Monday, February 22, 2010 at 5:00 PM

2010 Winter Olympics Update II

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Men’s 1000  and 1500 (long track)

Shani Davis defended his 2006 title by winning the 1000 in very impressive fashion. Unfortunately, despite being the world record holder in the 1500, he was unable to win Olympic gold in this event. Shani won silver.

It’s a shame Shani Davis is not more of a household name in America.  He’s clearly a very disciplined and polite, even if somewhat guarded, athlete.

Of course, with football, baseball, basketball, and many other sports competing for popularity, it’s understandable why Speedskating is virtually unknown here. But to the extent it is, I wonder why Shani does not get even one-tenth of the media coverage, to say nothing of the commercial endorsements, Apolo gets…

Short track, featuring Apolo Anton Ohno, is easily more exciting; not least because of the jostling and crashes involved. But there’s something very majestic about watching the strength and gliding form the men and women in long-track skating display

Snowboarding Men’s Halfpipe

Shaun White is to this sport today what Michael Jordan was to basketball in his prime.  What is most interesting about this is that White is almost as big outside of his sport as Jordan was. And it will only add to his stature that he won this event by performing superhuman tricks with such ease, including one he invented himself which nobody else dares even try.

Snowboarding Women’s Halfpipe

Alas, watching the women perform their tricks is about as exciting as watching female basketball players compete in a slam dunk competition. Having said that, it was great to watch Australian Torah Bright upset what was billed as a sure-fire sweep for team USA by winning gold.  Americans Hannah Teeter, the defending gold medalist, and Kelly Clark had settle for silver and bronze, respectively.

But the airing of Teeter’s personal profile was easily the redeeming feature of this event. It showed how she and her entire family fund a charity, which provides education schools and other social services to a small village in Kenya, with proceeds from her endorsements and earnings on the tour as well as from the sale of Vermont maple syrup.  How delightfully American is that!

Women’s Downhill

Lindsey Vonn lived up to the hype!  She won in commanding fashion.

She even dispelled rumors about her faking her injury by clearly favoring her injured shin all the way down and crossing the finish line virtually on one leg: a truly Jordanesque performance.  One down, four to go….

Men’s Figure Skating

Frankly, watching men compete in this sport is rather like watching women’s play football.  (On second thought, I actually enjoy watching play football, but for reasons having nothing to do with the quality of their play….)

In fact, the most interesting part of this event had to do with the controversy that erupted after American Evan Lysacek defeated Russian defending champion Evegeni Plushenko.  Because the fact that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin thought this warranted an official protest shows how much national pride is vested in these games.

But I know enough about this sport from watching the likes of Debbie Thomas, Katarina Witt, and Kristi Yamagouchi to appreciate what a good technical and artistic performance should look like. Therefore, even though Plushenko looked more athletic (performing his signature quad with relative ease), I think Lysacek’s combination of athleticism and artistry earned him the gold fair and square. But Plushenko insisted he was robbed.

In any event, I’m not sure why NBC thinks it’s good TV to feature trash talking by a guy dressed in tights, embroidered with feathers.  To his credit, Lysacek returned Plushenko’s sour grapes dripping with so much honey I could feel tooth decay setting in just watching it.

Women’s Super Combined

Unlike the Halfpipe, I find the women who compete in alpine skiing every bit as exciting to watch as the men. There’s no discernible difference between the sexes in the skill and daring involved. It’s great, scary stuff. And Maria Riesch of Germany, who won this event, proved it in gold-medal fashion.

Of course, just as Shaun White is the only name really associated with Snowboarding, Lindsey Vonn (on the women’s side) and Bode Miller (on the men’s side) are the only names associated with alpine skiing – on American TV that is.  For example, one could be forgiven for thinking that Vonn, not her teammate American Julia Mancuso, was the defending champion in the Women’s Downhill.  Yet Mancuso demonstrated her bona fides by outperforming Vonn to win silver in the Super Combined (a downhill and slalom run) behind Riesch. Vonn crashed. So much for emulating Michael Phelps…

Men’s Super-G

It is hard to top the pathos surrounding Bode Miller – who continued quest for redemption by winning a silver medal to add to his bronze in the downhill. But Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal comes close.

