A winter's tale

This year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver have produced their share of drama and pathos, but perhaps no moment more moving than watching Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette compete after her mother died suddenly last Sunday of a heart attack.

The 24-year-old went on to win a bronze medal, an extraordinary and courageous accomplishment given the circumstances. Her transcendent performance and the outpouring of affection from the Canadian audience created a true lump-in-the-throat moment. While few will ever skate with such skill, most of us are destined to experience that kind of loss. For a fleeting moment, a worldwide audience felt a shared heartache.

To many, the Winter Olympics are a frosty stepchild to the summer games. Many of the sports are obscure. Few of us grow up practicing biathlon or jumping off mountains on skis or snowboards. Curling isn't our national pastime. Does anyone know where to find the nearest bobsled track?

But this also serves to enrich the experience. These Olympians have toiled in obscurity, training long hours, sacrificing much. They are not pampered athletes of the North American genus -- not NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball stars. The vast majority are driven by a love for their sport and a desire to excel.

Yet they do things beyond our imagining. They float high above snowy hillsides as acrobats turning, falling and twisting, only to land on their feet like superheroes. They spin on ice at dizzying speeds, push the limits of skis and boards, bravely careen down an icy track at 90 miles an hour on a course that took the life of one young participant in an early practice run.

We are suckers for their personal stories. Broadcasters and advertisers understand this. It's why that Morgan Freeman-narrated credit card ad featuring speed skater Dan Jansen dwells not on his skating but on how he overcame his sister's death and a subsequent crash, and how he held his daughter in triumph six years later.

After tomorrow's closing ceremonies, there will be much to remember from these games, particularly for a U.S. team that did far better than expected, winning medals at events in which Americans have seldom, if ever, contended. We will celebrate the accomplishments of Lindsey Vonn, Apolo Anton Ohno and so many others.

But most of all, we will recall how a 5-foot, 2-inch skater from Quebec could summon the strength in the midst of her grief to perform as her mother would have wanted. To overcome adversity and bravely carry on despite such terrible and personal loss -- that is an Olympian trait to which we can all aspire.

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