Jacques Rogge (part 3): Props to Paerson, Majdic, Ammann, Bilodeau
At the Thursday breakfast interview session for a small number of international journalists, I asked International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge which athletes at the 2010 Winter Games had most impressed him for their character and achievement.
He singled out Sweden's Anja Paerson and Slovenia's Petra Majdic.
Paerson, the most decorated women's Alpine skier of the last decade, gave a performance recalling that of Austrian ski superstar Hermann Maier in 1998, when he came back from a crash in the downhill to win the Super-G three days later.
Paerson crashed hard in the downhill here Feb. 17, then won a bronze the next day in the super combined.
"This is not why both athletes won a medal, but what really impressed me most was the physical and mental courage of Anja Paerson,'' Rogge said. "You saw her making a spectacular fall, then winning a bronze the day after, when all [her] entourage was saying, 'She's not going to race.' And she said, 'I am going to race.' "
Majdic, a cross-country skier favored in the individual sprint, hit an icy patch during a training run and fell into a ditch, cracking ribs and puncturing a lung. She shrugged off pain and medical advice to rest and competed in the three rounds of .87-mile races, winning bronze.
"I am an orthopedic surgeon,'' Rogge said. "I know what it is like to have four broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
"These [Paerson and Majdic] are examples of sheer courage and resilience. Hats off for that.''
Rogge said it was too soon to declare who would be the "king and queen'' of the Games. But he will, as of Thursday, most remember the performance of Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann.
Ammann was just 20 when he won both individual events at the 2002 Winter Games. He struggled much of the next five years, finishing 38th and 15th at the 2006 Olympics, then won both events again here.
"It is not just because he won the four medals, which is fantastic in its own right,'' Rogge said. "If you realize he won his first medals as a boy and won again a double as a grown man in a sport where the body composition, the weight is so important. He has been able to adapt his own body changes, his own training techniques and all the changes [the international ski federation] imposed in jumping on the skis and the bindings. In this sport, it is exceptional.''
Asked by another journalist for his defining moment of the Games after the luge tragedy, Rogge cited Alexander Bilodeau's getting Canada off the gold schneid after its athletes won no titles in their previous home Games, Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988.
"For me, the defining moment probably was not a worldwide issue, the gold medal on home soil,'' he said. "In Montreal, I remember my Canadian friends saying, 'We have no gold medal.' I was in Calgary as a team leader, and they were whining again, 'We have no gold medal.' Coming here, every Canadian I met said, 'I hope we will get a [gold medal],' and they got it.''
-- Philip Hersh in Vancouver, Canada
Photos, top to bottom: Anja Paerson crashing in the downhill. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press); Petra Majdic collapsing in pain. (Boris Minkevich / Associated Press); Simon Ammann doubling his pleasure. (Fabrice Coffrini / Getty Images); Alexander Bilodeau celebrating Canada's first-ever gold on home-soil Olympics (Larry Wong / McClatchy Tribune)