David Wise, Maddie Bowman and Joss Christensen.
Many of us have never heard of these world-class athletes. Yet they were gold medal-winners for the USA in freestyle skiing at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Any international competition includes political elements, but the Olympics provide an outlet when we can root for one nation over another without lives being at stake. Amittedly, they are not lacking for pomp and circumstance, as evidenced by the extravagant opening and closing ceremonies, but there’s a camaraderie and sportsmanship among the athletes that’s hard to find elsewhere.
The true draw are the competitors, who’ve tirelessly trained to be among the world’s best. A vast majority of them won’t ever see their photo on a cereal box or sign a lucrative sponsorship deal, which makes it feel as though they’re “one of us.” Some have found fame and fortune, such as Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. team, but they are the exception more than the rule.
“(Most) are never going to get rich off their sport,” wrote Nancy Armour of USA TODAY Sports. “It might, in some cases, even cost them. The biathletes, the curlers, the ski jumpers, the lugers and the Nordic combined athletes — they scrape by with help from their families and federations, juggle training with part-time jobs.”
But that’s not to say there aren’t rewards.
“Anyone can make money,” Armour wrote. “Not everyone — almost no one, in fact — can be an Olympic athlete.”
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Mike Peplinski of Eau Claire and Karyn Bye-Dietz of Hudson competed in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Peplinski was a member of a U.S. curling team that took fourth, and Bye-Dietz was the top scorer on the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s hockey team. She also was on the team four years later, when the team won silver.
“It was a very emotional time,” Bye-Dietz told Leader-Telegram reporter Eric Lindquist in regard to winning gold. “I remember at times the tears just came. It really was a dream come true.”The opening ceremony stood out for Peplinski.
“I remember almost feeling like I was floating,” he said. “That moment was the culmination of the realization, ‘I’m really here,’”
Now it’s Eau Claire native Ben Loomis’ turn. A member of the U.S. Nordic combined team, he took 41st in his first event Wednesday, with more slated for next week. He ranked third out of four Americans.
“It’s almost surreal,” Loomis told Wisconsin Public Radio. “I’m mostly trying to focus and treat it like any other competition.”
But it’s not like any other competition. As the midpoint of the Games nears, we challenge you not to feel a chill when an athlete in red, white and blue fares particularly well. As fans, we can applaud the athletic performances. As Americans, we can appreciate an event that provides us with a common cause.