As Julie Chu accepted what could be her last Olympic medal, a roar of cheers erupted from the crowd in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday.
The 31-year-old former assistant women’s ice hockey coach at Union College flashed a bittersweet smile, then turned to acknowledge the recognition. She put her arms in the air briefly before turning back toward the medal ceremony.
A little earlier, the U.S women’s hockey team had lost to Canada in overtime, 3-2, settling for silver instead of gold.
At Union, where Chu spent three years coaching, the game was of heightened interest, especially among members of her former team who gathered at Messa Rink to watch.
College administrators also braced for a crunch of students tuning into the game online, via the campus network. Students streaming Olympic coverage earlier in the week left the network clogged and there was concern that a popular game featuring a former coach could exacerbate the issue.
“I am asking that people refrain from watching the Olympics via streaming over the Internet as the congestion experienced [Wednesday] affected normal business activity, both on and off campus,” said Ellen Yu Borkowski, the college’s chief information officer, in an email to students Thursday.
As part of a solution, the college streamed Olympic coverage into the Reamer Campus Center and urged students to watch the action there during their breaks.
But the storybook ending many had hoped “Chuey” would realize unraveled in the last minutes of the game.
Chu came to Union in May 2010 after enjoying a formidable career at Harvard University and with three Olympic medals on her resume, a bronze and two silvers. A three-time All-American, she shattered offensive records for Harvard and in the NCAA.
Chu resigned from Union in March 2013 in an effort to train for the Olympics. Her hard work paid off when she was invited to the Lake Placid camp in June and was named to the team along with 11 other returning players in January.
The oldest player on the squad by three years, Chu fit in well with the U.S. team. Though she put up just an assist in five games, her blend of skill and leadership became a source of inspiration for fans and teammates alike.
“Julie’s been everything to the program,” U.S. coach Katey Stone said in an interview with USA Today. “She’s been a youngster, she’s been a mentor, she’s been a captain, a leader, a great friend, teammate and mother to the younger kids in the program.”
After the loss, Chu’s Facebook page quickly filled with praise. Many lauded her and her team for being an an inspiration.
“Dry your tears, hold your heads high, and continue to be outstanding ambassadors for your sport,” wrote one poster.
On Twitter, Chu offered thanks to all her supporters. She also gave a small shout-out to the players that became her family in Sochi.
“Thank you everyone for the overwhelming support this entire Olympic Games,” she wrote. “I am so blessed to be a part of this team. My sisters.”