There are so many great stories at the Olympics of athletes who overcame injuries and returned to their sports. Sometimes that determination is rewarded with a spot on the podium, sometimes it isn’t. Timed events can’t take into account heart, but we can. That’s why American skeleton slider Noelle Pikus-Pace, who missed a bronze medal by one tenth of a second, shares Day 8’s Stud status with Norway’s super-G gold medalist Aksel Lund Svindal.
Ladies first. Frankly, any athlete who goes 90 mph face-first, steers with her shoulders, knees, and toes, withstands 5Gs, and comes to a stop by running into in a foam pad should feel like a Stud today. But how were you not rooting for Pikus-Place? In October 2005, the then reigning world silver medalist was hit in the out run of the track at Calgary Olympic Park by a four-man bobsled that had failed to engage its breaks at the finish line. She suffered breaks to both her tibia and fibula. She returned to competition six weeks later with a titanium rod in her leg and hopes of still representing the U.S. in Torino. She was sent to the 2006 Games as the alternate and couldn’t even bring herself to watch the competition in person. She won the World Championships in 2007 by the largest margin in the history of skeleton, then took time off to become a mother. She realized she still wanted her Olympic moment — and to be able to tell her daughter that you never give up on your dream — and made it to Vancouver. We salute her spirit, her sparkly gold eye shadow, her reaction to her fourth-place finish (“Oh, maaan!”), and her adorable toddler who was wrapped in an American flag yesterday at Whistler. (Watch her final two runs.)
Now for Svindal, who is an Olympic Stud in every interpretation of the word. In November 2007, he crashed hard during a training run at Beaver Creek and, to quote his NBC bio, “suffered multiple facial fractures (caused partly by impact with his knees), injuries to his ribs and back and an 8-inch deep laceration in the abdominal region (caused by his ski). The four-hour emergency medical procedure at Vail Valley Medical Center involved opening him up further to ensure that his internal organs had not become infected.” He lost more than 30 pounds of muscle mass during the five months it took him to return to the slopes. The next time he skied Beaver Creek, he won. In Vancouver, he’s taken the silver in downhill and the gold in super-G (watch), and he still has the super-combined, giant slalom, and slalom. We salute his drive, his 6’4″ frame, the way he stuck his tongue out at the camera, and his biggest fan, his father Bjorn.
Your turn. Who’s your pick for Olympic Stud of Day 8? Could it be skeleton slider Amy Williams, who won Great Britain’s first individual Olympic gold medal in 30 years amid controversy over tiny ridges — spoilers — on her helmet? (Other countries, including the U.S. and Canada, tried to say they gave her an aerodynamic advantage and were against regulation. She said the ridges were an integral part of her helmet, not additions, and had passed inspection, so suck it. I’m paraphrasing.) What about Canada’s Jon Montgomery, who upset Latvia’s Martins Dukurs for gold in men’s skeleton, or any of their fellow competitors with nicknames like the Raging Beaver, the Russian Rocket, and Dr. Ice? Don’t forget about Bode Miller, who used his downhill skis in the super-G to nab silver, his second medal at the Games, making him the most-decorated U.S. alpine skier in history. All nominations are welcome, even for “Baby Huey,” Pete Lavin, the guy who motivates the U.S. men’s alpine team in the start house by whispering words of encouragement or yelling profanity (whatever works for that particular athlete). Best job ever?
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Photo credit: Svindal: Emmanuel Dunand/Getty Images; Pikus-Pace: Clive Mason/Getty Images