TAIPEI, Taiwan — When 19-year-old Maggie Lee fell on her first run and missed one of the first gates, it felt like the abrupt end to her first Olympics.
The Taiwanese teenager, who competes under her Chinese name, Lee Wen-Yi, was already an unlikely candidate for the Winter Olympics. Taiwan is a subtropical island that only sees snow in its high mountains – and only sporadically. So the only times Lee could ski was during school vacations, when she traveled to Japan with her ski instructor parents.
She then trained in Europe, and her father would drive her to competitions, zigzagging between countries.
Standing on top of Yanqing Hill on Wednesday morning, on the biggest stage of her career, she thought something might go wrong. But she still didn’t expect to fall.
“I actually didn’t expect to fall so fast. It was only the third target in my first run,” she said. “I worked so hard for so long. I thought it wasn’t OK.
“So I decided to get up and go back up.”
And she did.
Lee climbed the hill, in full ski gear, one step at a time, until she reached the door she missed, which she then hit with her body.
And then she finished her run.
And then she went for the rematch, knocking on every door.
“I thought to myself, can I climb like that at the Olympics?” she said.
Many other competitors were disqualified after missing gates in Wednesday’s competition, including American skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who was among the favorites to win multiple medals at these Olympics.
Lee’s assessment: Most competitive athletes wouldn’t choose to climb because they’re focused on their times and their medals. Lee, however, is the first female slalom skier to represent Taiwan at the Games, competing as Chinese Taipei. She never sought to win a medal, she says, but simply to “ski beautifully”.
Since Wednesday, she has been overwhelmed by the positive response on the internet in Chinese and English, after media outlet Eurosport posted a video of her fall and rise on social media, calling her an example of ” the Olympic spirit”. The video went viral, with over 20,000 people liking the post. It was also quickly picked up by Taiwanese media.
“Sheer tenacity! That’s what makes the Olympics special,” wrote one Facebook user.
“With this type of spirit, even if she doesn’t win, I still feel very, very proud,” wrote another.
And was she satisfied with the result? This added about 15 seconds to her time and she finished in 50th place.
“I was made famous by a fall,” she joked. But she was satisfied.
Follow Huizhong Wu, a Taiwan-based Associate Press reporter, on Twitter at http://twitter.com/huizhong_wu