WHISTLER, B.C. – Considering the devastation she has gone through since Friday night and will continue to endure all because of a little mistake in the heat of competition, Mellisa Hollingsworth is either courageous or crazy to want to put herself through the four-year wringer once more.
Or maybe a little of both.
She wanted to talk to the country Sunday morning. She wanted not to hide but to talk, to unburden herself, to say she’ll be back for Sochi in 2014, to thank total strangers who sent her more than 500 messages — but no marriage proposals – telling her to keep her chin up.
“Every one of them let me know I didn’t let my country down,’’ she said and tears flowed again. “I want to tell Canada thank you for being so supportive. Thank you for the compassion and understanding.’’
She said she did nothing Saturday except lie in bed all day wondering, as she put it, “Why did I make a mistake like that in the biggest moment of my career?’’
The mistake, she indicated, was being off-line about an inch heading into a critical corner in Friday night’s final run, the gold medal – and only the gold medal – squarely in her sights. That inch on the entry translated to the wrong exit point and ping-ponged her off the wall, what she called “two big exploding hits,’’ that dropped her to fifth place.
“Fifteen years of work and training and it comes down to this,’’ she said, holding her hands four feet apart. “The difference between first and fifth place. It’s heartbreaking.’’
Most of us cannot imagine how she feels, how all the hard work and dedication and sacrifice can be undone by that inch. Yet she wants to come back for more and it is entirely up to her; if she wants to pay that price for four more years, knowing the ultimate reward can disappear by such a tiny margin, more power to her.
As she lay in bed Saturday, she began reading the messages, talked with family and friends. She got up at 5 p.m. and went to the medal ceremony for Jon Montgomery, her skeleton teammate who seized the golden moment, and with the support of friends and family began stitching her life together again: And what it said was four more years.
She said her decision was set when she sat alone and dumbfounded after the competition, “sitting in shock and hoping for a do-over,’’ she said, and her coach told her she had nailed the start. First time the world’s best in her event had ever had the fastest start, 4.93 seconds.
“I did it. My training had paid off. That’s what we work 15 years for, the hundredths of a second, and I had finally done it. That’s when 2014 flashed through my mind.’’
In the big picture, on a track where a Georgian slider had been killed – which had its upsetting effect on every competitor, Hollingsworth included – winning or not winning a skeleton race is a matter of perspective. Canada will still win plenty of medals at these Games, although maybe one less than everyone thought.
Hollingsworth also spoke for a moment about Joannie Rochette, who lost her mother Saturday night, and that jarring development helped her regain her own perspective.
“This isn’t the worst thing she has gone through,’’ insisted her proud father, Darcy. “When she didn’t make the (Olympic) team in 2002, that was worse. This time she had an opportunity. That time she didn’t.’’
And it sounds as if she wants to invest the sweat to give herself another one.
“I want to be on top of that podium,’’ she said.
Dry-land training begins in May.