The Winter Olympics provided us with many great moments, but there is one that stands out above all the rest as my favorite.

It came last Thursday during the ladies’ figure skating free program while Sarah Hughes was on the ice. The 16-year-old from New York had just completed the final triple jump of her routine and was so happy that she almost forgot she was competing and jumped for joy.

If you blinked or looked away, you might have missed it. However, if you kept your eyes on the charismatic teen, you saw her face light up, her hands go up a little higher and the back of her skate lift a little bit off the ground. If you listened closely, you could even hear a slight squeal of delight.

It is very rare that you get to see somebody do something the best that they have ever done it in their life. When it happens, especially on such a big stage, it is magic. Hughes immediately became my favorite athlete from these Winter Olympics.

I liked her even more when her routine ended and the NBC reporter came over. Hughes did not get interviewed, she had a conversation. She opened herself up to the reporter and, by extension, the world.

Sasha Cohen is a gritty, likeable little competitor, but I was not upset to see her fall. Michelle Kwan is the personification of dedication and determination, but I was not upset to see her stumble. Russian skater Irina Slutskaya is the embodiment of power and athleticism on ice, but I was not upset to see her slip.

I wanted Hughes to win, and when she did, she won my adoration even more by falling to the ground and letting out a scream of pure, unbridled joy.

Figure skating sometimes gets made fun of, particularly by male sports fans. However, there is nothing quite like the ladies’ figure skating free program at the Winter Olympics. There is so much drama in every routine, so much excitement in every leap, so much anticipation in every landing. It is great entertainment, and a marquis event.

Canada’s triumph

Another Olympic mainstay is hockey. Women’s hockey is gaining steam, but it is men’s hockey that gets, and deserves, most of the attention right now.

The Olympics showed just how exciting the game of hockey can be when it is played by the best players in the world, using international rules.

No matter what country you’re from, you almost have to feel good for Canada. I’m sure that most of us root for at least one team that has gone through an extended championship drought, so we know what the Canadians were feeling. Except that hockey is a part of their culture, a thing that binds an entire country, a country which just got a well-deserved reason to celebrate.

The most impressive thing about the Canadian hockey players was how much they turned up their intensity for the gold-medal game. They had struggled throughout the tournament, losing to Sweden and barely beating Germany before finding a little bit of a comfort zone. Then they had to go up against the hottest team in the games.

They not only outplayed the United States, they dominated in every aspect of the game. Considering how well the Canadians played, it is amazing that the game stayed so close and so exciting for as long as it did.

Thanks for the memories

The gold medal game is one of the good memories I will take away from these Olympics ? along with images from the U.S. team’s two games against Russia. I will also remember the world-record gold medals won by Derek Parra and Chris Witty, the U.S. men’s snowboarding sweep, Bode Miller’s physics-defying runs in the men’s combined downhill and countless other joyous moments.

Unfortunately, I will also remember the figure skating controversy, the Russian protests and the late substance-related disqualifications. I just hope that people don’t remember Miller and Apolo Ohno for their disappointing performances at the end of the games, instead of their spectacular showings earlier.

See you in two years

I was happy to welcome the Winter Olympics and I enjoyed watching almost every moment that I was able to, but I am also glad that it is over for another two years. The Olympic games are wonderful festivals of athletics, culture and spirit, but they are also draining ? even to the spectator ? and by the end it seems like it has been much more than two weeks.

I’ve had my fill for now, but I’ll be ready for more by the time the torch arrives in Greece in 2004.

Jacobs can be reached at

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