Thursday, February 14, 2002
Updated: February 16, 9:46 PM ET
Wilczak gets 'surprise' at finish line
PARK CITY, Utah -- A warm hug from her dad meant more to Becky Wilczak than an Olympic medal ever could.
Wilczak finished fifth Wednesday in the luge competition at the Salt Lake City Games, matching the highest ever by an American. She wasn't going back to Park Forest, Ill., with a medal dangling from her neck.
But Wilczak got something much better when she crossed the finish line and her ailing father, Tom, wrapped his arms around his only daughter.
"I was surprised to see him," she said. "I didn't know he was going to be there, and it was great to be able to give him a hug."
Wilczak, 55, has battled a rare liver disease for the last 14 years, and needs a transplant. He has been too sick recently to see his daughter's races and was only able to come to the Olympics after a plane was made available if he needed to get back to Chicago for surgery.
As Becky, 21, prepared for her final run, her dad steadied himself in front of a TV near the finish line.
"She can do it, she can do it. Now we pray," he said, making the sign of the cross.
Becky grabbed the bars in the starting gate, rocked back and gave a menacing stare at the track below.
"That's the face," Tom said.
She finished in 43.420 seconds, putting her in fifth place behind Austria's Angelika Neuner, and a German team that swept the medals.
With fans chanting, "U-S-A" and waving American flags, she pulled into the finish area, shrugged her shoulders and then saw her dad.
Tom Wilczak leaned over the wall and gave his daughter the hug -- a ritual they have practiced after races over the past 10 years.
"I was a little disappointed with my fourth run, and I said, 'Oh, dad'," she said. "And he said, 'Don't worry about it, I'm happy for you."
Tom Wilczak then went into a staging area to rest, stepping aside to allow his daughter to soak in the final moments of her first Olympics.
"I'm so happy he got to be here," she said. "He's been with me in this sport for the last 10 years. My family has been so supportive. This has been an amazing experience."