Death is a topic at Sochi Olympics

These games have a lot of talk about personal loss.

Original blog by NATE CARLISLE @natecarlisle at The Salt Lake Tribune

Amongst the praise and excitement for the American sweep in men’s slopestyle skiing, an NBC announcer mentioned the father of Utahn and gold medalist Joss Christensen died last year.

I turned to my wife and said, “They found another one.”

Women's Skeleton at Sanki Sliding Center

KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA – JANUARY 14: Noelle Pikus-Pace celebrates after winning the silver medal in the women’s skeleton competition at Sanki Sliding Center during the 2014 Sochi Olympics Friday February 14, 2014. Pikus-Pace finished with a time of 3:53.86. (Photo by Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Like a lot of people in Utah, my wife and I have been watching the Winter Olympics every evening. After a few nights, I noticed a disproportionately high number of mentions about death.

A lot of athletes seem to have suffered the loss of a loved one, be it a parent (Christensen), a sibling (Bode Miller) a coach (Patrick Chan) or a teammate (just about every Canadian and freestyle skier who knew Sarah Burke).

Apparently, I’m not the only one who noticed this. On Saturday, Los Angeles Times media critic Steven Zeitchik published a column criticizing NBC anchor Meredith Vieira. During her interview with Utah skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, Vieira suddenly brought up how Pikus-Pace had a miscarriage.

“… The discussion was,” Zeitchik wrote, “the product of an Olympics TV culture that often puts emotional point-scoring above the other kind of point-scoring — you know, the one on the course or rink.”

Zeitchik went on to write: “We’ve gotten used to broadcasters imposing personal arcs on stories of Olympic achievement, the trotting out of hardship to make more meaningful (though in fact to cheapen) a genuine athletic feat. This new strain of getting athletes to talk about a death is a troubling extension of that. At best they’re questions that make everyone feel squirmy. At worst, they trade in a kind of emotional voyeurism.”

But in doing some research, I found NBC isn’t the only one discussing death. The Salt Lake Tribune mentioned Pikus-Pace’s miscarriage, too. ESPN, USA Today and The Washington Post have all published stories on their websites making some mention of a death relevant to an athlete.

I found similar stories from the Associated Press, Reuters and the Agence France-Presse — three wire services whose content is published or broadcast by thousands of news outlets across the world.

Here is a running spreadsheet of athletes at the Sochi Olympics who have been associated with the death of someone.

Did I miss a story? Email me at or tweet to @natecarlisle.

Nate Carlisle is The Salt Lake Tribune’s military reporter and a lifelong sports fan.


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