LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Tai Babilonia never hesitated.
When the call came to invite her to Lake Placid for the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Winter Olympics – the location of one of the most disappointing nights of her career where she and her partner Randy Gardner were supposed to win medals but were ultimately unable to compete – Babilonia didn't think long before accepting.
For her, a trip to the Adirondacks this week was therapy.
"I'm at peace with what happened," said Babilonia, now 60. "I can't run away. It's our story."
Babilonia and Gardner were the reigning world champions and five-time defending US champions in pair skating, and their event on February 16, 1980 in Lake Placid was supposed to be a showdown that would draw parallels to the background story of the US hockey game against the Soviet Union less than a week later , Babilonia and Gardner would duel the Soviet powerhouse Irina Rodnina and Aleksandr Zaytsev that night.
However, Gardner was injured less than two weeks earlier. He tried to run through the groin injury on the night of the competition, but was basically unable to stay upright even while warming up. Babilonia and Gardner had to withdraw and the Soviets crossed to gold.
It haunted the Americans for years, maybe decades, maybe still.
"I knew in my heart that I wanted to come back and thank this beautiful city of Lake Placid," said Babilonia when she performed with other members of the 1980 US figure skating team. "That night was so confusing. I am sad that the city and you all helped us get through. That's why I'm back.
"I hug what happened. I know it sounds crazy with the injury and the retreat and you know, but that's our story. That is our story. Over the years and through many therapies, I have learned to accept this incredibly crazy evening. Everything happens for a reason and there is nothing you can do. "
This evening was just the beginning of many nights that were very difficult to manage for Babilonia – sometimes nights that were too difficult.
Babilonia and Gardner – Tai and Randy, easiest to call, and the Los Angeles Times once called them TaiandRandy to show how inseparable they were – went pro after the 1980 Olympics. They were stars in the ice capades, but Babilonia soon faced serious demons. She fought depression, misused alcohol and pills, and tried to commit suicide in 1988.
She is not hiding from any aspect of her story.
"I speak motivationally with middle school students to inspire people, especially children," said Babilonia. "There is so much going on for the teenagers and they are everywhere. They are learning to set goals and I tell them it wasn't just rainbows and unicorns. There were some crappy days."
This week's 40th anniversary celebration in Lake Placid was not one of them.
Gardner decided not to participate – "He has his reasons and nobody should judge," said Babilonia – so she was without her partner in Lake Placid. But he was with her in 2005 for the 25th anniversary and they finally ran that night on the ice of the Olympic Center.
"I have my closure," said Babilonia. "I just wanted more. And I'm very happy to be back. "