February 14, 2006

Four Cornellians Search for Gold in Torino

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Cornell athletes were in action all over the Northeast last Friday night, striving to stay alive in Ivy League title races or fighting for a few more points in the ECACHL standings. But in Torino, Italy, a select corps of representatives from the Cornell athletic community was participating in the opening ceremonies of the greatest, most important athletic event in the world – the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Melody Davidson, Travis Mayer, Matt Savoie, and Jamie Silverstein will be put to the ultimate test over the next two weeks as they embark on a quest for Olympic gold in four different sports.

Davidson, the head coach of the women’s hockey team at Cornell, is on leave this year to coach the Canadian women’s hockey team in Torino. The defending gold medalists have come out strong in the first weekend of play, demolishing the host country, Italy, 16-0, and pummeling Russia, 12-0, on Sunday night. The Canadians will face off against Sweden tonight. The Swedes bring their own perfect Torino record to the match, having beaten Russia, 3-1, and Italy, 11-0, in the preliminary round. Despite receiving some emails from the home front questioning the necessity of such high-scoring manhandling of her competitors, Davidson maintains that the Canadian team is just trying to repeat its 2002 success.

“We’re just competing,” she told the Associated Press, adding that her team’s goal is to “reach the gold medal game – not humiliate anyone along the way.” While Davidson leads a Canadian team that went 5-0 in Salt Lake City en route to the gold medal, Mayer, another decorated Cornellian, will take a shot at a podium finish in men’s freestyle skiing, which will take place on Feb. 15.

Mayer pulled off an Olympic upset in Salt Lake City, turning in a nearly perfect performance to claim the silver medal in 2002. Mayer was competing on the U.S. developmental team when his skiing career caught fire in the two and a half months just before the 2002 Winter Games, earning him a spot on the Olympic team and the subsequent medal.

Despite a hectic schedule with training and competitions, Mayer has continued to take summer classes and correspondence courses through Cornell in applied economics and currently has junior standing.

Since his medal finish in 2002, however, medals and skiing have become much less important to Mayer. On June 21, 2005, he was driving through East Aurora, N.Y., heading towards his parents’ house, when he drove through a stop sign going 30 mph and collided with a vehicle driven by Diane L. Hamblin, a 44-year-old mother of two from Arcarde, N.Y. Hamblin later died from injuries suffered in the accident.

Authorities found no evidence of alcohol or speeding, ruling that it was an accident and only charged Mayer with failure to yield at a stop sign.

Mayer is still coming to terms with the accident, but eventually found purpose in recommitting himself to skiing. He earned the third and final spot on the U.S. Olympic team with second- and fourth-place finishes during the World Cup season, and anticipates that Torino will be his final Winter Games.

“I’d like to ski well in the Olympics,” Mayer told the Associated Press. “What that means, I don’t really care any more. I mean, I’d like to win, but ultimately I’ve finally assimilated the age-old adage in sports: It’s really the ultimate performance you’re after. If I can put down the best run I’m capable of doing at the Olympics, it’s irrelevant where I finish. I don’t really have any interest in being famous. I just want to ski. I just want to enjoy the amount of time I have.”

While Mayer prepares for his final Olympic appearance, a first-time Olympian and future Cornellian will be hoping to pull of an upset in men’s singles figure skating.

Savoie took third place in men’s singles figure skating at the U.S. Nationals this past January to earn the final spot on the Olympic team for Torino, joining medal contenders Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek as the U.S. representatives. The trio will take to the ice tonight for the short program and wrap up competition with the free skate on Feb. 16.

Despite a fourth-place finish at the 2002 Nationals – missing the Salt Lake City team by one spot – Savoie has flown under the radar. However, the Peoria, Ill., native is well-known in the skating world for his accomplishments off the ice, which include a political science degree from Bradley University, a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his acceptance to Cornell Law School.

Silverstein, another face familiar to the Cornell community, will step onto the Olympic ice in the ice dancing competition. Ice dancing will take center stage in Torino on Feb. 17, with the compulsory dance, again on Feb. 19 for the original dance, and finally on Feb. 20 with the final component, the free dance.

After winning a gold medal at the 1999 junior world championships with former partner Justin Pekarek, Silverstein looked poised to become the face of U.S. ice dancing for years to come.

However, she decided to give up her skating career and focus on her education when anorexia threatened her health. After a long struggle to overcome the eating disorder and beginning her college career at Cornell, Silverstein attended Cornell for two years as a College Scholar and was a resident advisor in Risley Residential College before taking a leave from her studies in 2004.

While discussing happiness in a Buddhism class at Cornell in December 2004, she came to the realization that she still missed skating. And, despite the risks involved in returning to the lifestyle that had prompted her spiral into anorexia, she decided to give the Olympic dream another shot.

“A lot of this was a test for me about being brave,” Silverstein told the Associated Press.

“Trying to do things that you care about despite there being elements of fear. College was a very safe place for me and the rink is a little less safe. But I didn’t want to not do something that I really care about just because I was scared.”

Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor