Last Sunday I caught some amazing coverage of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City on Universal Sports. (This is one example of where social media kicks ass.... Joe Holmes tweeted about the awesome coverage and I in turn, tuned in.) The coverage focused on human interest stories that the games provide. A sure fire way to make the public believe in the beauty of the games and athletic perseverance, while overshadowing the obvious commercialism. But that's a topic for another day.
The story that really tugged on my heart strings was about Italian Nordic skier, Stefania Belmondo. She had won gold in the Albertville 30km Olympic game in 1992, had foot surgery that kept her from competing for four months and then came back ten years later to win gold in the 15km in Salt Lake City.
The coverage was riveting. Stefania was not favored in the 15km race. But she went head to head with Yuliya Chepalova of Russia and Kateřina Neumannová of Czechoslovakia. They were in the lead group, going up an incline, when Stefania broke her pole. Those who ski know that breaking a pole is like getting a flat. It can and usually ends your race. Luckily for Stefania, the French National coach saw what happened and handed her an extra pole. Never mind that it was way too tall for her. A few yards away, her coach handed her a pole that was the proper length and Stefania was seriously behind. She raced her brains out to rejoin the lead group. Heart pounding, legs throbbing, body and mind screaming at her to stop punishing her body, she continued. Anger fueled her super human drive. She was screaming at her competitors, something she admitted never having done before. The final kilometer came. She was with Yuliya of Russia and they had managed to gain a small gap on the lead group. It came down to a sprint, with Kateřina nipping on their heals but Stefania held onto her lead to win gold. She crossed the line foaming at the mouth yet jubilant at her unbelievable feat. What a victory. Talk about inspiration.
When asked if she wanted to be remembered for her two gold medals - one in Albertville and the other in Salt Lake, she said no. She would rather be remembered by giving her best in every effort.
Amen, sister. Amen.