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Saying Sorry: Hollingsworth Comforts Findlay After Olympic Disappointment

08/05/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 10/05/2012 05:12 EDT
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Many Canadians may wonder why triathlete Paula Findlay felt she had to apologize for her heart-wrenching last-place finish at the London Olympics.

Not Mellisa Hollingsworth.

Two years ago, she was in the same position as Findlay, carrying heavy Olympic expectations for Canada only to fall short. A mistimed corner turned a potential gold-medal performance by the skeleton slider into a fifth-place finish. In the emotional moments that followed, all she could do was say sorry.

At the time, Hollingsworth said she felt like she had let Canadians down.

But why?

"It's one of those things as an athlete you train your whole life for," she said in an interview Saturday night. "When you don't reach your potential and you make a mistake, you feel bad. That's how you got to be on the Olympic stage — it's because you are a perfectionist and you want to be the absolute best and you're good enough to be the absolute best.

"That's why you're so critical of yourself in those big moments, especially the Olympics when the emotions are so high anyhow."

Tears flowed from behind Findlay's wraparound sunglasses as she crossed the finish line Saturday, some 12 minutes behind the winner.

A hip injury had kept the 23-year-old Edmonton native from entering pre-Olympic races but never in her wildest dreams did she expect her race to be such a disaster. Findlay, once ranked No. 1 in the world, mouthed the words "I'm sorry" while finishing.

"I'm so sorry to everyone in Canada," she repeated during her post-race interview.

Findlay still felt apologetic the day after her race.

"I know how much time and money was invested in me and I wanted to make people proud," Findlay explained Sunday. "I know the sacrifices people made. (My race) was in the middle of the night at home and people stayed up to watch me.

"'Sorry' might be the wrong word but I was just so sad and that's what came out and that was the truth. It was what I felt in the moment and still what I feel. I was interviewed two minutes after I crossed the finish line so whatever I said was honest and what I was feeling in that moment."

Findlay says her e-mail and Twitter account exploded with people telling her she didn't need to apologize. Her teammate Simon Whitfield agreed with them.

"She's apologizing. It's so sad," he said. "She has nothing to apologize for. What courage she had in the last year to get to the start line, it's amazing.

"It's a lot of pressure and we care deeply how we do."

Findlay and Hollingsworth aren't the only athletes to apologize to Canadians after disappointing Olympic results.

Boxer Mike Strange delivered a heartfelt apology to his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont., after getting beat in the quarter-finals at the 1996 Games in Atlanta while Canadian coxswain Brian Price said he felt like he let "everybody down" when the men's eight rowing crew finished fifth in Athens in 2004.

At the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, kayaker Adam van Koeverden said all he had was an apology after finishing a shocking eighth in an event he was favoured to win.

Hollingsworth's heartbreaking moment came on home soil in Whistler. One of the top Canadian medal favourites entering the 2010 Olympics, she felt as though she let the "entire country down" after crashing heavily into the wall on a turn.

Her post-race apology touched a nerve across the country. Cards, letters and emails started pouring in immediately afterwards.

"It was amazing how Canada chose to be so compassionate when they saw that I made a mistake," said Hollingsworth.

"I don't regret apologizing even though pretty much every Canadian who has reached out to me said 'Don't apologize,"' she added.

On Saturday, Hollingsworth had a chance to return some of that goodwill. Triathlon press officer Chris Dornan worked with Hollingsworth during the 2010 Games and brought Findlay's comments to her attention because they sounded so much like her own.

Even though the two have never met, Hollingsworth sent Findlay an email "right away."

"What I said to her was: 'This is sad and this is disappointing, of course. But honestly it's these times that make us tougher and at some point in time, whenever that is, you will look back and realize I needed to go through that,"' said Hollingsworth. "I needed that type of experience so that I could gain perspective.

"Whether she continues to go on in her Olympic career or whatever path she chooses after this, nothing else will be near as heart-wrenching and hard as that."

Said Findlay: "To hear from her was very cool."

In Hollingworth's case, she has elected to go on.

The 31-year-old from Eckville, Alta., plans to compete in skeleton at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia and has started competing professionally in rodeo during the summer. Earlier this year, she even won a World Cup event at the same Whistler track where her Olympic dreams were dashed.

She now views that heartbreak as a defining moment in her life.

"As an athlete, I think it matured me. As a person, it matured me," said Hollingsworth. "I'm actually glad that it happened now that I look back on it. With everything that I've learned from it, I wouldn't change it."

One day, Findlay might know exactly how she feels.

— Donna Spencer contributed to this report.

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