Melissa Hollingsworth, in defeat, represented Canada as well as any medalist could have.
When Melissa Hollingsworth went into turn six during her fourth and final run on Friday, she hoped it would catapult her into first place and a gold medal. But the smallest of small mistakes led to a rough exit, and eventually a fifth place finish.
What was supposed to be her crowning achievement became, in a hundredth of a second, the worst moment of her professional career. In one of the most heartbreaking moments in Canadian Olympic history, Hollingsworth claimed that she had "let the entire country down."
Thirty-six hours later, Hollingsworth met with the media to discuss her final race and demonstrated as much class, perseverance, and inspiration as any gold medal winner could have.
"After it happened it was hard to even get out of bed in the morning," Hollingsworth said. "But [my family and I] made the decision to go to the medal ceremony. I thought it would be part of the healing process."
After breaking into tears, Hollingsworth continued. "That was really difficult. But we definitely supported each other, and ... and shed our tears together. But then we got to watch Jonny jump on the podium like a passionate Canadian, and I wouldn't have missed that for the world."
"Jonny" would be Jon Montgomery, who won the gold in men's skeleton just hours after Hollingsworth's loss. Without a hint of jealousy, she relished in Montgomery's victory as much as she would have her own.
"We won the goal medal. Jonny did it. And I was the first one screaming when I saw his run. I was very proud of him."
After Hollingsworth's loss, the story of her Olympic journey immediately shifted to one of tragic failure, and wrongly so. What has been lost during these past 36 hours is the focus on the journey itself, what each and every one of these athletes goes through.
Hollingsworth is widely recognized as being the best female skeleton racer in the world, having won seven World Cup Medals in 8 races this season. She is a two-time World Cup champion ('05-'06, and '09-'10).
The fact that a fifth place finish has caused such emotional upheaval throughout the entire skeleton community demonstrates the prestigious position Hollingsworth occupies.
When asked what she's learned from this experience, her response was instant. "I know that some athletes, if this happened to them in their home countries they'd be [criticized]. I haven't experienced that from anybody. The citizens, the media, everyone's been so supportive and I really, really appreciate that. The messages that I'm getting ... it just shows who we are and what we're capable of as Canadians.
"I'm really hoping that [my story] inspires the next generation of Canadians to dream bigger. It doesn't even have to be the Olympics, but just to be a better person and to believe in yourself and to believe in big dreams."
When asked what she'd like to say to Canadians all across the country, she said, "I want to tell the Canadians ... 'Thank you.' Thank you for your support, for your understanding, for your compassion. Thank you for dreaming your dreams, too."
A gold medal ambassador if there ever was one, Hollingsworth had one more thing to say. "When the race was over, 2014 flashed in my mind.
"I'll be back."
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