Well, battle-weary class of 2002, if you have been reading the newspapers during your stay (and you'd have done well not to), you must have heard 1988 mentioned. That was the last time the team was shut out of an Olympic medal. The whole team, mind you, not just the women. Bode Miller has spared the men this distinction, so it is the women who get to carry the baggage for another four years. History recalls that in 1988 ninth-place was "the best the US Ski team could muster." That was my ninth, and it still feels more like an admission than a statement.
Even though for me, as a 21-year-old in my first Olympics, it was a small victory, it is remembered instead as a sad marker of how far a team could fall in just 4 years. We were the losers, the team plagued by injuries, our failure nearly a foregone conclusion even as we marched into the Opening Ceremonies. If there is one major difference between you, and us it is that as a team you had the weight of higher expectations and the intense focus of a hopeful home crowd. The rest, I'd imagine is the same. We all tried our hardest; we all stood in the start and believed the dream could happen. And we all felt our hearts drop when in the end somebody else's flags were raised above the podium.
There is nothing that fills that pit in your gut except looking to the next race. Even though it feels like the Olympics are everything, the show goes on even after the Games. Take a look at what the losers from 1988 were able to do. Tamara McKinney won the World Championships Combined in 1989, Diann Roffe won silver in 1992, then gold in 1994. Hilary Lindh won silver in 1992 and became World Downhill Champion in 1997. AJ Kitt won Downhill bronze at the World Championships in 1993. These are just the highlights. The point is, that life, and ski racing goes on.
Yes, this was a golden opportunity, the biggest event that you will never again experience in front of the home crowd. So if you can, go in to this last race and enjoy it. Ski this one for yourselves. The one nice thing about deflation is that the pressure is totally gone. Relax, and ski the GS for you. The stands will be full, and with any luck the sun will be out so just ski your heart out, make yourself proud and soak up the moment.
Years from now, when you do finally hang it up--after titles, victories and medals, less celebrated but no less precious than these Salt Lake Olympic ones—you may find yourself at an Olympics watching. You may feel immense relief when, at 9:55 a.m. you have nothing better to do than cross your fingers and sip your coffee in the grandstands. You may be happy not to have to deal with flat light, or ruts, or the press or your fans. The words "choked" and "sucked" will only apply to you if they are accompanied by the Heimlich. But do yourself a favor and take some advice from the Class of 1988 in an area where you have no experience. Enjoy the moment, because it never comes again. The world may be watching, but only you can remember the feeling you take away from here.