Mid-Olympics Round Up: Bring Out The Tissues

We’re a little more than halfway through the 2014 Winter Olympics, so let’s check in on what’s happened so far. Obviously we can’t report on everything, but one of the main reasons I love the Olympics is that it is the one event in the world that gives everyone the opportunity to come together in one place and compete in the spirit of the common passion of sports. It’s a reminder that even if your home country is at political odds with another, at the core, we’re all humans, who have common goals, common dreams, common passion to be the best we can be.

So in saying that, I love hearing the stories behind the athletes – where they came from, how they got to where they are today, and most importantly anyone who’s embodied the Olympic spirit. Here are some of my favorites from the Games so far.

The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development  of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity

– Olympic Charter {x}

Paying it Forward: An American, A Canadian and a Russian

Russian cross country skiier Anton Gafarov had multiple – multiple – crashes on his skis during the semifinals, but decided to keep going on a broken ski despite the fact he had no chances of winning. On his last fall, his ski was literally in bits, but a man came running out with a new ski, took off the tattered one, replaced it with a fully functioning ski and the Russian went on his way. 

The catch: it wasn’t a member of Team Russia that helped him out, it was former American Olympian-turned-Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth who lent a hand. Justin’s wife, Canadian Beckie Scott, is also a skiier, and during the 2006 Games in Torino, Beckie’s relay partner Sara Renner was in a similar situation to Gafarov. She snapped her ski pole and was struggling to finish the race, until Norwegian coach Bjornar Haakensmoen came out and lent her a ski pole. Sara ended up taking home the silver, while the Norwegian skiiers took fourth.

What did Justin have to say about his act of kindness? “I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line.” Pay it forward indeed.

Sister, Sister: Tracy  & Lanny Barnes

Tracy Barnes overcame a feat many athletes strive to do, which is qualify to represent your country in the Olympics. She did so during the trials, but ultimately decided to give up her spot – to her twin sister Lanny.

Lanny came down with the flu during the Olympic trials, causing her to miss out on her chance to compete in Sochi. But after a lot of convincing, Lanny finally took Tracy up on her offer to take her spot in the Winter Games, just a month before heading to Russia. Tracy wasn’t even planning on attending the games, but her sponsor, Advanced International Technology, bought the plane ticket and Tracy was able to cheer Lanny on every step of the way. With a story of compassion like this, it doesn’t even matter she placed 64th.

Screenshot 2014-02-17 23.47.19

Flip Pride: Michael Christian Martinez

It’s fair to say the Philippines doesn’t have a large contingent representing them in the Winter Games. In fact, this year there is one man reppin the country of my people, and he is 17-year-old figure skater Michael Christian Martinez, and the first person from a southeast Asian country to rep in figure skating.

Michael grew up practicing in an indoor ice rink in one of Manila’s malls, essentially teaching himself how to skate by watching YouTube videos of Patrick Chan, a fellow Olympian and star Canadian figure skater, and Michael eventually won a spot to compete in the Olympics.

But in case you didn’t know, being a professional athlete can be expensive. His family was running low on funds – they even put a mortgage on their house in order to pay for his training, and after the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan last year, sending a kid to Russia for the Olympics wasn’t the first priority on the government’s ‘To Do’ list. That’s when the IOC (International Olympic Committee) stepped in and provided funds through its Solidarity program, which provides aid to athletes who need financial assistance to go to the Games.

Michael made his way to Sochi and during the practice rounds, he got a little help from his idol, Patrick Chan, who decided to take him under his wing and give him a few pointers. Thanks to Michael’s perseverance, faith and hard work, he managed to place 19th in the qualifying rounds. That means he is in the top 24 – making him eligible to compete for a medal on Friday. One thing for sure is that no matter what the end result is, he’s going home a winner.

Dust Yourself Off And Try Again: Jeremy Abbott

One of the most admirable things about Olympians and athletes in general is that they’re stubbornly unflinching in their craft. In other words: they don’t give up. Clearly it takes years and non-stop training to get to a place like the Olympics, so it is absolutely necessary to have that drive which keeps you going.

And this was proven by figure skater Jeremy Abbott last Thursday during the men’s short program. The 28-year-old American was one of the favorites going into the competition, but on his very first jump (a quadruple toe loop-triple toe for those in the skating know), he landed horribly wrong, slamming his hip on the ice, and consequently bouncing into the boards. See this gif for all its agonizing glory:

Abbott was on the ice grabbing his hip and wincing in pain for a good 15 seconds and just as it looked like he was about to have the medics come over, he stunned the entire arena and got back on his feet and picked up his routine. The Russian crowd went wild, even clapping and cheering him on throughout the rest of his performance, and he flawlessly executed the rest of his jumps and spins and axels and sochows (sp?).

He finished 15th out of 29 skaters, but it was that camaraderie and support that everyone in the crowd gave him that will be unforgettable for years to come.

Cool Runnings: The Jamaican Bobsled Team

We all know the story (or at least seen the classic 1993 movie) about a group of men from Jamaica who make their unlikely debut in the Winter Olympics in the quest for gold. This year, two-man team Winston Watt and Marvin Dixon qualified for the Olympics, the first since 2002. However they did not have an easy time getting to Sochi.

First off, like Michael Christian Martinez, funds were low. They had to raise money just to get to Russia, so they turned to a crowdfunding website and raised more than $120,000 in just two days. And then once they got there – they couldn’t even train in the sliding center because of lost luggage. Winston and Marvin arrived in Sochi before all their sliding gear and were forced to miss out on their first practice runs.

Luckily, all their gear arrived, but not so luckily, the Jamaicans weren’t able to pull a Cool Runnings at the 2014 Olympics. They came in last place.

The Veteran: Bode Miller

Bode Miller isn’t a n00b to the Olympics. In fact, if you’ve been following the Olympics at all over the past 10 years, you know he’s one of the best in the sport. In fact, he’s the most decorated U.S. skier in Olympic history, with six career medals, including his latest in Sochi.

So here’s the low down on 36-year-old Bode. He won two silver medals in Salt Lake City (’02), went off the rails in Torino (’06) when he was favored to win, but failed to medal in any of his five events (and then went off on a weird tangent on partying and drinking, showing off douchebaggery galore and proving he’s the ‘bad boy of alpine skiing’). He returned to Vancouver in 2010 to win three medals, one in each color.

And that brings us to October 2012, when Bode married pro beach volleyball player Morgan Beck. Four months later in February 2013, his ex-girlfriend, Sara McKenna, gave birth to their son Samuel, his second child (because obviously he has another kid from a previous relationship). And then last April, his 29-year-old brother, Chelone, himself a Sochi Olympic hopeful in snowboard cross, died of an apparent seizure stemming from a previous accident.

And when Bode tied for third place in the Super G competition on Sunday, his bronze medal win proved to be extremely emotional. You may have seen that NBC Sports reporter Christin Cooper has taken a lot of heat for ‘pushing’ Bode to talk about his late brother, which brought him to tears. Both NBC and Bode have defended Christin, and to be honest, I have to agree. The interview was right after he won the medal and a lot of emotions were flying high, especially on his part, and she was just doing her job as a reporter.

Anyways, with everything Bode has gone through in the past decade, especially being the ‘bad boy’ of the sport, Sunday’s outpouring of emotion proved that again, he’s only human. Athletes and Olympians are just like us, and many of us can relate to have both the best AND the worst year of your life. Bode’s journey just happened to be projected on the world stage.