by Paul Wylie, ORDA Director of Sport and 1992 Olympic silver medalist in men’s singles skating
Last week I witnessed on the 1980 Rink something I spent my entire life thinking was impossible. Ilia Malinin, a 17-year-old from Fairfax, VA landed a Quad Axel at the US International Figure Skating Classic. Four and one-half rotations in the air, landing on one foot, gliding on the edge of a blade on a sheet of ice. And just like that, what had once been unthinkable became part of humanity’s repertoire.
Quadruple Axels, moon shots, four-minute miles, Miracles on Ice, they all remind us that expectations and limitations are but mental constructions. Once achieved, the bar gets raised as if the limit had never been there before. Even though we continue to see records fall and achievements made, we continually wonder if we’ve reached the envelope of our potential. It’s always tempting to believe there is simply no more we can do; we have reached our limit. Then someone strives, works creatively to come up with new and better techniques, equipment and training and bravely accomplishes it.
I wonder if it is possible to appreciate the fact that this Olympic Village in which I live provides a front row seat to witness these breakthroughs of what is possible, not just for that person (although that is certainly inspiring) but literally for all humanity. Venues that are in our backyard set up the conditions for these feats. We watch and we play an important part in these accomplishments. Do we realize that people around the planet focused on a video clip shot on someone’s phone because the World-Record breaker athletes come here regularly and redefine the set of expectations we have? Yes, over, and over, here on “our” snow and ice.
When I was growing up one might say, “Yah and I will just go land a quad axel,” as sarcastically as you might say, and I’ll just fly to the moon. But once the moon shot was made, it was then considered doable. The year after Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier, which was considered a human impossibility, numerous runners followed suit.
So, you say, it’s on to the Quintuple jump? Well, not so fast. I want to relish the fact that I just experienced seeing the Quad Axel. It speaks to my heart and says, what am I asking of myself today? Is there something I can do that is outside my impossible? What a privilege to be front and center with the process towards the next impossible step, on a daily basis.