The Slovenia Times

Risking it All for a Medal



It's easy to say that a silver or bronze medal shines just as brightly as gold but in the case of Petra Majdič it is most definitely so. Or, as humorist Tone Fornezzi Tof said, "The medal doesn't shine like gold but like life."

The medal is not just a reward for a third place - it's a story that will go down in history as one of the most memorable Olympic achievements. Almost certainly, in years to come the events that led to the medal will be remembered more than the medal itself. The events have been the topic of much conversation in recent days.

According to national television website statistics, this was the most commented-upon news story in the last 12 months, surpassing even Slovenia's qualifying for the football World Cup. There was hardly a dry eye in Slovenia that evening, including those of television commentators. The story among also spread like wild fire those who usually don't care about sport.

A hot pre-race favourite, Majdič had an unfortunate accident during the warm-up when she skidded off the track and plunged into a three-metre deep gully, breaking one ski and both poles. Had it been her mistake, she herself could have been blamed for it but there was no protective railing there despite pre-race warnings.

As luck would have it, the official in charge of security was a Slovene, Uroš Ponikvar, a personal friend of Majdič. He said that he was deeply sorry for what had happened but refused to accept blame. Nevertheless, the Slovene Olympic Committee lodged a protest against the organizers and is considering a legal suit after the games.

"If I could do it, anyone can do it"

She was visibly shocked after coming out of the hole. "At that moment I was thinking 'It's all over'," said Majdič, who won the World Cup sprint the last two years.

"I couldn't walk, move or breathe. But I had been working 20 years for this and I knew that it was my last chance to win a medal. I would have died if I hadn't won a medal."

Indeed, it seemed like she was willing to die to do it. Immediately after the crash, she was taken to a nearby clinic for X-rays, but initial checks showed no serious injuries, save for bad bruises and severe pain. Majdič decided to start the qualifying run against the clock anyway. She was allowed to start last, but she was screaming in pain from start to finish.

"I think this was the first time in my career that all coaches from all countries cheered for me. They heard how painful it was for me to run," she commented.

She won the quarterfinals heat but only managed fourth in the semi-finals. Fortunately, she was quick enough to qualify for the finals as a lucky loser. With each round, she got stronger - though each time she collapsed in pain at the finish line and had to be helped up. In the finals, Marit Bjoergen of Norway and Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk quickly pulled away but Petra reappeared and managed to nip Swede Anna Olsson in the homestretch in front of an exuberant crowd.

"If I could do it, then the whole of Slovenia can do it! Never give up, even if you are on your knees. We can always stand up, and we can do anything. Miracles do happen," was Petra's message to Slovenia after the epic achievement. "Today, this is not a bronze," she added about her first Olympic medal and ninth for Slovenia. "This is a gold with little diamonds on it."

The value of her achievement kept coming up also after the race. On the podium, she was hardly able to stand up straight and she needed an escort. From the ceremony, she was airlifted straight to a hospital in Vancouver, where four broken ribs and an injury to her lungs were detected.

What's next?

Majdič has been a popular sports figure for a number of years, but there were still wagging tongues to be found, particularly when she failed to meet the expectations, such as at the Turin Olympics in 2006 or World Championships last year. Despite her present status as hero, her future career looks uncertain. At age 30, she has hinted several times that these Olympic Games might be her last international competitive event.

Presidents' Words

"My sincere congratulations on your exceptional heroics, courageous fight and great success at the Olympic Games. What an incredible race! It included a whole spectrum of feelings, from dismay to joy. We cannot even imagine what unstoppable competitive spirit and perseverance are needed for a person to be able to accomplish what you have done," said Danilo Türk, the president of Slovenia said in his message to Petra Majdič on the occasion of bestowing the Golden Order for Service on her.

In his response, Prime Minister Borut Pahor said that Petra Majdič was a great inspiration to him and that she should also be so for the whole nation. "We have problems, but we will fight them and succeed," said Pahor in an emotional statement.


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