Heading into the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, two of the emotional favorites for a gold medal were clearly American hockey players Julie Chu and Meghan Duggan. Having both won the Clarkson Cup and the IIHF World championships, a gold medal would have granted them access to the Triple Gold Club.
Both Chu and Duggan received a significant amount of media attention in the build-up to Sochi. Along with Hilary Knight, the three were part of a hockey demonstration at Times Square in New York City. Chu was part of several advertising campaigns with Bounty Paper Towels (which also included her mother) and CITI Bank. Knight and several teammates were part of a photo spread in People Magazine, while Cosmopolitan called Duggan the toughest competitor in hockey.
This remarkable amount of media exposure for the US women’s team generated during the lead-in to Sochi is a strong sign of the positive growth that the sport has experienced. It is certainly attributed to the efforts of modern-day hockey heroines such as Chu and Duggan.
While a sullen silver medal is not the way that Chu and Duggan envisioned their finish in Sochi, it does not diminish the strong legacy that either one has built. It is unfair for any player to have their careers defined by one sixty-minute game that occurs every four years.
There is so much that goes on in between that four year period, the larger picture is sometimes more impactful than a brief snapshot in time that sometimes places an unfair burden on athletes the world over. Although it is impossible to truly define, let alone understand how extremely dejected the US must have felt after the loss, Chu and Duggan set a leadership tone by maintaining a brave face while holding back tears during the medal ceremony. Their stoicism and the quiet dignity that they maintained themselves with is testament to their professionalism.
The reality is that it was highly possible less than two years ago to believe that Duggan may not have even been part of the Sochi roster. One of the greatest players in the history of the Wisconsin Badgers hockey program, having played for Miracle on Ice member Mark Johnson, Duggan shaped a dynasty with the Badgers that was reminiscent of another sports dynasty in the state, the Green Bay Packers football powerhouse of the 1960s. After her glorious run with the Badgers, including three Frozen Four titles, no one could have foreseen how her career would be derailed.
After a concussion forced her out of action for nearly a year, in which activities such as reading and watching television were too painful, it would have been easy to just walk away from the game. The fact that Duggan was able to come back and play again is a remarkable story that is far more monumental than any victory on-ice.
Complemented by the fact that part of Duggan’s comeback included a Clarkson Cup victory with her hometown Boston Blades, and the opportunity to be named captain for the United States contingent at Sochi, she proved that she was highly worthy of the moniker that Cosmopolitan bestowed upon her. What she managed to accomplish despite overcoming such incredible odds makes Duggan, the 2011 Patty Kazmaier Award winner, a true champion.
Having competed with the US national team since the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, an elusive gold medal was definitely the focus for Chu. Considering the gold medal game in Sochi went to a very visceral overtime frame, it was definitely one of those rare moments where many fans wish that there could have been a tie so that both Canada and the US could have shared the gold.
In looking at Chu’s remarkable body of work, she is a once-in-a-lifetime player whose list of accomplishments and accolades are beyond compare. From graduating as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer (since broken) to becoming the first visible minority to serve as captain for the US National Team, it was a feat that helped to challenge the cultural norm.
As an inspiration for all visible minorities to pursue their dreams, her hockey legacy would reach new heights as one of the most decorated champions in the history of the Clarkson Cup. In addition to becoming the first visible minority to win the Clarkson Cup in 2010, she would later become the first player to claim the coveted prize three years in a row. Adding luster to the growing history of a treasured prize such as the Clarkson Cup is part of a spectacular chapter in which her dedication to competing in Canada knows no borders.
While the sands of time shall slowly shift towards an inevitable end to their international careers, no one can deny that the admiration and respect that both Chu and Duggan have garnered over the years shines so much brighter than gold. As Duggan plans toward a medical career, and Chu gives back to the game as a coach, what these two have managed to accomplish in their storied careers makes them gold medalists in life.
Photo credit: Martin Rose, Getty Images Europe