Feb 252002
 
Authors: Sarah Laribee

My grandmother says I look like Sarah Hughes. I do not discourage this type of empty flattery, of course, but it’s not true. Sarah Hughes is a girl, and I am a girl, and we both have varying lengths of short hair. That’s really where the similarities end. Except for the fact that she’s an American, and I’m an American, and we’re both fairly normal people.

And it’s her ordinariness that makes her seem so extraordinary. On Thursday night, Sarah Hughes totally shocked the entirely world, and most amusingly, herself, when she came from the fourth place position in the Woman’s Olympic Figure Skating competition to win a shocking gold medal.

This was actually upsetting to me at first. I was one of the three trillion Americans, including Michelle Kwan, who were hoping that Michelle Kwan would take home the gold. And gold medals in the Olympics are the type of thing that everyone has an opinion on, even if everyone couldn’t care less about the sport in question. Much levity has been made about what the heck curling even is, let alone its merit as a sport. But, everyone still hopes that Americans do well in it.

And, I wasn’t even able to see the skating competition Thursday night, and so haven’t even seen Hughes or Kwan skate in their entirety. But I was still disappointed when I heard that Michelle Kwan had lost the coveted position to some girl I hadn’t even heard of. At least the winner was an American, but for crying out loud, it’s not as if she had a Toyota sponsorship tie-in.

But, as always, Bob Costas, that great harbinger of earnestness, clarifies all ill-thinking on the part of the average American. For it was in his interview with the sixteen-year old Hughes that her real charm began to eek out.

I know that Costas is a good journalist. You don’t get to his position in the media conglomerate that brings us Fear Factor without being a good journalist. But he has an inherent goofiness that makes one wonder if he has confused the realm of international sport with the realm of international politics. I like the Olympics as much as the next person, but Costas really, really likes the Olympics. One begins to wonder if he would put the reporting of the launch of nuclear warheads on hold so that the network could run the emotional feature on the two-man luge. He looks at the camera with unsettling directness, and addresses individually each American to his or her core, until we come to the same conclusions that he has: Olympic fever is worth the catchin’.

And so, it was in Costas’ interview that I came under the spell of little Sarah Hughes. Little Sarah Hughes, who doesn’t have an agent, who attends a regular high school, and despite the headiness of the last few days, still seems to want to attend a regular college and have a regular life. In all of this, it’s not the extraordinary grace and ease of movement that makes Hughes so transfixing. It’s her ordinariness. It’s her real-life humanity. It’s the fact that in her interview with Costas, while she came across as confident and driven, she also mentioned over and over again how excited she was to have met N-SYNC the night before.

Sarah Hughes is a little girl. And I’ve never been a figure skater, but I’ve been a little girl. And that’s the magic of the Olympics. Because even though I can’t walk into work without falling off the curb, there exists a champion figure skater, who as it turns out, looks a lot like me.

Sarah Laribee wants to be an English teacher. The last time she skated, she ended up limping the next day.

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