Are the Games the same with no gold in sight?
There are 16,000 athletes competing in the London Summer Games in hundreds of events. Simple math confirms the vast majority of these competitors will be going home without a medal. Most of these athletes are there for the glory of participating in the Olympic Games, not for the hardware.
I was one of those athletes.
My pair partner, Bill Fauver, and I were a dark horse team back at the 1976 U.S. Nationals, which was the qualifier for the Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. The U.S. would only be sending two pair teams, not the top three, based on the results of the World Championships the year before. Since the United States only had one top ten finisher in the World pair event in 1975, it meant that just two teams could qualify for the Olympics.
It was just our second year competing as a team, and we were fifth at the Nationals the first time around. All the other teams stuck around for the Olympic year, so basically if everything stayed on par, we were a long shot, at best.
What happened next was a complete shock to us and the skating world. We found ourselves in second place after the short program, although there was plenty of room for the other teams to pull past us in the long program.
We skated first of the top five teams that night at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After a “clean” performance we sat back and watched as the teams chasing us made mistakes. Back in those days the scores were not calculated immediately, so after a five minute wait at the end of the event, the scoreboard lit up and we went crazy.
The names “Cook and Fauver” were there right under “Babilonia and Gardner.” We were on the Olympic team.
At the time the Soviets, (USSR) and East Germans dominated world pair skating. Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner would have a tough enough time cracking the top five – Alice Cook and Bill Fauver would be lucky to be top ten.
That was okay. We were going. I happily put off that ski trip I had planned. My family, totally shocked by this amazing turn of events, had to scramble to find tickets, a hotel room, and flights – not to mention the money to pay for them.
The next three weeks were a whirlwind, visiting my hometown in Michigan and getting a key to the city, getting interviewed for the local news, and breaking in new skates.
The figure skating team met in New York City before flying to Austria. This is where the U.S. delegation distributed all our “cool stuff.” We received our uniforms, the duffle bag, the warm up suits, the cameras, the hair dryers – all with Olympic rings on them.
The pressure was off for me from the day I made the team because there were no expectations. Dorothy Hamill had to carry that weight, and she came through like the champion she was.
There are many, many athletes participating in these Games who are there for the same reasons I was, and it has nothing to do with the colors of bronze, silver, or gold.
The vast majority of athletes will never be seen on TV, never be interviewed, and never be mentioned by a commentator. Only a precious few are profiled in the “up close and personal” features.
They are there to wear the colors of their country and march proudly in the Opening Ceremonies. They are there to compete against the best in the world. They are there for the memories, and the stories they will tell their children and grandchildren.
We will see competitors who come out of nowhere and make a splash. Some will be surprised by their new-found celebrity status.
My teammate Dorothy Hamill was a favorite to win gold, and refreshingly naive about her sudden notoriety. I remember walking through the Olympic Village one day with her about a week before she competed. Someone had brought over a copy of Time Magazine which featured Dorothy on the cover. Remember, this was way before there was something called the “internet.”
Dorothy looked at the cover, and gently asked, “Is this a big deal?”
Little did she know that America’s sweetheart was about to be born.
When she finished her long program, the ice was showered with flowers for the new American skating champion. After the medal ceremony, somebody found a diamond ring attached to one of the bouquets with a marriage proposal.
Dorothy had to give the ring back. There were strict rules about amateur status back then, and accepting a piece of jewelry would have made her a professional. Believe it or not, professionals were not allowed to compete in the Olympics back in 1976.
So much has changed for these athletes, although one thing remains true. No matter where they place, every Olympic competitor is a winner.
To this day, people will ask me, “You were in the Olympics, did you win a medal?”
I say, “No, I missed the podium by 9 places, but I was there.”
And that will always be enough for me.