter sports have never quite equated the with the summer games in national acclaim, this year circumstances seem to have warranted an appreciation for the international games greater than any in recent memory.
For those who’ve tuned in for the events, the stories behind the athletes have made as notable an impression as their skills on the ice. From the novice Olympians to the pair skaters who spent eighteen years vying for the gold, the 2010 Olympic contenders have set the games apart in many different ways.
Perhaps the most memorable proof of that is the now legendary story of Olympic figure skater Joannie Rochette, Canada, whose graceful performance just two days after her mother’s unexpected death earned her a bronze medal and a standing ovation.
Similarly winning remembrance in a different sort of ice rink was Team USA when the hockey team beat Canada 5-3, landing them into the quarterfinals and classic stardom.
The victory came just one day short of the 30th anniversary of the country’s greatest hockey victory – the startling win over the Soviet Union in Lake Placid, a game that is popularly referred to as the Miracle on Ice.
Moreover, making the win even more unique was five-year-old Josh “Rizzo” Sacco’s special contribution to the victory which has quickly transformed into an internet sensation.
An avid fan of the movie Miracle, the screen production of 1980 Olympic hockey game, Rizzo personally recreated Coach Herb Brooks’ “Great Moments Are Made” speech in the locker room of Team USA just before the game. The five-year-old not only mimicked Brooks’ vocal and facial nuances but Rizzo also dressed in a suit identical to the one in the film which no doubt only furthered his inspiring impact on the team.
Understandably, after the unexpected victory, many—including players on Team USA—have taken to attributing a small part of the victory to Rizzo’s impassioned narrative.
Equally deserving of acclaim was South Korean 2010 gold-medalist Kim Yu-Na who is already being recognized as having delivered one of the best figure skating performances of all time.
The 19-year-old’s score was so incredible that it would have landed her in ninth place in the men’s competition—even though the men have 30 extra seconds and require an extra jump.
Yu-Na’s is South Korea’s first medal in the Winter Olympics in a sport other than speed skating.
Also achieving a first for their country, China’s Shen Xue and her husband Zhao Hongbo broke Russia’s 46-year (spanning 12 Olympic Games) winning streak in the ice skating competition by capturing the gold, achieving a dream that had been 18 years in the making.
The Zhens’ victory marks the first gold medal win in China’s Olympic figure skating history.
By chance, the French pairs skaters Yannick Bonheur and Vanessa James managed to simultaneously make history and honor black history month after being the first black couple to compete in the Olympic figure skating division.
Despite falling to sixth place after an unfortunate tumble, Canadian duo Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison merited admiration for competing this year after the couple’s traumatizing accident at the 2007 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Colorado Springs.
Three years ago, in the midst of their third rotation of a side-by-side camel spin—where one leg is horizontal during the spin—Davison’s blade sliced across Dube’s left cheek and nose, creating a laceration that required 83 stitches to remedy.
Although Dube underwent successful surgery the same night, both suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for weeks after the accident. In fact, Davison only began skating at the urging of his partner and openly admits to his feeling continual guilt.
Nonetheless, thanks to an expert plastic surgeon and an equally talented performance, the skating pair’s scars failed to keep center stage for long.
Though the final hockey match between Canada and the United States (a 3-2 win for the host country) marked the close of the winter games, it seems fair to say that hockey wasn’t the game that eclipsed the Olympics this year.
Like the 2009 Summer Olympics, the winter sports seem to have proven once more that the phrase “Olympic dreams” is more than a pretty ideal. For these special skaters, either in one moment or through one medal, the Olympics turned their dreams into a reality…the rest of the world was just lucky to have been able to watch.