They fell on the snow and they fell on the ice. They fell on flat tracks and steep hills. They fell on their backs and their hips and, most jarringly, at least one fell going as fast as she could.

The Olympics have long been about successes and reaching higher than anyone else. But getting to those heights sometimes means living on the edge. Even the best athletes at the Beijing Games understand that their gold medal dreams can end in an instant.

Mikaela Shiffrin found that out again on Monday. She started off too fast in the giant slalom, misjudged an early turn and fell. She was disqualified. But she will get up and try again.

Her teammate Nina O’Brien was almost across the finish line in the same race, traveling at full speed, when she lost control and endured a nasty crash. She left the course on a stretcher. O’Brien’s Olympics — and her season — were over. Just like that.

“This sport is so damn hard,” Shiffrin wrote on Twitter. “It’s brutal, and it hurts — far more often than it ever feels good.”

Sometimes, though, the falls don’t matter. The snowboarders who fell had more runs to try again. The short-track speedskaters had judges watching to see if the falls were their fault.

And among the many competitors who crashed to the ice in figure skating on Monday was the Russian pairs team of Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov. They were lucky, though: They were so far ahead, their tricks so hard and their skills so sharp, that they were able to get back up, keep on going and collect the gold medal.

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