TURIN, Italy -- One of the great things about this job is that you get to meet interesting people and gain unique perspective. You get to know athletes in a different way, see them for what they are rather than how the public perceives them. You see them away from the cameras and the spotlight.
Take my new friend, Katarina Witt.
When people were watching Sasha Cohen fall on her fanny Thursday night, I had a ringside seat alongside my own personal analyst. Just Kat and me. There may have been a few thousand other fans there, but who cared about them?
For two hours, Kat and I sat next to one another watching the event. Imagine going to the seventh game of the Yankees-Red Sox World Series and sitting alongside Babe Ruth. The only difference was this babe is slightly better looking than that Babe. And Ruth never won a gold medal, let alone two. Oh, and he never posed for Playboy Magazine. (For that we're eternally grateful.)
How do I put this without sounding sexist? Kat, as she prefers to be called, is drop-dead gorgeous, a knockout. On a scale of 10, she's a 35. And she's engaging, intelligent, witty, cool. Wayne Gretzky may have had the best combination of star athlete/personality in sports, but Witt knocks him down to Bruce Smith's level. Ask yourself this: Who has been Googled more?
This gig takes you to special places, but nobody would have guessed I'd spend an evening at the Palavela for the world's biggest figure skating event with the most famous figure skater in the world. Incredible. When I was 17 and she was skating in the 1984 Games, she was my dream girl.
She allowed me into her world for two hours in what was, for me, the rarest of Olympic moments. She explained how the new scoring system worked because it gave judges a base from which to work.
They were adding points to scores rather than taking them away, encouraging them to look for positives rather than negatives when scoring a routine.
Cohen was clearly nervous after falling twice in warm-up, but Witt explained the importance of allowing your body to take over your mind. It's all about muscle memory and having confidence in your ability. So when Cohen was getting her final boost from her coach before her program, Witt understood the immense pressure.
"In a sense, it does make you nervous," she said. "It's a mind game. It's something mentally where you say, 'I can do it.' In the last group, it's about who is mentally the strongest. I loved performing."
And I loved listening to her. We watched Cohen tumble around, and Witt groaned along with the rest of the spectators. She splits her time between Germany and the United States these days, and was in town as a commentator for German television.
You felt bad for Cohen when she fell? So did Witt. She was heartbroken watching the American stumble out of gold-medal contention moments into her free skate.
"She had enough speed and she was high enough," Witt said. "I have no idea what went wrong on her first jump. Everything looked fine until she fell."
Kat, isn't that usually the case?
Together, we watched Japan's Shizuka Arakawa gain momentum with every jump, sticking one landing after another and bringing Kat to her feet.
"She was flawless," Kat said. "Her jumps were beautiful, the choreography, everything was just terrific."
At one point, after I mentioned that Arakawa had a minor hiccup on her way to the gold medal, Witt swatted me with her paperwork. She joked how sportswriters always point out the negative.
Hey, Kat, it wasn't me who botched the landing. At one point she got up to leave, placing her fur coat on the seat.
"Guard that seat with your life," she said with a smile.
No sweat, Kat. Upon her return, I told her I fought off a mob of angry reporters to save the seat. "You did?" Kat said. "Oh, I can see the blood all over your face."
Kat spent half the night trying to watch skating, with her coat draped on her lap, while people fawned all over her. Three times, people from a television station in England stopped to triple-check she would do a post-event interview. Couldn't they see we wanted to be left alone?
And so it went. Kat and me, hanging out, talking salchows. Immediately after the event, as people began filing out of the building, Kat grabbed her coat and began walking away before turning back.
"Good night," she said. "Thanks for everything."
And that was that. But as Witt disappeared into the night, it occurred to me that I was not losing my dream girl after all. My real dream girl was 4,700 miles away, putting four kids to bed while I'm here having fun.
Her name is Sharon. On a scale of 10, she's a 50.
Dreams do come true. Thanks, Kat.