SALT LAKE CITY — The last days of the 19th Winter Olympiad were filled with more great triumphs, impossible disappointments and unimaginable surprises. In other words, real Olympic moments — and I’m not talking about the musical entertainment at the closing ceremonies!

As the Winter Games concluded Sunday night, there was an overriding feeling of unity among the athletes and those present in the stadium. Music, as usual, was the unifying theme, and figure skating was a metaphor for expressing the freedom and diversity of our culture. Despite judging controversy, doping scandals, upsets and disappointing results (i.e. women’s and men’s hockey, curling, short-track relay, etc.) the Olympic experience still represents much more than gold medals, endorsements and national pride. It is also about adversity, the daily struggle and sacrifice, good sportsmanship no matter what the outcome and the courage to put oneself up for scrutiny. It is also about grand passion — not unlike the world of fashion.

The pressure and concern we felt for Michelle Kwan — particularly my friend Peggy Fleming and another Olympic great, Brian Boitano — were surpassed only by the shock and sadness of many in the skating world after her skate Thursday night.

Sarah Hughes was full of surprises, not the least of which was her lavender beaded dress, which she didn’t wear at practice that morning, opting instead for a long-sleeve black illusion costume (which everyone expected she’d wear that evening). But her skating transcended what she was wearing. Hughes skated the most difficult program ever by a woman in the history of women’s figure skating, with two triple-triple jump combinations, but she also performed with the speed, grace and effortlessness so prized by the skating community. She won her gold in every sense of the word with guts, glory and a lot of humility.

I came away from my first Olympics with a strong belief in the youth of today. Too often, we only hear of what’s wrong with young people in our society. Seventeen days of agony and ecstasy prove that it is possible for different nations to live, compete and overcome our differences. Perhaps sports — like fashion, music and film — is the link that binds us all.

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