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A Tale of Two Olympians

February 18th, 2006 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

It was the best of times and the worst of times, but not like you’d think. Two American women Olympians showed what’s best about America and worst about America. Lindsey Kildow and Lindsey Jacobellis represented their countries in very different ways today at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

Kildow took a horrendous, gut-wrenching fall on Tuesday and had to be hospitalized overnight with severe injuries to her leg muscles. However, she rolled out of her gurney the next morning, got dressed and took to the slopes to compete in the downhill – where she got 8th!

Today, still fighting through extraordinary pain she raced in the combined skiing race. She finished admirably in the first run – not finishing near the top but fighting all the way. When she reached the bottom of the slope she hunched over and fought off tears of pain. Quitting, though, was never an option.

“I wanted to do it even if I wasn’t going to do well,” Kildow said. “I just had to try. It’s the Olympics. You work so hard to be here. You can’t just give up.”

She didn’t give up, although her battered body failed causing her to fall and become disqualified.

Our hearts rallied for Kildow and, as ESPN writer Eric Adelson puts it so well: “The regular fan can only crawl out of bed and get back to work, fighting the arms that grab us and hold us back, ignoring all the reasons to crumble. And for that, the regular fan has Lindsey Kildow, and the feeling of watching her do what we all imagine ourselves doing in such a moment of terror and agony.”

On the other hand, Lindsey Jacobellis, with all the talent in the world and a wide open lane to the finish line, decided to act in an arrogant way, which created a moment she’ll wish she had back forever. Crusing all alone to a gold in the snowboard cross finals, Jacobellis decided to hot-dog it off the second-to-last jump. This caused her to fall literally and in disgrace. She still came away with a silver, but her name is all over the internet at websites reporting on her disgrace.

“I was caught up in the moment,” Jacobellis reported, “I was having fun. Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens.”

It’s hard to appreciate Jacobellis’ action as “sharing enthusiasm with the crowd”, but we do see the self centered attitude of “having fun.” She is an incredible athlete, who worked as hard as anyone to get there, but she failed to recognize her role as an ambassador to the world from our country. There is a reason it is so special when they raise your flag at the medal ceremony.

I don’t mean to make this out to be more serious than it is, but our athletes must recognize that the world judges the rest of us in part based on their actions. They represent not just themselves, but our country. The Olympic games are about representing your people to a larger audience – they always have been, even hundreds of years ago in Greece. What the USA does not need is to be perceived as brash and, well, silly. I hope that what we are is something more like Lindsey Kildow. Pushing through obstacles and striving to achieve excellence despite the personal cost. Jacobellis may have won a medal, but Kildow won respect.

***I think I’ve been a bit hard on Lindsey Jacobellis. I just heard her comments on TV and she honorably took full responsibility. She also pointed out that the US is still on the podium. She’s also only 20.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.