For here’s a guy who suffered what should have been a career-ending crash on the slopes in 2007.  So to see him outperform all competitors to rise to the top of the Olympic podium was truly heartwarming.  Yet the glib Bode can’t help himself. Because when asked to explain why the Americans are dominating so many events at these Games, he offered this pithy, and begrudgingly endearing, reply:

Aside from the fact that we’re just much better than everybody else . . .

Women’s Super-G

Well, with all due respect to Bode, the Americans are not as dominant as all that.  For skiers from Austria and Slovenia proved better in this event, winning gold and silver, respectively.  Vonn held on to win bronze.  But leave it to Vonn’s husband/coach to give us the first real manifestation of the ugly American at these games by accusing the Austrian course designer of making it “Vonn proof”:

I know for a fact that the Austrian course setter said that he was setting [the super-G course] against Lindsey, which is kind of silly, considering. I know he made a comment to some people that ‘we studied all the tapes, and we found out that the one from Val d’Isere is the one she did worst in,’ which happened to be third place.


Skating Men’s 1000 (short track)

Once again the talk was all about Apolo Anton Ohno’s quest to become the most decorated Winter Olympian in American history. But too often the commentators pushing this line neglected to mention the fact that Eric Heiden won five gold medals (in 1980 alone), and Bonnie Blair won five gold and one bronze (1988, 1992, 1994).

Whereas, with the bronze he won in this event (to surpass Bonnie in total medals won), Ohno’s seven medals are comprised of only two gold (2002, 2006), two silver (2002, 2010) and three bronze (two in 2006, one in 2010).  Not to mention that for the second race now he got smoked by the South Koreans – who won gold and silver in this event, and who would have shot him out of the silver he won a few days ago had they not suffered a freak accident just meters from the finish line.

Men’s Super-G Combined

Bode redeemed.  In what was a truly improbable outcome, he came from seventh place on the first downhill leg to first after the slalom.  And given the combined nature of this event, the gold medalist here can make a legitimate claim to being the best alpine skier at these Olympic Games.  Congratulations Bode!

Men’s Hockey …

Last night’s USA vs. Canada game had to have been the most hyped non-medal event of these Olympics.  And all it did was to seal the triumph of national pride over Olympic glory in every respect.

Frankly, to see the Americans celebrating their upset 5 to 3 win, and the Canadians mourning their surprising loss, you’d think they had just played the gold-medal match. Or, given that it came on the eve of the 30-year anniversary of the Cold-War gold medal match between the USA and Russia, a more fitting analogy might be that all involved were acting as if this were a second miracle on ice.

In fact, this was only a preliminary-round match, which means that even though the Americans won this battle, the Canadians can still win this war. And I’m betting on it. But, “woe Canada….”

Apropos jingoistic rivalries, who knew the Scandinavians were such a chest-thumping, trash-talking bunch? But the way the Norwegians and Swedes are going at each other over cross-country events makes the back and forth between the US and Canada over hockey seem positively schoolyard.

For the record though, since medal count is the only way to determine bragging rights: 1) The USA is kicking ass so far with 24 (including 7 gold, 7 silver, and 10 bronze);  2) Germany with 18 (6, 7, and 5);  3) Norway – so shut up Sweden?! – with 12 (5, 3, and 4); 4) Canada with 9 (4,4, and 1); and 5) South Korea tied with 9, and of same mix (4,4, and 1).

So much for Canada’s American-style boast about finishing number one in the medal count, eh!  And I’m sure the Norwegians would want me to point out that the Swedes are trailing way behind in 10th place with only 6 (3,1, and 2).

Related commentaries:
Olympics Update 1

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