Losing Gold, Winning Bronze
In 2014 at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, Hannah Kearney's face said everything. A bronze medal wasn't good enough for the virtuoso moguls skier. She wanted another gold.
But for some, bronze is everything.
This week, Lindsey Vonn returned to the Olympic downhill for the first time in eight years, finally healthy, and posting some of the fastest times in her training runs. But when it was race day, she skied a little on the cautious side, the emotions of what looked to be her last Olympic downhill race perhaps getting the better of her. For a long time, it looked like a silver. Vonn was disappointed, but happy for her friend and rival, Sofia Goggia, who sat on top. But when Norway's Ragnhild Mowinckel crossed the line, Vonn's silver became bronze. Vonn's reaction indicated that a bronze medal was something that was going to take a few moments to get used to. A few moments later, she got there, finally proud to be the oldest woman in history to grab an alpine medal.
At the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, Nike ran a controversial campaign that inundated the city. Everywhere we looked, we saw billboards that told us how "You don't win silver, you lose gold" and "If you're not here to win, you're a tourist." And for some at the Olympic Games, that is true. In PyeongChang, the U.S. women's hockey team (who, as I write this, is gearing up to face Canada, yet again, in the gold medal game....which means I'm having trouble typing because my fingers are crossed) wants gold. Anything less is a heartbreaking loss. Again and again.
And who could forget the look on Korean speed skater Lee Sang-hwa's face after losing her title in the women's 500m in front of a home crowd to Japan's Nao Kodaira? There was no winning silver for Lee (but what an amazing moment, as a Japanese athlete comforted a Korean one, considering the history between these two nations.)
Days later, for U.S. speed skaters, the bronze medal in women's team pursuit felt like victory through and through, ending a brutal 16-year medal drought on the oval. Nordic skiers Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, too, wanted to end a U.S. medal drought in their sport. PyeongChang is Randall's fifth Olympics, and the team sprint was her 18th Olympic race. After dueling with Sweden's Charlotte Kalla and Stina Nilsson for the entire race, Diggins managed to stretch her ski across the line .19 seconds ahead before collapsing to the snow, roaring with delight. It was the first U.S. medal in the sport since Bill Koch grabbed a silver at Innsbruck in 1976.
Any medal would've done it for Randall and Diggins. This one just happened to be gold.