Oliver: Athletes at Olympic Winter Games can teach us all some life lessons

Sometimes we must wait a long time to redeem ourselves.

Sometimes we must pick ourselves up, admit that we failed and climb back up the hill to try again.

Sometimes we must acknowledge the passing of time and put the pursuits of our youth aside for the next generation.

All these storylines were ones that struck me as I have been watching the Winter Olympics being held in China.

That’s one of the reasons I love the Olympics. Not only do I get to watch sports that otherwise would be hard to find, such as biathlon, bobsled, luge and speedskating, but I also get to catch up with some of the athletes I haven’t seen since the last games.

Maybe you were like me and had tears in your eyes when you watched Lindsey Jacobellis cross the finish line to win the gold in women’s snowboard cross.

I remember her first time at the Winter Olympics, in 2006 in Turin, Italy. She had a commanding lead for the gold medal. Then, inexplicably, she decided to showboat right at the finish and fell.

She wound up settling for the silver medal. To say that it haunted her would be an understatement.

In the Winter Games after that – 2010 in Vancouver, 2014 in Sochi and 2018 in Pyeongchang – something always happened. She was disqualified. She crashed. In 2018, she missed a medal by 0.03 seconds.

Each and every time, she was reminded about that fateful day in 2006 when she should have won.

Mind you, Jacobellis is the most decorated female snowboard cross athlete of all time. Her success is unquestioned … except at the Olympics.

Imagine the joy it must have been to finally – after 16 years – be able to put 2006 into the rearview and win that gold medal. Redemption at last.

Then there’s Mikaela Shiffrin. Perhaps you’ve heard of her. She’s only the best female skier in the world. She’s known as much for her consistency as she is for her ability to finish first.

So it was more than a little surprising when she wasn’t able to even finish her two best races – the slalom and the giant slalom. She sat in the snow dejectedly and stunned for 20 minutes when she skied off the course of the slalom race.

Of course, Shiffrin already has two gold medals from previous Winter Olympics. She’s won the overall World Cup championship as well.

Still, she has been open about her disappointment, but realistic too. One or two races do not define her. She got back up and went to the top of the hill and finished her race in the super-G. Did she win? No, but she finished, and you could see how happy that made her.

It also was hard not to get teary-eyed right there with Shaun White at the end of the men’s snowboard halfpipe final. After all, this had been where White had triumphed three times before.

White has been synonymous with his sport for so long that one might be inclined to forget that he isn’t the teenager with the mop of bright red hair anymore.

Time catches up even with the great ones. White acknowledged that this is final Olympics. It’s time for the kids to take the reins and move the sport ahead.

As much as we might have wanted to see White go out on top, it wasn’t meant to be.

Still, to finish fourth at the age of 35 in a sport dominated by much younger athletes is a triumph.

The Winter Games are filled with stories such as these, of those who returned to their sport after horrific crashes, of those who came back from disappointment four years ago to finally make it to the top of the medal stand.

Let’s not forget that it was no small feat even to have these Olympics, amid a pandemic and with the world in geopolitical crisis.

Still, it’s the individual stories of triumph and redemption that bring me joy.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.