PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — You want the moment to last beyond that split second in time, to slow it down, because when Maddie Rooney stopped that final puck off the stick of Canada’s Meghan Agosta, history happened. Not 24 hours later, after they had slept wearing their medals, the women of the U.S. hockey team were trying to extend the feeling, understandably.
“I don’t think we’ve taken them off our necks yet,” American captain Meghan Duggan said, her gold displayed front and center. “I don’t know why you would.”
Rooney’s shootout stop, coupled with Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s sneaky shootout goal, might be remembered as the American delegation’s signature moment from the PyeongChang Olympics. It would be a worthy choice.
It will live in women’s hockey history. It will live in Olympic history. It changed the lives of these women, who had already changed women’s sports in the United States by fighting for a more equitable wage.
But that moment also showed how much the six American women who came back for their third Olympics risked in making that choice because gold was not guaranteed. Thus, we begin the process — not just for these women but for athletes from every country — of deciding whether to do this again.
For the vast majority of the public, the Olympics work thusly: Every four years, we relearn the names, reattach their stories to them, grow invested in their performances. When the flame goes out, we forget who they are. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s just that, as skier Lindsey Vonn said Friday, “Four years is a long time.”
It’s a long time to fade from American sporting consciousness and then reappear, sure. But it’s a longer time if you’re the athlete working out when no one’s watching, competing in competitions no one sees, all with the hope of sticking your head out of a gopher hole again in four years. Remember me? Here I am!
Quick: Where are the 2022 Winter Olympics? Don’t know, do you?
The athletes here can tell you. (Beijing. Yes, that’s a little weird, given that the 2008 Summer Olympics were held in that same city. But we have four years to discuss the whys.)
The athletes can tell you because they’re the ones deciding on whether to commit to returning. That process involves so much. For some — say, Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin — it’s easy. Skiing is her job. She can make money on the World Cup circuit. In the ski community, in the United States and particularly in Europe, where most of the races take place, Shiffrin will remain relevant in the years between South Korea and China. She’s a star, and she will be paid like one.
But for others, it’s a struggle just knowing whether to throw yourself back into the struggle. The six three-time Olympians on the women’s hockey team, for instance, were “really reevaluating after Sochi if we wanted another four years,” said Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Jocelyn’s twin sister, “because you can train for those four years, and there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be on the team; there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be in that gold medal game.”
That’s part of the risk, for sure — that the work won’t produce the desired result. Considering the vagaries of a shootout in hockey, things easily could have gone the other way against the Canadians on Thursday, and the discussion of whether to go for it again would have carried a different tinge.
But for so many of the stars of the Games here, the risks both are financial and personal. The Lamoureux sisters are both married, and starting a family is a real possibility. How would that affect training? Elana Meyers Taylor, now a three-time medalist in bobsled, has held down a job between training stints. The stipends in the more obscure sports can be paltry, not enough on which to live. Katie Uhlaender, who races in skeleton, just completed her fourth Olympics. She said when it was over that she had gone into debt to finance her career.
That’s another way the hockey players have pushed forward. It is my strong belief that, whatever had happened in the gold medal game, these women are heroes because they took a stand — threatening to boycott the world championships, which were being held on American soil — to force USA Hockey to pay them a salary more in line with what the men make. That move bonded the players on this team more closely. But it also removes one element from their upcoming choice.
“Now to make that decision is no longer a financial burden,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “It’s a decision based on whether I have the passion and desire and skill-set to continue to play. . . . It means the world to us that we can make the decision based on our love for the game.”
A word about love for the game: There’s another reason to try to extend the feeling Rooney’s save generated, the phenomenon that might be known as POD — post-Olympic depression. It is real, and it hits athletes from every sport of any gender from every nation.
“Everything after it feels ‘bleh,’ ” Shiffrin said Friday. “. . . The hardest thing about the Olympics is the incredible emotional valley you feel after it: ‘What is my life meant for, now that the Olympics is over?’ That’s kind of what it feels like.”
So hold on to that moment. Don’t take the medals from around your neck — not yet, anyway. There are decisions to be made about the future. Most of us won’t know who decided what for four more years. But the athletes, their commitment is all-encompassing and never-ending.
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