Surrounded by medieval plumbing rules and stray dogs, the Winter Olympics just started in Sochi, Russia, almost 5,000 miles from Maine. The Olympic torch that burned over Vancouver four years ago was barely cold when Mainers looked toward Sochi with anticipation.
These Winter Olympics were going to be the Maine Winter Olympics, remember? These were going to be the games at which our athletes, our friends and neighbors, came home with medals. Seth Wescott was going to chase his third consecutive snowboardcross gold. Julia Clukey was going to fulfill the promise shown in the last year on the World Cup luge circuit. Simon Dumont was going to ski the halfpipe, and Jeremy Cota and Dave DiGravio were going to own the moguls.
It didn’t happen. Injuries and amounts of time barely measurable kept most of Maine’s winter athletes from brushing up on their Russian.
Maine has one athlete in Sochi. Biathlete Russell Currier, of Stockholm, will compete for Team USA. All the support Mainers stored up for a handful of Olympians should be given to Currier.
Last April, Wescott tore the ACL of his left knee while shooting a movie in the backcountry of Alaska. The window for rehab and recovery was narrow, and he never was 100 percent as he tried to qualify for Sochi.
Wescott said he has no regrets, nor should he. Wescott is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He’s been the face of his sport. He’s the most well-known Maine athlete in a generation. Wescott says he’s already looking forward to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but he’ll be 41 then, and in a sport rife with gruesome injuries, you hope he’s able to stay healthy and muster another run at gold.
Injuries kept Wescott from competing at his best. For Clukey, her best was just short. It was the definition of just short. In December, Clukey needed a top five finish in a World Cup race at Park City, Utah. She placed sixth, by .013 seconds.
Less than a tenth of a second was the difference between going to Sochi and going home. It’s tough to formulate a thought in less than a 10th of a second. It’s barely a blip of time, but in this case, it’s longer than forever.
Like Wescott, Clukey handled her disappointment with dignity. She recently spent a week helping the U.S. Junior National team in Austria. Clukey is only 28, and there’s a lot of World Cup racing to be had between now and Pyeongchang.
Dumont is 27 and considered old for his sport, freeskiing. He’s been called “the Godfather” by his younger peers, and maybe there’s some truth to that. Injuries kept Dumont from competing in an Olympic halfpipe qualifier last month.
As fans, we move on. At the highest levels on competition, there’s no time for almosts and what ifs. Currier, a 2006 graduate of Caribou High School, is in Sochi. We wish him the best, and wait for the biathlon to begin.