Here’s what I hate about the Olympics …
Or maybe it’s just what I hate about American sports culture, where all of these athletes are invisible in the years between each quadrennial glitzfest …
An athlete can strive for years and become the best in the world, winning all sorts of international competition. But those competitions are hardly mentioned in the U.S. media. It all comes down to the Olympics.
And we’re so cynical in this country. “Oh, that person in all the ads didn’t medal? Must be overhyped. Or a choker. Major fail.”
Some athletes can come back four years later to try again. Some only get one shot.
In Kikkan Randall’s case, she’s the best freestyle sprinter in the world. But cross-country alternates between freestyle and classical in each Olympics. So her best event comes every EIGHT years.
Eight years. And it comes down to 0.05 seconds.
That’s the margin that kept Randall out of the sprint semifinals. She led her heat — featuring sprint stars Marit Bjoergen and Denise Herrmann — most of the way. When the big two went past in the stretch, she still seemed to be line to advance as a “lucky loser.” Then Italy’s Gaia Vuerich stretched past her. Not lucky at all.
These things happen. Everyone has a bad day. Freestyle skiers and snowboarders wipe out on jumps they land 80 percent of the time. Downhill skiers miss a little bump in the snow that costs them precious time. Endurance athletes misjudge their pace and give out of gas in the stretch.
All you can do about it and remind people how many GOOD days someone like Randall has had. She’s not overhyped. She’s a champion.
And that’s why I’ve spent years pushing for more attention to the things these athletes do outside the Olympics. (Maybe it would help if people would read this blog between Olympics! Or if we’d get major TV coverage of big events. The former is probably a little easier.)
Another hyped American, Sarah Hendrickson, also will be ranked far down the list. But she’ll have several Olympics ahead of her. And unlike Randall, she knows why her body let her down today. She blew out her knee a few months ago and never felt comfortable on it. She’s one of her sport’s pioneers, beautifully symbolized by her jump to open the first Olympic women’s ski jump today. Not the farthest jump of the day, but it was breathtaking.
Randall is also a pioneer. She’s pushing the new-ish discipline of cross-country sprinting, representing a new wave of athletes and new wave of Americans with dignity and heart. Let that be her legacy.
And don’t let this be a much of Ameri-centric melancholy. Every time some scrappy American wins an unexpected medal, some other country’s version of Kikkan Randall or Danny Davis sees something slip away. Somewhere, some Russian and German luge sliders are wondering how Erin Hamlin figured out the Sochi track so well. The Czech Republic’s Gabriela Soukalova will rue the letdown that saw Slovenia’s Teja Gregorin get away from her. Canada’s Kaya Turski and the USA’s Keri Herman will have to be happy for their teammates in slopestyle. Norway’s Marit Bjoergen … well, look, she can’t win everything, right?
If those athletes are better celebrated in their host countries, not just every four years but each year, terrific. Maybe we’ll catch up in the USA one day.
On to today’s medal count update and other bests and worsts:
The original medal projections were: Norway 39, USA 35, Canada 30, Russia 26, Germany 23, Austria 22, South Korea 15, Netherlands 14, France 12, Switzerland 11, Sweden 10
If the rest of the projections were to come true, the final medal count would be: Norway 34, USA 31, Canada 29, Russia 28, Austria 23, Germany 21, Netherlands 18, France 13, Sweden 13, South Korea 11, Switzerland 11
USA (-4 today, -4 overall): Yeah, it was a rough day. Shaun White had the top score on halfpipe (95.75), but he did it in qualifications. The much-maligned halfpipe in the Russian mountains chewed up several contenders, including the Americans.
Then you had Randall, Hendrickson and Heather Richardson all missing projected medals. Richardson was a shaky pick, though — the 500 isn’t her best event.
The good news: Erin Hamlin’s luge breakthrough and Devin Logan’s sharp silver in slopestyle.
The wacky news: The U.S. curling teams remain winless through five total games, but they lost one in style giving up a record seven points in one end. U.S. skip Erika Brown put it this way: “We knew if she got three it was doomsville, so it didn’t matter if she got three or seven. We were all in at that point.” USA Curling’s Terry Kolesar sportingly tweeted a picture showing how it happened:
Russia (-2 today, +2 overall): Back to Earth a little bit with disappointments in cross-country skiing and ski jumping.
Slovenia (+2 today, +1 overall): Great day at the Nordic venue, with bronze medals in biathlon and the women’s cross-country sprint.
RIGHT ON TARGET
Germany picked up the expected three medals today, with Carina Vogt’s ski jump making up for the lack of a sweep in women’s luge. Canada took two instead of one in women’s slopestyle and now has nine medals, one off the projected 10.
Best read: My former colleague Erik Brady put Kikkan Randall’s day in focus: “This is the flip side of joy, what it feels like when the dream disappears.”
Best near-misses (USA): Sophie Caldwell powered her way to the cross-country sprint final, and Susan Dunklee got as high as fourth in the biathlon before missing some shots.
Best halfpipe-construction insult: Danny Davis snapped a picture of organizers trying to “polish the turd.”
Most studious athlete: Figure skater Jeremy Abbott, who put the USA in a early hole in the team event, has left the Olympic Village to have less fun and more focus. And you thought it was hard to tear yourself away from the keg parties to study in college.
Speaking of the Olympic Village: Watch for falling lampshades:
— MoniKa Platek (@MonikaPlatek) February 11, 2014
Best reason to set the DVR: The Colbert bump!
In addition to all the great action from Sochi, we want everyone to tune in to @ColbertReport at 11:30 ET tonight! Some special guests…
— US Speedskating (@USSpeedskating) February 11, 2014
Best figure skating moment: German pair Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy deserve a medal for their Pink Panther routine.
Best crowd: Yeah, women’s ski jumping … no one will go for it …
— USSA Nordic (@USSA_Nordic) February 11, 2014
Best “Where’s Waldo?” impression: Christine Brennan captured Sarah Hendrickson in flight. Or so she says.
World champion Sarah Hendrickson becomes 1st woman ski jumper at the Olympics. She's the dot on the right. Trust me. pic.twitter.com/KliyEUfPIt
— Christine Brennan (@cbrennansports) February 11, 2014
Scariest moment: Ever wonder what would happen if Evel Knievel fell short of the landing ramp? Canadian freestyle skier Yuki Tsubota could probably answer.
Worst analysis: Shaun White lost? Gotta be the hair.
Worst injury news: Liechtenstein’s medal chances (yes, they exist — both the country and the medal chances) took a big hit when Tina Weirather withdrew from the downhill.
(No Storify recap today. They’re a little awkward, don’t you think?)
(corrected — earlier version duplicated men’s sprint results as women’s sprint results. Apologies to Slovenia.)