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Ashway: Olympics still provide compelling stories
Denton Ashway
DENTON ASHWAY

The Olympic Games always manage to deliver compelling stories.

Even this time, the Beijing Games have come through despite formidable odds.

These Games are emanating from China, which creates immediate disinterest. Take your pick: simple politics, human rights issues, or the aggravating time difference.

And wait — didn’t we just watch Olympics from Asia like five minutes ago?

Not to mention the cursed pandemic, which has resulted in a dearth of cheering and excitement like we experienced here in 2020.

And wait again: Isn’t that the Russians, already placed on double-secret probation by the International Olympic Committee, continuing to flaunt the rules that other civilized nations seem able to abide by?

How is it that a 15-year-old skater can test positive for trimetazidine yet still be allowed to compete? This drug increases the blood flow to the heart. It’s helpful if you’re engaged in, say, vigorous exercise. But Kamika Valieva gets a free pass to continue skating by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Sigh.

That backdrop made Saturday’s result in the first mixed snowboardcross so compelling. Americans Nick Baumgartner and Lindsey Jacobellis won the gold.

It wasn’t an event for the young; only the young at heart. Baumgartner is 40, Jacobellis 36. They instantly became the two oldest medalists in Olympic snowboardcross history.

Baumgartner, a contractor and concrete worker from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, told ESPN.com, “You’re never too old to take what you want from life. You let yourself down if you quit too early. Doesn’t matter how old you are. Our success at our age is a perfect example of that.”

The win was an amazing change of fortune for Baumgartner. He was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the men’s event. After that race, he could not have been more despondent.

“I put so much time and effort, and then one little mistake, and its gone,” he told NBC. “I got so much support back home, and I feel like I let them down. This one stings. This one hurts.”

Agony to ecstasy. “Its days like two days ago that make today feel so good,” Baumgartner told The Athletic. “Us ‘80s babies, we’re out here looking younger than everybody! I think, for any athlete, getting pushed out by the younger generation is a feeling that really sucks.

“So, for us to go out there and put a stamp of approval on it, that we’re not done yet, we’ve just got to work a little bit harder and we’re willing to put that work in, it’s a good feeling.”

Baumgartner finally won a medal in his fourth Olympiad. For Jacobellis, it had been 16 years since she won a silver medal in Turin, famously showboating and falling just before the finish line. She finally won the women’s event, marking a record 16 years between earning Olympic medals.

“It’s the internal fire in believing in yourself,” Jacobellis told ESPN.com. “Whether you’re trying to go get a gold medal or just improving your day-to-day life, you continue to try to grow and better yourself.”

Erin Jackson broke through a barrier on Sunday, becoming the first black woman to win a gold medal in long-track speed skating.

“Hopefully, this has an effect,” Jackson told ESPN after her 500m victory. “Hopefully, we’ll see more minorities, especially in the USA, getting out and trying these winter sports.”

An amazing victory for someone who only took up the sport in September 2017. Even more amazing when you consider that Jackson didn’t qualify at the US Olympic Trials. She stumbled in her heat and finished third, leaving her off the team.

But Brittany Bowe, whose specialty is the 1000m, surrendered her spot in the 500 to Jackson. Her largesse rewarded, Bowe wound up competing when a spot opened up, and she finished 16th. No one was cheering louder for Jackson than Bowe.

“Words cannot explain how proud I am of her!” Bowe told ESPN.com. “I knew she had the chance to do something really special, and she just showed the world why she deserved to be here.”

“She made a big sacrifice for me,” Jackson added. “I’ll be grateful to her forever.

“I wish I could describe how I feel. It’s amazing. This medal means so much. It has been a tough couple of years and a tough beginning to this year. For this to come around like this, I am so happy.”