February 25, 2014

Seven Most Inspiring Olympic Women

By Shannon Goff

In honor of the 2014 Olympics at Sochi, I’ve listed seven women I found most inspiring throughout the Games. These women have proven to be outstanding athletes, competitors, and humanitarians and they are the embodiment of the Olympic spirit.

7. Svetlana Zhurova, Russia, Mayor of the Mountain Olympic Village
Russian speed skating champion and former Olympian, Sveltana Zhurova was more than enthusiastic about being Mayor of the Mountain Olympic Village. There are three Olympic Villages for the 2014 Sochi Games: the Coastal Village for athletes competing at indoor events, the Endurance Village for athletes competing in cross-country and biathlon, and the Mountain Village, the largest of the three, for athletes competing in all other mountain events. Each village is its own little community, complete with shops, dining areas, laundry services, fitness centers, a library, relaxation areas, a religious center, banking services, and health clinics. Zhurova, a four-time Olympian and 2006 gold-medal winner, took a lot of experience into her new position. She knew what athletes want and she planned to give them all that she could. She has dedicated her time, talents, and efforts and has said that serving has given her an opportunity to remember and relive the experiences she had during her time as an Olympian.

6. and 5. Lanny and Tracy Barnes, USA, Biathlon Women’s Individual
Earlier this year, Tracy Barnes qualified for a place on the US Olympic team, but her sister Lanny, a former Olympic biathlete, missed her opportunity due to illness. However, Tracy recognized that her sister had been in better form throughout the season and sacrificed her own spot on the team to Lanny. These two biathletes, and twin sisters, were awarded Fair Play awards by the International Fair Play Committee for acts of undoubted selflessness.

4. Eva Samkova, Czech Republic, Women’s Snowboard Cross
Eva Samkova won the women’s snowboard cross gold medal but what stands out is her carefree attitude and her funny good luck charm. Before every race, Samkova paints a moustache on her face for luck, which may have helped her beat Canadian Dominique Maltais, who was ranked number one in the world. Samkova started using this superstitious ‘stache in 2011 at her first World Championships in La Molina where she came in fifth--her best result at that time. She decided to keep using the moustache, and in Sochi she was ranked number one after the time trials. She then led from start to finish in all three final races, proving that her “silly” habit may not be so silly after all.

3. Julia Lipnitskaia, Russia, Women’s Figure Skating
It goes without saying that 15-year-old Lipnitskaia is an impressive competitor; she is also the youngest Olympic gold medalist in women’s figure skating history. Beginning training at the age of four, she has won countless competitions and became the youngest woman to win the European championships in January.  At Sochi 2014, she won both the short and long women’s program and received the gold for Russia’s figure skating inaugural team event. Lipnitskaia has been given Russia’s highest sporting tribute, the Honored Master of Sports award.

2. Lydia Lassila, Australia, Freestyle Skiing Women’s Aerials
You may have heard about Lydia Lassila’s amazing feat during women’s aerials. Lassila, one of the world’s top aerials specialists and a reigning Olympic champion, was trailing rival, Alla Tsuper of Belarus. Tsuper pulled off a breath-taking triple-twisting triple somersault and earned an impressive score. Knowing she needed to pull out all the stops to beat Tsuper, Lassila attempted something that has never been successfully completed by a female aerial skier: the quad-twisting triple somersault. She completed a full-twisting somersault, then a double-twisting somersault, and finished with another single-twisting somersault in the air but lost her balance on earth and landed on her back, which, cost her points and the coveted prize. What’s so inspiring is that she stood up smiling and blowing kisses to the crowd, then embraced her rival, Tsuper, who did win the gold. For Lassila, the loss didn’t matter as much as the audacious arial accomplishment that will be part of Olympic history. She later revealed that she’s wanted to try that trick for 15 years and finally got her chance in the super final. Lassila pushed the limits and her big risk paid off personally as she becomes a role model for the next generation of women aerial athletes.

1. Noelle Pikus-Pace, USA, Skeleton Women
Noelle Pikus-Pace has endured her share of disappoint and bad luck as an Olympian. She was favored to win gold at the 2006 Turin Games, but a bobsled accident shattered her leg, forcing her to withdraw from competition. During the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, she made a mistake that cost her a tenth of a second and the bronze medal. The event crushed her spirit and left her in tears after the race. Two years ago she miscarried at 18 weeks during her third pregnancy. Saying she had a rough decade would be an understatement. However, her husband, Janson Pace, convinced her to return to the bobsled track after the miscarriage, knowing it was what she needed to pull through. Noelle didn’t want to leave the family but the two compromised: the family went on tour together and Noelle got back in the game. Despite vision problems and a slight case of vertigo, this bobsledding wonder woman finished second in Sochi this year, winning the Silver Medal, as well as the hearts of the crowd who know her story. 

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