May the Best Man Win
I find it fascinating that commentators, writers, (and, yes, bloggers too) often malign older athletes who return to the amateur competitive field. Their argument, that they should allow the younger generation their chance at being champion, or of having their “moment”, and that they already had theirs.
Recent discussions of Kwan’s, and Cohen’s return have raised this discussion yet again. And, even though it wasn’t a comeback, I recall whisperings of this ageist complaint around Inoue and Baldwin’s participation in the ’09 Nationals (his 16th!). (BTW, the results of my February 15 poll about who is most likely to return next season has Cohen ahead with 47% of the votes.)
I think this is completely ridiculous reasoning! Sport is sport, and whoever the best athlete is should walk away with the victory and glory. The sport is all the more rich for having a generational depth in its competitions. And, my feeling is “may the best man win”! Frankly, discussions of Cohen’s possible return only make our sport all the more interesting, especially as it’s no secret our international potency in ladies skating is currently diminished. At the Beijing Games, the world witnessed the amazing comeback of swimmer Dara Torres, who at 41 took part in her fifth Olympics, after a six-year hiatus from competition, and became the oldest female swimmer in Olympic herstory. Such triumphs of “old age” athletes are the stuff dreams are made of, and sports stories fans should eat up.
Elaine Zayak came back to win the pewter medal at the ’94 Nationals (YES, the same season as the Kerrigan whack heard around the world). She was 28 years old, skated a near flawless LP (although of a lower difficulty level), AND after being away from competitive skating for a decade. She skated against a 16-year old Nicole Bobeck… 12 years her junior! Zajak had already impressively racked up ’81 US and ’82 World titles, ’81 World silver, ’84 US and World bronze, and bronze at the ’82 US Nationals. She was also a US Olympian in ’84.
But, thinking back, noone dwells on her finish. They remember the grace, nerve and heart that she displayed to make such a return, to the competitive aspect of the sport she loved and thrived in.
Due to the “Boitano Rule”, he, Petrenko, Witt, and Torvill & Dean came back for the ’94 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. None of these returnees effectively shifted the spotlight from the athletes of the hour, as only Torvill & Dean walked away with a medal, the bronze. But they proved something to themselves, and to us… that they were still in good fighting form, deserved their spot, and that they may not have been able to return to their former competitive glory, but that their emotional and symbolic triumphs were many.
Interestingly, Christopher Bowman planned a similar comeback for the ’94 Olympics, but his requests for reinstatement were not successful. He didn’t make it there.
What exactly was the “Boitano Rule”?: Due to Boitano’s lobbying, “the International Skating Union (ISU) introduced this clause, which allowed professionals to reinstate as ‘amateur’ or ‘eligible’ skaters. This had been the result of Boitano’s active involvement during the early 1990s, which saw professionals being allowed in the Olympic Games in the sports of tennis and basketball.” — Wikipedia
Along the same lines, the list of skaters who have maintained their high-level of training, or returned to it to compete in 3 (or more) Olympics is small. It includes Todd Eldredge, Elvis Stojko, Katarina Witt, Bestemianova/Bukin, Irina Rodnina, Sonja Henie, Gillis Grafstrom (SWE), and Andrée & Pierre Brunet (FRA). Have I forgotten any? Perhaps we’ll be adding some new names to the list next year.
Also, can you remember any other inspiring or effective returns to competitive skating, not just after a funk (ie: Lu Chen or Shizuka Arakawa), but moreso after an extended hiatus?