As the Olympic season dawns, the anticipation building towards the greatest recurring spectacle on earth runs rampant. New memories and iconic figures are being forged. And every athlete understands there's no turning back, writes Scott Russell.
"To have the chance to compete at three Olympic Games and see what all those Olympic athletes do in order to succeed is amazing," two-time Stanley Cup winner Joe Sakic said. "It's actually humbling."
Sakic scored more than 600 goals, more than 1600 points, and won every team and individual honour he competed for in professional hockey. But he is arguably most revered for the landmark performance he delivered in Canadian colours against the United States in the gold-medal final at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
Sakic had four points in that 5-2 victory and was named the most valuable player of the Olympic tournament. In large part, what Sakic did resulted in the Canadian men claiming hockey gold for the first time in half a century.
It was that rare occurrence that helps to give the Games an undeniable mystique, but which also creates a lasting folklore.
Now as the Olympic season dawns, the anticipation building towards the greatest recurring spectacle on earth runs rampant. New memories and iconic figures are being forged. Over the next four months, they'll be defined.
At the Olympics, there is always something at stake, whether it's the pride of a nation or the passion of an individual. On the largest stage in the world, athletes either win or lose and another chance may never again present itself. That's why the struggle to get there is such a huge part of the story. The journey provides the dramatic element to what may or may not occur at the end of the line.
Kaya Turski of Montreal is hoping to make her Olympic debut in Sochi. She's the reigning world champion in slopestyle skiing and a three-time X-Games gold medallist. But as slopestyle gains entry to the Games program for the first time, Turski is desperately trying to recover from a mid-August knee injury -- a torn ACL.
Normally, recuperation should take six to nine months and that would mean missing the Olympics.
So she's undergone radical surgery and had a synthetic ligament inserted in her knee. Her therapy will be aggressive and all consuming. She's determined to get to Sochi and to reclaim her place as the gold medal favourite in Russia.
"The expectation is to immerse myself fully in this," she said. "I'm creating my own beautiful story.
"My unique comeback story of strength and determination and I just hope people can tune into it and to get inspired by what I'm doing."
Alpine racer Erik Guay has accomplished almost everything in his skiing career. He's won 19 medals on the World Cup circuit and seems bound to pass Steve Podborski as the most prolific Canadian racer of all time. Guay has also won the world downhill championship and has been a Crystal Globe winner as the season titlist in the super-G discipline.
But at the two Olympics he's competed at, he's only been agonizingly close to the podium.
At Torino in 2006, a knee injury two weeks prior to competition forced Guay out of the downhill. He went on to finish fourth in the super-G -- about a tenth of a second from the bronze medal.
Four years later in Vancouver, there were two fifth-place results in both the downhill and the super-G. In the latter, he missed a medal by about a hundredth of a second. Guay remains undaunted approaching what may be his last Olympic shot in Sochi. He's 32 and recovering from minor knee surgery that has kept him off snow in the lead up to this crucial campaign.
"It's been a challenging summer for me to say the least," Guay said. "At this moment, I do not feel extremely ready for Sochi, having not skied for over six months.
"But I feel like I have something to prove at the Olympics and I'm really looking forward to being in that start gate."
For each and every one of the athletes who undertakes this winter season, the end game is the same.
One field of play in the south of Russia is the ultimate destination and only by making the journey can the loftiest ambitions be considered.
All roads lead to the Olympics now and every athlete understands there's no turning back.
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Scott brings vast experience, passion and knowledge to his role as host of CBC's Sports Weekend on CBC. A 20-year CBC Sports veteran, Russell has covered nine Olympic Games and co-hosted Olympic Morning for Beijing 2008: The Olympic Games. The Gemini-Award winning broadcaster and acclaimed author has also worked as a host and rinkside reporter on Hockey Night in Canada and has covered triathlon, gymnastics, rugby, cross-country skiing and biathlon at several Olympic Games, Pan Am Games and Commonwealth Games.