Probably a lot of you remember watching and/or have seen videotapes of Tai Babilonia/Randy Gardner's heartbreaking experience at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.
Tai and Randy were the five-time US champions and the reigning World champions. Granted, their 1979 World title was a bit tainted, as the longtime World and Olympic champions, Soviets Irina Rodnina/Alexandr Zaitsev, had taken the 1979 season off, as Irina had given birth to their first child. Still, Tai and Randy were at the top of their game, and an Olympic gold medal was a real possibility, and on their home ice, to boot.
Unfortunately, Randy pulled a groin muscle in a practice session a few weeks prior to the Olympics, and he had reinjured himself at a practice just a few days before the Olympic short program. He and his coach, John Nicks, kept the injury private. Tai was completely unaware that her partner was seriously injured.
Then, filmed on live television, Tai and Randy took to the ice for their short program warmup. They skated their side-by-side stroking movements cleanly and with power. Then they attempted a side by side double axel, and Randy crashed on the ice. They attempted it again, and Randy fell again. Clearly, something was wrong, and they skated to the boards to confer with Nicks.
They left the rink, and the competition began. When it was their turn to skate, Randy came out on the ice alone, skated around a bit, and attempted to land a double flip. Crash, down on the ice. He skated to Tai and their coach, and they withdrew from the competition.
Dick Button and Jim McKay were commentating for American television. Dick said, "My heart is in my mouth", and Jim replied, "I can hear it." After Dick announced the withdrawal he said. "I feel so badly for Tai and Randy. I don't feel badly because they are Americans, but because they had worked so hard for so many years, and they were finally in a position to show their talents to the world. What a luck of the draw!"
Many Americans (myself included) sent a telegram of sympathy and support to Tai and Randy. When I spoke to the operator at Western Union about an hour afterwards, she told me she and her staff had been "swamped" with calls from throughout the United States and Canada.
President Jimmy Carter called Tai and Randy to express his sympathy and concern.
It was truly a moment to reach for the Kleenex. I can't imagine how devastating this must have been for them. A year later, I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Ice Capades, where Tai and Randy, now professionals, skated the short program they had been unable to skate at Lake Placid. It was a great program - fast, clean, dynamic - and it brought everyone to their feet in a long, standing ovation.