Champions of longevity: The journeys of four Olympic legends to Beijing 2022
One of the lasting images of the Opening Ceremony of the Turin 2006 Olympic Winter Games is the look of excitement on the faces of four young athletes - Bradley Gushue, Arianna Fontana, Shaun White, Kamil Stoch - all of whom were about to launch legendary Olympic careers.
One of the most sought-after qualities of an athlete’s career is excruciatingly simple, but oh-so-difficult to achieve: longevity.
Japanese legend Noriaki Kasai competed at _eight _Olympic Games (from Albertville 1992 to PyeongChang 2018), while Venezuelan luger Werner Hoeger, at the grand age of 52 years and 59 days, was the oldest competitor at Turin 2006.
In just a few months, when the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games open, we will once again see the same smiling faces of the ‘Turin Four’, who made their Olympic debut almost 16 years ago.
Bradley Gushue | Curling | Canada
While his father was in Italy to support him (wearing the unforgettable "Brad's Dad" t-shirt), his mother had been unable to follow her son to the tournament due to her ongoing treatment for cancer. In an incredibly powerful and emotional moment, Gushue called his mother immediately after throwing the winning stone, live from the rink.
Gushue may have failed to win gold at any major national or international competitions since his success in Turin, but he never gave up his dream of returning to the Games and continues to play curling at a high level, often with his teammate and 12-year-old daughter Hayley who competed alongside him at the Newfoundland and Labrador Mixed Doubles Provincial Championships in 2020.
Gushue’s team was a surprise winner at Canada’s pre-2006 Olympic trials, and on 30 November 2021, he and his squad prevailed again in a nerve-wracking final to ensure his return to the Games once more.
Arianna Fontana | Short track speed skating | Italy
Arianna Fontana marked her first experience at the Winter Olympics with a bronze medal in the 3000m relay in Turin; a bronze which made her, at 15 years and 314 days old, Italy’s youngest medallist at the Winter Games. She has since won a further seven medals (including a long-sought-after gold at PyeongChang 2018), finding the podium at every Games she has competed in. She was nominated to be Italy’s flagbearer at the Closing Ceremony of Sochi 2014, and for the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.
“In Torino 2006 I was still 15, so I was a kid,” Fontana recalls. “Honestly, I only realised what had happened afterwards. When I was in Turin, I enjoyed the Olympic Village a lot. I tried to talk to other athletes, even those from other countries, even though my English was non-existent back then. But I was curious, and I really wanted to enjoy the moment.”
The 31-year-old is in fine form ahead of Beijing 2022, having reached the podium seven times in the current World Cup season (Fontana is currently sitting in first place in the 500m category after four events).
*Shaun White | Snowboard | USA *
Shaun White arrived to Turin 2006 when he was 20, having just missed out on qualifying for Salt Lake 2002. With an iconic look punctuated by his distinctive red hair, White was quickly given the moniker: “The Flying Tomato”.
The youngster was the favourite for the slopestyle competition, and with good reason; White had picked up eight medals at the Winter X Games, and had the distinction of being the first man to have won a medal at both editions of the X Games.
White did indeed pick up gold in Turin, and successfully defended his Olympic title four years later at Vancouver 2010. Yet he suffered a setback at Sochi 2014 when he finished fourth, and consequently made some major changes to his routine and training.
His comeback at PyeongChang 2018 resulted in a third Olympic gold; coincidentally the 100th for the USA at the Olympic Winter Games.
Despite being unable to compete in several competitions in 2021 due to a lingering knee injury, competing at Beijing 2022 remains his priorty: “I'm so proud that I'm still able to compete on a high level and I'm going to give it everything I have for this Games, like I do every time, and see where the chips fall.”
Kamil Stoch | Ski Jumping | Poland
Stoch's ski jumping's Olympic career was an amazing mix of consistency and perseverance.
The Pole’s Olympic career began in Turin, where, as a fresh-faced 18 year old, he competed in the normal hill, large hill and team event – finishing 16th, 26th and 5th respectively.
Stoch returned to the Olympic slopes at Vancouver 2010, but once again failed to find the podium in all three events. Yet it was Sochi 2014 where he struck gold, both in the normal and large hill events, and narrowly missing out on a bronze medal in the team event.
He found success in PyeongChang, too, winning his third gold medal with victory in the large hill and picking up a bronze in the team event.
With more than 100 World Cup podiums in his career, what can we expect from Stoch at Beijing 2022?