These Olympics again feature some great Asian skaters, none more so than South Korean Kim Yu-Na – the skater so famous she had to flee her country to train in peace. But the heart of the competition, and perhaps these games, beats and breaks with Joannie Rochette. By now, everyone knows the story. The Canadian skater took to the ice only two days after her mother died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack after arriving in Vancouver to cheer on her daughter.
You could see the emotion, the pain, the tension in her face before her short program began. I held my breath. The announcers fell silent. And then it was just her and the ice. To say she skated well would be trite. She skated transcendently – her performance came from a place occupied only by muscle memory, pure grit and a mother’s love. And then after two minutes and 50 seconds of strength came the tears.
We have all had that moment – though probably never on so grand a stage or when it meant so much – that feeling of holding the world together and then finally letting it all go. I lost my father five years ago, also suddenly and unexpectedly, and I cannot imagine doing anything as beautifully as Joannie did Tuesday night so soon afterwards. While some might question why she would go on to skate after such a tragic loss, I understand it intrinsically. It is the one thing she understands. The one thing that makes sense. The one thing she knows she can do even though nothing else will never be the same. She had to.
But that she had to is one thing, that she did it so spectacularly is another. The Olympics have always been a microcosm our human condition played out over a fortnight. It is all of our dreams and life’s work distilled to that second when the starter’s gun fires. It’s your moment. Win or lose, what I think each athlete hopes for it to do her best. That is what makes it so universal. We all have dreams, we all work hard. We don’t all get rewarded at the end of the day with a gold medal or a Wheaties box. But we all try.
So now, on the day of the women’s free skate, I hold my breath again. My entire body aches for Joannie to do well. But even if she falters, if the understandable and unimaginable pressure gets to her, she will have already won. It’s not a victory for precious metal, but something much more precious. Love.