Once an Olympian, always an Olympian. And it's not necessarily about the medals you win, or don't win, and it's not about the heartbreaks and the exhilaration. It's about the Olympics. That's what you work towards, and when you're finally considered good enough to represent your nation (or everyone else's nation if you're me!), you just have to hang on and stay on top and stay healthy, and hope that you are still considered good enough when the Games roll around in four years. And if you are, then you get a few minutes to show the world, on the biggest competitive stage in history, that you deserve to be there. You don't want to disappoint the nation you are representing, you don't want to disappoint your teammates, and - no pressure - you don't want to disappoint yourself. Because if you do, who knows if you will ever get the opportunity again? It took a lifetime to get there. Do you have another lifetime in you? Do you want to keep going for another four years? Can you?
Anyone who has ever competed in the Olympic Games feels the thrill rush through their veins every four years. Our minds know that there is nothing at stake for us any longer, but it's difficult to convince our hearts and adrenaline of that. Sometimes, when the Olympics roll around, I tell myself I'm not going to pay any attention, but that's like Tom Brady saying he's not going to watch the Super Bowl. I don't care what he said - even if he didn't watch, he felt it. When you're a champion athlete, you spend your entire life convincing yourself you are good enough to deserve a chance to compete at the most important competition in your sport. My last Olympics was 20 years ago, and I still can't convince myself I shouldn't be on that international stage - so don't tell me Tom Brady convinced himself from one Sunday to the next.
NBC asked me to provide commentary for the ice dance and pairs events this year, as they always have, but I refused, as I always have. And here's why: I don't want to analyze these performances on a technical level. I want to get caught up in the drama and emotion. For that same reason, I have always been hesitant to comment on results and controversies. I have an opinion, of course, but my opinion doesn't matter any more than anyone else's, and it matters less than the opinion of the judges. And much less than the opinion of the skater.
Adelina Sotnikova shouldn't have won the gold in ladies singles, most of the world outside of Russia seems to believe. But that's not for us to say, is it? I mean, really? Figure skating is not speed skating, or bobsled, or hockey. The reason we love figure skating so much is because it isn't black and white. There is no finish line to cross, and there are no times to beat. It's a sport which combines intense technical skill and ability with grace, maturity, and musicality. So, my opinion? Well, if it were up to me, I would have given the win to Yuna Kim. She appealed more to my heart, not just my score sheet. But it wasn't up to me.
I have been on both sides of the partiality of judges. Chris and I won the gold (and a perfect score) in Sarajevo for Bolero which - dirty little secret - wasn't actually perfect, and we only got bronze (and the worst scores of our career) in Lillehammer for Face the Music which was quite possibly the best skate of our career. Sergei and I won gold in Calgary in 1988 on the shoulders of our technical ability, but in Lillehammer in 1994, the judges overlooked some technical flaws because the emotional connection they felt to our performances was unparalleled by any other pair.
It is a new world of figure skating. Gone are the days of 6.0's and knowing the names of the judges who scored you lower to save room for their home country's darling. I wouldn't want to be a competitive skater under the current scoring system, but that's just my personal bias. Sotnikova and Kim have spent their entire careers under these rules and guidelines. When they first laced up a pair of skates, they didn't feel the thrill of the ice beneath them and then turn to their parents and say, "No, sorry...I don't want to be at the mercy of a potentially biased and corrupt judging panel. Please buy me a snowboard instead." No. They fell in love with the ice, and they wanted to be skaters. They wanted to be Olympians, and they are. And they always will be.