14 Feb 2010, Sun. Day 3 of the Vancouver Olympics was full of excitement and surprises.
In the 3000m speed skating race, World Champion Martina Sablikova wins the gold. It's the first time the Czech Republic has won a medal in the event. A phenomenal racer in a field traditionally dominated by Germany, Netherlands, and Canada, her win is the realization of not only her dreams, but her coach, Petr Novak, as well. Petr Novak loved the sport of speed skating and struggled to build a team in the Czech Republic with a very small budget and no training facilities. He was introduced to Martina Sablikova by her mother when she was ten. He spent years building a team and training program around her. With an old bus he bought with his own money, he drove his star pupil and rag tag team to training centers and races. His efforts paid off when Martina Sablikova began competing against older professional athletes when she was just 17. She went on to win three World Championships! And tonight's Olympic gold win is the sweet fruit of all that hard labor. Martina Sablikova's younger brother, Milan Sabliki, is also a junior world champion and record holder speed skater on the Czech national team coached by Petr Novak. Germany's Stephanie Beckert wins silver and Canada's Kristina Groves takes the bronze.
The surprise winner of today's events was in mens 10km biathlon. French soldier Vincent Jay was not expected to medal in today's event. But he made the most of the weather conditions racing around the track before a snowstorm took over the track. And it was his superb shooting of a perfect 10/10 targets that won him the race and the gold.
Emil Hegle Svendsen gets the silver, giving Winter Olympics powerhouse Norway its first medal of the games. And another surprise is bronze medal winner, Jakov Fak of Croatia, the only male biathlete from Croatia.
Jakov Fak trains with the neighboring Slovenian team who have taken him under their wing. Working through the language barriers, the Slovenian team has helped Jakov Fak maximize his potential, leading to a 2009 World Championship bronze.
In perhaps the most poignant event of the games, Germany's Felix Loch brings a much needed celebration to the mens single luge. The death of 21 year old Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia during a training run hours before the Opening Ceremony put a dark shadow over the games. There was talk of canceling the event all together. And in the end, necessary changes were made to the track to ensure the safety of the athletes. If only those changes were made last year. 20 year old Felix Loch of Germany becomes the youngest gold medalist in the history of luge at the Winter Olympics. His teammate David Moeller wins silver and Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, the Salt Lake City and Torino Olympics winner, takes the bronze.
Johnny Spillane becomes the first American to ever win a medal in the Nordic Combine event. In this sport, you have to ski jump off a hill, and based on how well you did, you get a start time for a 10km cross country ski race! So the better your hill jump, the earlier you get to start on the ski race. And American Johnny Spillane was leading the race for most of the way. And just a few yards from the finish line, France's Jason Lany Chappuis powers through and takes the gold by 0.4 seconds!
Italy's Alessandro Pittin takes the bronze. This is the first time the United States has ever won a medal in this event, ending a long medal drought in the event.
And speaking of ending a drought, in perhaps the most celebrated event of the day, Alexandre Bilodeau wins the gold in men's mogul, bringing Canada its first gold of the Vancouver Olympics. And with this win, Canada finally breaks its history as the only nation to never win an Olympic gold as a host nation. The silver medalist, representing Australia, is actually Vancouver born Canadian Dale Begg-Smith. Dale Begg-Smith gives Australia its first ever silver medal at a winter Olympics game. At 15 years old, Dale Begg-Smith left Canada for Australia after the Canadian federation questioned his dedication to the sport. He was starting an internet business at the time, and the Canadian officials wanted him to choose between training and his business. Choosing to do both, he went to Australia, where he then went on to win gold in Torino and make millions in his business. American Bryan Wilson lands the bronze.
But the hero of the hour is definitely Alexandre Bilodeau. And not just because he won Canada's first ever gold as a host nation. His win was dedicated to his older brother, Frederic, who has cerebral palsy and has been an inspiration to Alexander for most of his life. Watching his brother's struggles and appreciation for life gave Alexandre Bilodeau the motivation to keep going when things got tough, to do his best, and try his hardest. Whenever he thought about giving up, he would think of his brother, and that would give him the strength and focus to keep going. And among his loudest and most enthusiastic supporters at the games was Frederic, who cheered along with the rest of Canada when Alexandre Bilodeau won that gold. Alexandre Bilodeau's win reminds us of why Olympic athletes are celebrated. Olympic athletes not only lift the spirits of nations, they also celebrate the beauty of the human heart, and all of its dreams and hopes.