- 20 Feb 2015
- IOC News
Darwitz relives her Olympic debut
The winner of two silver medals and a bronze in her three appearances at the Winter Games, US ice hockey player Natalie Darwitz made her Olympic debut as an 18-year-old on home ice at Salt Lake City 2002. In the latest instalment of our Words of Olympians series she recalls her experiences at the Games.
After taking up the game at the age of five and becoming an international while still in her teenage years, Minnesota-born forward Natalie Darwitz became a mainstay of the USA’s women’s ice hockey team. In a glittering international career that spanned more than ten years, she captained her country, won medals at each of the three Olympics she graced and collected three golds and five silvers at the world championships.
Gold eluded her at the Olympics, however, with neighbours Canada denying the Americans in the 2002 and 2010 finals, and Sweden edging them out in the semi-finals at Turin 2006, where Darwitz and her team-mates eventually took bronze.
Now making her way as a coach, having retired in the wake of her side’s 2-0 defeat to Canada at Vancouver 2010, Darwitz reflected on her Olympic career, looking back with special affection on Salt Lake City for two good reasons: “2002 was probably my favourite Olympics because it was my first one,” she explained. “I was 18 years old and I was lucky enough that it was in my home country in Salt Lake City, and for me it was a tremendous experience. First time to put on a jersey at the Olympics, first Olympics with my family, friends attended, so that was a very special Olympics for me, knowing the first game that I played in that I was now an Olympian for life. That’s pretty special.”
However, there was more to the XIX Olympic Winter Games than that. “I think my favourite memory of a game was in 2002,” she reflects. “We played Finland and I think it was in the semi-finals and it was such a fun Olympics,” she said. “I had a hat trick that game. I was only 18 and the reason I remember it is because I was a line with one of my best friends, Kirsty Wendall, and it’s more fun to go through a great memory when you’re with somebody that’s a good friend. And I think that stands out to me the most that we kind of had a great game together and we were all smiles, and then afterwards we got to see our family. And that to me is a memory that sticks out.”
Darwitz also has fond recollections of Vancouver 2010, playing in front of knowledgeable capacity crowds at the home of ice hockey, an experience she described as “phenomenal”. The final was not such a memorable occasion for her and her compatriots, with Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin scoring the only two goals of the game in the first period.
Though she won many honours during the course of her career, among them the Western Women’s Hockey League MVP accolade with the Minnesota Whitecaps in 2006/07 , nothing can come close to the Olympics as far as Darwitz is concerned: “For me personally, the Olympics are kind of the pinnacle of women’s hockey. I’ve played in world championships and tournaments but there is nothing that compares to the Olympic Games. The world stage, the atmosphere, all the excitement, it’s on TV nationally, worldwide: that to me is very special. To be surrounded by some of the best winter athletes in all these sports is something to be very proud of and very humbling, and so as a female Olympic hockey player there’s no greater level that you can get to than the Olympics.”