Rekindling that Olympic spirit

Dr. David Silk, an emergency room physician at Harrison Hospital, placed sixth in the 5,000-meter speed skating event during the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. - Rogerick Anas
Dr. David Silk, an emergency room physician at Harrison Hospital, placed sixth in the 5,000-meter speed skating event during the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Alberta.
— image credit: Rogerick Anas

Dr. David Silk knows, better than most, what the Olympic spirit feels like.

He was a two-time Olympian, a speed skater who represented the United States at the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and the ‘88 Games in Calgary.

Silk will feel that spirit one more time.

The emergency room physician at Harrison Hospital has been selected as a torchbearer to help relay the Olympic flame through Washington on its way to Salt Lake City.

The 65-day, 13,500-mile journey through 46 states started in Atlanta, where the Games were last held on American soil, on Dec. 4. It’ll pass through the Seattle/Everett area on Jan. 23 or 24.

The Opening Ceremonies in Salt Lake are Feb. 8.

The goose bumps are already forming on Silk’s body.

“It’ll be cool just to touch the torch,” said Silk, a 36-year-old native of Butte, Mont. “I haven’t been around the Olympic thing in quite a while. It will be nice to be part of that Olympic spirit.”

Silk is one of 145 Washington torchbearers who are part of the national chain of 7,200 runners. Puyallup’s gold-medal winning swimmer Megan Quann is another. Some 210,000 were nominated by family members, friends or co-workers.

Silk’s wife, Lori, an ER nurse at Harrison, and his mother, Mrs. Helen Silk from Butte, encouraged him to apply for the honor.

An average of 180 torchbearers per day are carrying the flame two-tenths of a mile each.

That figures out to 352 yards.

On skates, Silk probably could cover that distance in about 40 seconds over a patch of ice.

Silk was what they call an “all-arounder” in skating, but he was best at longer distances. His specialty was the 5,000 meters.

An alternate at the ‘84 Games in Sarajevo, Silk was the U.S. all-around champ from 1985-88. His best season was 1986 when he placed fifth at the world championships and became the only American to win an overall World Cup speed skating title in a distance event (5,000).

Dan Jansen was the heart-breaking story during the 1988 Olympics. Silk had grown close to Jansen, coming up through the U.S. team ranks at the same time, even sleeping at Jansen’s home in Milwaukee, Wis.

Jansen had been the Olympic favorite in the 500 and 1,000 at Calgary. His sister, Jane, died the morning of the 500.

“Everybody was pulling for him that night,” Silk said.

Instead, he fell. A few days later, Jansen fell again in the 1,000.

Those were among the Olympic memories etched in Silk’s mind, but there were plenty of others, too.

“The Opening Ceremonies stand out,” he said. “It’s such an exciting moment. It’s the start of the games. There’s no pressure to compete. You’re just there to enjoy. The Opening Ceremonies were definitely a highlight.”

Mostly, Silk will never forget how close he came to winning an Olympic medal in Calgary. He placed sixth in the 500 and had top-15 performances in the 1,500 and 10,000.

“I wasn’t skating very good coming in,” Silk said. “I had poor world championship races in 1987 and had been spotty all of ‘88, but it all came together in Calgary.”

Especially in the 5000, where he skated 10 seconds under his personal best.

“That doesn’t happen very often,” Silk said. “I actually had the lead in time with five laps to go. I could have potentially hung in there for a medal. There were two seconds between sixth and the gold medal. It was very, very close.”

Silk continued to skate well at the 1988 world championships in Russia, placing third. That turned out to be his final competitive year. He did make the U.S. team in 1990 and skated in the world championships at Innsbruck, Austria, but his heart wasn’t in it. He also coached the junior national team in 1991.

Silk graduated from the University of Washington medicine school in 1996. He joined the ER staff at Harrison Hospital, where he splits time between the Silverdale and Bremerton campuses, after completing his residencey in emergency medicine at Michigan State in 1999.

The doctor rarely finds time to skate now. “Maybe two or three times a year when I go home to visit family,” said Silk, who started skating when he was eight in a community where elementary schools hold speed-skating competitions.

He’s proud to have been an Olympian.

“It’s a highlight of your life,” said Silk, who will be in Salt Lake City for the first week of the 2002 Games. “You have high goals for yourself, and if you achieve it, it’s an exciting time of your life. The feeling of being part of the Olympic community is kind of special. At the same time, you’ve got to get on with our life.”

Silk didn’t know he wanted to practice medicine until his skating days were over.

“I looked at career options and being a doctor was attractive to me,” Silk said. “It was something that involved long-time goals, something I could bury myself in for a while. I kind of like that kind of stuff.”

It was probably no coincidence that the Olympic speed skater felt at home in the emergency room.

“I like the setting of it,” Silksaid. “When you’re in a clinic, you practice a lot of medicine, but not hands on. In ER, you get to do procedures all the time. At times it can be pretty darn intense and pretty darn exciting.

“Compared to skating, the adrenalin rush of ER is pretty similar. I think it has something to do with why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

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