February 28, 2010

TO REACH THE GOAL LINE, WHATEVER THE COST


Every now and then, there's a hero in sports. And that is a difficult thing to find, for it is hard to empathise with perfection as displayed by US snowboarder Shaun White (who makes the impossible look so easy that you may find yourself in a dazed state by looking at it, but once you've seen it enough, it becomes boring), it is hard to find yourself interested in most Olympic tournaments.

The way television presents it isn't very helpful, either.

But then, there was last night. And me flipping through the channels. Jodie Foster's Contact, oh god, no, the German Version of American Idol, no thank you, another bad Adam Sandler remake? Dear Lord, give me strength!

And so I found myself – without really wanting to – to switch over to the Olympic coverage, just in time to watch the Iceskating Team Sprint semi-finals, Germany vs. the United States. On the German side, there was a woman who had dominated that sport for several years, in Anni Friesinger, and who had failed spectacularly at these Olypmpic Games, so far so that the media – as the media always does when a star falls – turned up the heat on her, made fun of her for being out of shape, for not making the cut, for not performing like a robot as she is supposed to. The big stars, they are not supposed to be human, they are presented to us as gods, without flaws, without emotions, only there to entertain us lazy fucks on our couches, basking in their glory.

Making us feel good about ourselves. Our nations. Our nationalities. USA! USA! USA! right?

You may insert any nationality there, but to be honest, I always found that display of USA! USA! USA! one of the more deplorable things to do, especially since it usually comes with a complete disregard of athletes from other countries in the coverage, and yes, I do know who e.g. the best Biathlon athletes are, regardless of their nationality, because I love that sport. Running like a rabbit, then having to fire a rifle at a target that is 5 centimetres wide? Hell, anybody who does that is crazy and deserving of respect. Anybody like America's Steven Holcomb, who mastered a luge track the way he did, one that caused some of the best bob pilots to lose controls of their machinery... deserves my respect.

But none of them more so than Anni Friesinger(-Postma).

In said semi-finals, her ice skate hit one of the rubber posts that divide the tracks, she lost control of her flow, and in an impossible move she didn't fall, but she lost contact with her team, and what followed was nothing short of an eye-opener of what made athletes like her great to begin with.

Never give up.

She was in pain, you could even see that on your television screen, her left leg lagged behind, something was very wrong there.

Never give up.

Her team mates didn't hear her shouts and moved forward.

Never give up.

That realisation on her face that this is it, this is hell, I am going to responsible for my team to lose, oh my god, please let me go on, just that little bit further, I'm so close, the goal line is so close, just that little bit further, and her legs started to give out on her as the finish line approached, please, oh god, please...

... and she took a dive, in desperation, use that forward momentum, you have no other choice, your legs are gone, you can't feel them anymore, your muscles are locked, and there's just that burning sensation in your thighs, nothing else is left, you have nothing left,  your strength is gone...

... and as she slides towards the goal line, that realisation...

... fuck, fuck, fuck, the time stops when your skates are crossing the finish the line, not your upper body, what are you thinking, stupid, stupid, move your ass, bitch, twist it around...



.. and she does an impossible twist to bring her leg up to the front, slides past the finish line, thinking this is it, I lost it, fuck, I'm the one responsible, oh god, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, they are going to tear me apart, and they have every right to...

... and she cries, and she punches the ice as if she wants to break her hands, as if she wants to punch herself, and she doesn't even look at the time board for a long time...


... and she realises that she made it. Two hundredth of a second. Barely a blink of an eye, but she made it, she did the impossible, and the tears continue to come, but they are no longer made from pain and from anger and from despair...

... because out of desperation a hero was born.

And for all of her easy wins in her earlier career, for all the other medals and world championships she had won before, this is the moment that will make her a legend.

This is the moment that people will remember.

That impossible moment.

That move out of despair.

That win that was snatched away from defeat.

That will to reach the goal line, whatever the cost.