The approach almost four years ago on the side of a roller coaster, when the last sled flew by, fell to the clock. Katie Uhlaender, a blue-blooded American who had cut her hair in red at the Sochi Olympics, stared at her. She narrowed her eyes. Stunned, she said abruptly: "I do not even know how to process that." The tears were ready.
A Russian skeletal athlete named Elena Nikitina slid down the runway that night 30 miles northeast of Sochi, in her home country. The accumulated time of Nikitina in four races exceeded that of Uhlaender by four hundredths of a second. That night, Nikitina won the bronze, and smiled. That night, Uhlaender did not win anything, and he cried.
"I do not want to see the moment removed from someone else," Uhlaender said by telephone on Tuesday.
Uhlaender is 33 years old and is preparing for what he realizes is almost certainly his last Olympic Games. However, starting on Tuesday, she believes that her last Olympics will be a clean Olympics. On Tuesday night, she was having dinner with Matt Antoine and John Daly in Winterberg, Germany, when they received the news: The International Olympic Committee had banned the Russian Federation from the upcoming PyeongChang Games following what the IOC President Thomas Bach described as "An unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sports."
The Russians, the IOC concluded, systematically doped their athletes for the Sochi Olympic Games. Nikitina had already been stripped of her medal, one of 11 that the Russians had already lost in the aftermath of the revelations.
And so Uhlaender and Antoine and Daly, unable to contain smiles, collided.
"We were like, 'Holy shit,'" he said. "It really happened."
It's Uhlaender's approach, and it's admirable given that the next Games are two months away, not to regret that night in Russia almost four years ago. "I do not blame anyone for my results," Uhlaender said Tuesday. "I'm not going to waste my time worrying about what could have been or what was."
Let me intervene, then. That night on the Russian hills above the Black Sea was the kind of night that makes the Olympic Games the Olympic Games. On one level of a twisted set of metal stands and risers was Noelle Pikus-Pace, an American mother who had lost a skeleton medal four years earlier for a tenth of a second. She and her husband wanted a bigger family. He was going to leave his sport. However, he returned for one more shot in Sochi. That night, he jumped for joy and smiled with that smile that can only be created spontaneously, because he won money.
I was not 100 feet away, was Uhlaender, incredulous as she looked at the clock. His own trip was quite hectic. She dealt with the death of her father, former Major League outfielder Ted Uhlaender. She fought a broken knee and repeated concussions. However, she had put herself in position for a medal, only to lose it with the rhythm of a hummingbird's wing.
So there was everything, the unexpected and unbridled joy and the overwhelming and overwhelming disillusionment of the knee, which the Olympic Games can muster. That Nikitina was stripped of her medal last month. like his compatriot Aleksandr Tretyakov, who took gold in the skeleton of men (leaving Antoine with bronze) – yes, of course, maybe that justifies some mistakes. The IOC said on Tuesday it will organize medals ceremonies in South Korea for athletes who missed their celebration.
But those measures do not replace the emotions experienced in that place and time. The anguish could have been said. Now, we will never know.
"Even if she receives a medal retroactively, it's great," Antoine said by telephone on Tuesday. "But the reality is that you can not return that moment."
Still, both Antoine and Uhlaender said they believed that the IOC – contrary to their expectations, honestly – did the right thing on Tuesday. About that: here is room to simultaneously recognize the dramatic nature of the action and take a skeptical look at the Russians who show up in February in South Korea.
The decision of the IOC was to prohibit the totality of the will. be Russian delegation, except for those that will allow you to compete. The IOC considered the Russian Olympic Committee guilty of organized and widespread doping of its athletes, known for all facets of the country's sports infrastructure, except for those who were unaware. And by extension, he declared that we will not have a repeat of the Sochi games contaminated with drugs, unless, of course, we do.
That's the needle that Bach and his board tried to chain with this decision, a needle that may not have an eye. The Russian athletes, clean, as if we knew how to determine and who we can trust, can compete in PyeongChang. They will not do it with Russian uniforms. The Russian anthem will not be played.
But there will be Russian athletes in these Olympic Games. And we have to trust that a panel appointed by the IOC, in charge of admitting only clean athletes, has succeeded in doing so …
"If an athlete can undoubtedly prove that he is clean, then he will he deserves the right to be there, "Antoine said.
However, that test is exceptionally difficult. Trust your own danger.
Uhlaender knows how risky this is because he has heard from Russian fans of his sport. "I hate email so much, threats," he said. The result: the Russians do not feel that their athletes, or their system, or their country, have done something wrong.
"They say: & # 39; Everyone is doping & # 39;" said Uhlaender. "And it seems to me that something had to be done to draw a line and change the culture and show that doping is not right … For the IOC to adopt a firm stance and draw a line, that was the only thing that could be done to return to instill my belief in the Olympic movement. "
Last month, Nikitina won a World Cup race in Park City, Utah. Four days later, when the tour moved to Whistler, British Columbia, she was stripped of her medal. That week was emotional for Uehlander, she said. She had made the decision to think forward, not backward, to focus on the possibility of PyeongChang, not on the injustice of Sochi.
But it's difficult. The experience will not come back.
"I do not know what it's like to be on the podium," he said. "I ran my heart, that medal was not mine, it was from the United States."
In two months, you can have the opportunity to have everything: the medal and the moment. Hopefully he does.