Monday, January 2, 2012

Art on Ice: Sarah Meier

Because I wanted to open the New Year with an inspirational post to help you, dear reader, with your New Year’s Resolutions…

When Sarah Meier was growing up, it had been nearly twenty years since her native Switzerland produced a champion figure skater. That would be Denise Bielmann, who had the eponymous spin named after her and who captured the world championship in 1981. The country had produced dozens of world-class skiers and dominated the snow, but not the ice.

Meier at the 2002 Olympics
Enter Meier. At the age of 10 she was doing double jumps and was able to complete triples by age 13. (For reference, when I was 13, I was busy trying to point out the cultural references in the then-new sketch-com series In Living Color. I may not be young, or that athletically inclined as a child.) Coached by her aunt Eve Fehr, her career received ample support from her family and her skating federation. Meier subsequently captured the national figure skating title several times and went onto the junior figure skating ranks, where she performed respectably and medaled in several events.

By age 17, she had competed in her first Olympics and placed 13th. Her career started to peak in 2006, when she finished 8th in the Olympics, 6th at the world championships and captured the bronze medal at the prestigious Grand Prix Final, behind the future Olympic gold and silver medalists Yuna Kim of South Korea and Mao Asada of Japan, both of whom were making their senior debuts after years of conquering the junior ranks. In the next two years, Meier went on to win the silver medal at the European Figure Skating Championships and was a fixture on the international competitive scene.

Meier at the 2010 Olympics
By 2008, things started to unravel. A series of injuries kept Meier from reaching her potential and forced her to withdraw in several events. It didn’t help that the likes of Kim and Asada were soon joined by the likes of Miki Ando, Haruka Imai, Mirai Nagasu and other notable young skaters making splashy debuts on the world stage. By the 2010 Olympics, she had posted a 15th place finish and had sunk to 26th at the worlds just a month later. The long series of injuries took their toll and nearly brought an inglorious end to a once-promising career.

Meier persevered for just one more competitive season, vowing to end her career by winning the Europeans, which were set to take place in January 2011 in Bern, Switzerland. Meier decided it was appropriate to end her career where it began, on home soil, and make it a farewell performance. You can see her performance and the end result after the jump:

Meier with coach Eva Fehr, finding out she's become European Champion
“The atmosphere is incredible!” the announcer breathes excitedly. Consider that Meier was skating on home ice, within reach of the gold medal, and with her being the final competitor of the day, it was the chance to make a dream come true. Notice that the audience was wrapped up as if they were dressed for the outdoor winter and you wouldn’t be far off, considering that the venue was improperly heated and it was actually three degrees below zero. With the cowbells ringing and the deafening, nearly ceaseless applause, it made the victory that much more exciting for the fans. When Meier looked at her score and shrieked in shock and surprise, it was the culmination of a lifetime of sacrifice, injury, hard work and disappointment ending in indescribable joy. Exactly thirty years after Bielmann won the European and world title, Switzerland had its champion ladies’ skater again, at last. The adoration by coach Fehr, the applause, the fact that her coronation as European Champion had happened on home ice … no one could have scripted a better ending. Who says dreams don’t come true?

A year after her victory, Meier continues to be involved in the figure skating world. She is a talent director for Art on Ice (no relation to this blog) and skates in a number of shows, including fellow competitor Yuna Kim’s All That Skate spectacular. Except now when she skates, she is a headliner and will forever be billed as “European Champion Sarah Meier”. It’s like when they add “Oscar winner” to an actor’s name: no one will ever take it away. You can still her perform, albeit mainly in Europe, in a number of shows.

And with that, dear reader, please remember this story the next time you decide to give up on a New Year’s Resolution and ask: What would Sarah Meier have done?