Thursday, February 25, 2010

“C’est pour toi, Maman”

Women’s figure skating is why I fell in love with the Winter Olympics in the first place, all those years ago. While I was too young for the Dorothy Hamill hoopla (or, blessedly, the haircut), I distinctively remember the power and, let’s face it, sexuality of Katarina Witt. Then, as a teenager, came the Asian sensations. My heart stopped at the great Kristi Yamaguchi versus Midori Ito duel. My heart still hurts for Michelle Kwan. I identified immediately with these tiny dynamos. Sure, I lacked their grace and strength and dedication, but at least they looked more like me than Nancy Kerrigan (or, blessedly, Tonya Harding).

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.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know what, that was a really beautiful post. Thanks- love from Canada.

KOKKOVIRSI! said...

Dito on that!

love from Sweden

Kate said...

I agree as well, beautiful post. I hadn't seen the video until now. Man, was that hard to watch. So very emotional.

I'm sorry for the loss of your father, Dorothy.

Anonymous said...

Damnit Snarker!! You made me cry, first thing in the morning!! Beautifully written, you are a journalistic Goddess among mortals.

Shannon said...

What a beautifully written piece on what was truly a courageous and magnificent performance by a young woman who has become the daughter to all in these Olympic games, with all of us seemingly wanting to embrace her as her mother surely would have done.

Joannie surely would have made her mother proud as she certainly made an entire country (and likely world-wide viewing audience) proud. You could hear the crack in Scott Hamilton's voice following her performance... he, like the rest of us was so moved by her composure in the face of such heartbreak.

I hope that Joannie can find a little more strength to finish out her program, but whether she ends up on the podium with a medal or not, she has shown that she is a champion!

My heart goes out to Joannie, her father and all those who knew her mother (and her best friend by all accounts) Therese.

WannabeVirginia W. said...

She is incredible and I am so glad she skated well. Her mom would have been so proud.

the only daughter said...

Echoing the chorus. Quite a moving tribute to a very moving event, skater, young woman.

Bravura.

RHEA said...

Beautiful post.

K. said...

Thank you for this Dorothy. What a beautiful post - it sent tingles throughout me.

We'll all be watching her here in Canada tonight. No matter where she places, she will always be a champion to us!

elliB said...

When she finished skating and broke down and everyone started cheering for her, I cried too. And I'm teary again just reading about it.

Katherine said...

Crying. I haven't been watching the Olympics, but, even without seeing her performance, I know that her going out and skating anyway is exactly what the Olympics is about. And I know why she had to do it, too. Not just because it was the one thing that made sense, but also because her mother went there to see her skate... How could she NOT skate for her mother?

barbie said...

i love this. i am an emotional wreck while watching the olympics anyway, but this was just crazy. she did a great job.

drudolph said...

What first attracted me to your site was the snark and the hot women. What keeps me coming back are the posts like this. Well said.

(OK, the hot women keep me coming back, too. But it's more than just that.)

Packrat said...

I haven't seen the clip of her performance yet. Based on the other comments here, I'm pretty confident that I'll cry a bunch when I see it.

I totally understand about needing to do things that you know in order to hold it together. My mom got rushed to the ER a few years ago (she's fine now), and for a few days we didn't know what was wrong. Doing the laundry and keeping busy doing other ordinary tasks is what kept me sane.

I'm also sorry to hear about the premature loss of your dad.

Numa said...

Bronze! Quite an emotional moment, too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your post. I'm Canadian and figure skating fan, and words can't express what the skating community (and fans) have been through with Joannie the last few days. Her free skate wasn't without mistakes yet still fantastic enough for bronze. But this is beside the point as like you said, her performance, composure, poise, and grace are true inspiration for other athletes and young people.

Again, thank you for your piece and sharing your personal background too.

Jane Choy
Vancouver BC, Canada

Anonymous said...

Funny, before I read all the other comments, the word beautiful came to mind. It really was.

Anonymous said...

I hate that human interest stuff. Love you Snarker.

G Funk said...

Wonderful post. I had to stop eating lunch because I was crying into my pasta.