The Olympics are in full swing and I’m completely enthralled. We’re not quite halfway through, yet there is plenty to discuss. If you haven’t been watching, there’s still time to join the fun (hurry, before you miss all the speedskating). Allow me to get you caught up with a few moments I’ve deemed notable.
Lindsey Vonn winning gold on a bum leg. Yes, her injury had been all over the news, but she validated the attention with an inspiring performance. She battled and won. Her performance wasn’t even the best part. After her first place finish was confirmed, NBC interviewed Vonn as she barely held herself together. At the conclusion of the interview, NBC directed Vonn to her husband, Thomas Vonn, whom she couldn’t find. NBC’s camera stayed with her as she found and embraced Thomas. If ever you wondered how much the Olympics mean to these athletes, this was a perfect demonstration. Vonn fell into her husband’s arms and cried, just cried. For a good 25 seconds no words were spoken. None were needed. She finally had her medal, gold nonetheless, and her husband was there as years and years of trials, injuries, and hard work poured out on his shoulder. Her tears said it all.
Shaun White’s halfpipe performance. I’m not a fantastic snowboarder, and I’ve certainly never entered a halfpipe, but watching White perform is must see TV. Since the Olympics began, we’ve consistently heard about White training privately on his own halfpipe to protect the secrecy of his tricks. (In the middle of the mountains, accessible only by helicopter nonetheless. How crazy/awesome is that?) He’s a cult hero and arguably the United State’s most beloved Olympian. Despite all the media attention, I was worried that White may succumb to the hype. Athletes often buckle under pressure, especially when favored.
On Wednesday night my dad and I intently watched as the riders completed their respective first runs. White was the last to go. Throughout the evening, NBC’s commentators compared nearly every run to White; “Not good enough to beat Shaun. Need more air to contend with White.” Etc, etc… My dad was skeptical. I was nervous. White dropped in and finished his run flawlessly while clearly outperforming his competitors. My dad and I looked at each other. “Oh,” my dad said. I nodded. We didn’t speak. Instead, we just kept shaking our heads in amazement. The announcers weren’t over exaggerating, White’s just that good. It got better…
Because he officially won gold prior to his final run, White contemplated whether to attempt his run. His coaches encouraged him to do so and include his new trick. The crowd was silent with anticipation. The commentators we’re obviously thrilled. Even the other competitors looked on with excitement. White didn’t disappoint. He nailed his “McTwist,” or whatever you want to call it, and his encore performance scored two points higher than his original run. White proved his dominance in the half pipe. Not to be forgotten was the elation and celebration of White’s coaches prior to his final run. In preparing White for his final run, one coach encouraged Shaun to “Stomp the sh** out of it,” on National TV nonetheless. Classic.
White was far and away the top competitor. He was the outright favorite and was the most relaxed rider out there. His genuine excitement at winning gold was just as fun to watch. When my dad stares at the TV with an uninterrupted smile for several minutes, you know it’s a special moment. Shaun White is special, and he delivered.
Men’s Curling. Unfortunately, the United States men’s curling team has yet to win. Regardless, their defeats have been extremely entertaining and some of the most captivating events thus far. Each match contains strategy, amazing execution, and most importantly, suspense. The yelling and ridiculous “shooting” (?) form of the curlers adds an additional unintentional comedy aspect to the sport, so there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had. As exciting as their matches have been, the U.S. team, most specifically, caption John Shuster has struggled. Shuster missed a game clinching toss/curl/shot (whatever you call them) that would have defeated Norway. Shuster went on to miss two game-winning tosses/curls/shots against Switzerland after he and his team clawed their way out of a 0-4 deficit to take a 6-4 lead. What’s worse, all three misses came right after the commentators raved about how much Shuster enjoys the pressure of the last shot, especially with victory on the line. Now, I like Shuster. He seems like a nice guy. However, because I grew so passionate about the U.S. men’s curling team, I reacted poorly when he missed the final shot to lose to the Swiss. Following the shot, I tweeted this: “John Shuster’s Olympics are on par w/ Donovan McNabb’s performances in big games. All Shuster has yet to do is puke mid-competition.” I’m sorry John Shuster.
Men’s figure skating. Did I really watch it? Intermittently. Ok, ok, I watched it all, but in my own twisted way. Here’s how. I recorded the event as I watched Celtics-Lakers because I only wanted to see the final handful of skaters (those who were in contention for medals). Recording the event also allowed me to fast forward through the entire event at just the right speed; fast enough to cut my viewing time in half, yet slow enough to notice when a guy fell. Did I always stop and rewind to watch a spill in real time? You betcha.
Anyway, I watched the final skaters perform and thought the Japanese guy was the best despite an early tumble, but what do I know. I spent most of my energy asking why any man would allow himself to be seen in just about all of those outfits (feathers, seriously?). Male gymnasts still look masculine in their competition attire, so don’t tell me it can’t be done. Anyway, this is all beside my main point.
This morning, Elvis Stojko, of YAHOO! sports, declared that Evan Lysacek should not have won gold and Russian skater, Evgeni Plushenko was robbed. Based on their performances last night, I thought Lysacek’s routine was smoother. Again, I don’t know figure skating. According to Stojko, Lysacek’s routine was simpler and slower than Plushenko’s. Additionally, Plushenko successfully completed a “quad.” (By my count, he was one of few that attempted it, and the only one to land it. Do I know what a quad is? No, absolutely not. I just listened to the announcers.) While Plushenko landed his “quad,” Lysacek failed to even attempt one. (This is why I liked the Japanese guy the best. He tried and failed the “quad,” but still managed to put on the best routine, and according to the announcers, was flawless after his fall. I digress.)
Am I here to argue the judges’ decision? No. I simply agree with Stojko; that skating is headed down a dangerous path. A path where a routine without risk wins gold and a routine with the most technical, challenging moves in the sport is scored lower due to minor flaws. Champions should be crowned for being the best. Being the best requires successfully conquering the toughest challenges the sport has to offer. Plushenko did so, Lysacek did not. Thank you, Elvis Stojko, for making me aware of this travesty.
Courageous cross-country skiing performance. Slovenia’s Petra Majdic managed to win a bronze medal in the women’s individual sprint after falling three meters from the course in training. No big deal, right? Think again. After overcoming her pain to qualify for the race, Majdic gritted her way through the actual event and finished third. Upon crossing the finish line, Majdic collapsed and had to be carried off the course. Medical tests later revealed that Majdic competed with a collapsed lung and four broken ribs. Absolutely incredible.
Most people cannot cough peacefully with a broken rib let alone win a bronze medal in the Olympics. I wish I could stay up late enough to see this stuff. Yes I’m stuck in the year 2000 without a DVR. =)