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The Doctor Is in the Olympics


Elsa Desmond, of Ireland, prepares to start for the luge women's singles run 1 at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing.(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
The Doctor Is in the Olympics
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Elsa Desmond knows she is not going to win a medal at the Beijing Winter Olympics. She is not even expecting to place in the top half of the competitors.

But Desmond is competing as the first women’s luge Olympian from Ireland. And she feels like she has already won.

In the sport of luge, athletes race small sleds down an ice track at very high speeds. Luge athletes are called sliders.

Desmond will not be in China for long. She competed on Monday in the opening night in the women's luge event and she is expected to leave on Friday. She plans to return to work in Ireland on Saturday as a doctor. She has delayed parts of her job to compete in the Olympics.

“As the founder of the modern Olympics said, ‘It’s not about who wins, it’s about the fight to get there,’” Desmond said.

Although she will not win in Beijing, she has already won some fights. She had been given many reasons why she could not compete: she is too short, she did not start sliding at a young age, and she could not balance a medical job with competing in a sport.

The biggest difficulty simply might have been that Ireland did not have a luge organization. So, she started one herself.

And now, officially, she is a luge Olympian.

She was the 26th sled to cross the line in the first run of the women's race on Monday night. At that point, she was in 26th place — faster than none of the other athletes. That did not matter to her. She celebrated with a large smile on her face.

By the end of the night, she was the last in the competition in the 34th place.

“I have another job, I have to self-fund, I have all these really visible challenges,” Desmond said. “But I think everyone’s worked as hard as they can to be here.”

Elsa Desmond, of Ireland, slides during the luge women's singles run 1 at the 2022 Winter Olympics (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
Elsa Desmond, of Ireland, slides during the luge women's singles run 1 at the 2022 Winter Olympics (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Desmond is a doctor in general surgery at Ireland’s Southend University Hospital. Her hospital gave her the time off. And her co-workers are becoming big luge fans.

The hospital’s chief medical officer, David Walker, said her co-workers are “immensely proud of her.”

Desmond has balanced two very demanding jobs. She has been sliding a few months out of the year. And she has been starting a life in medicine. There was a time last season when she had to take important examinations in hotels in Latvia and Germany where other sliders were staying.

“I had to stick signs on my door saying ‘Do not disturb, exam in progress’ in about six different languages,” Desmond said.

Some sliders have even asked Desmond medical questions.

“I try to say I’m not on duty,” Desmond said.

Desmond got the honor of representing her country in Beijing. She also was given the honor of being one of two people holding Ireland’s flag during the opening ceremony on Friday.

“I really was not expecting this, especially at my first Olympics,” Desmond said. “I don’t think I can put into words how excited I am to lead out the team. I really hope that I…make my country proud.”

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dan Novak adapted this for VOA Learning English from reporting by The Associated Press.

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Words in This Story

sled –n. a small vehicle that has a flat bottom or long, narrow strips of metal or wood on the bottom and that is used for moving over snow or ice

immense adj. very great in size or amount

disturb v. to prevent someone from working or sleeping; to interrupt or bother

proud — adj. very happy or pleased with something you or someone else has done

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