The men's downhill is the marquee event of the Winter Olympics. It is the 100 meters of winter sports, and the gold medal winner is the fastest man on the mountain.
Unlike the Summer Game, which work their way up to the 100 meters like a crescendo, the Winter Games put the men's downhill right near the start, as if to start with the loudest bang. Blink, and you've missed it.
It is unforgiving event. One run, no second chances. Bad start? Crappy weather conditions? One bad turn? Tough luck. No excuses. It starts with a bang, but like bang, it's over in an instant. This is why some of the greatest skiers in the history of the world failed to win a gold medal in men's downhill. This is a sport that embraces chaos.
There's been a recent influx of "extreme sports" in the Winter Games, which is cool, I guess. If a new sport is popular, then by all means it should be added to the program. But let's not kid ourselves about what is extreme. Downhill skiing is flying down a mountain at around 85 MPH on two planks of wood strapped to your feet. It is pure speed and it is truly terrifying. It is man pushing himself to the ultimate limit, risking life and limb. Literally.
The Favorite: Norway
The talk on NBC makes it sound like Bode Miller is the hammer of the gods, but he is ranked sixth in the World Cup standings for men's downhill. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway has almost twice as many points as the third ranked skier, but he hasn't completely put away Hannes Reichelt of Austria, who is not competing in Sochi.
Austria has traditionally dominated this event, which makes sense, what with the Alps and all. In the 17 prior Olympics with the downhill, Austria has won 17 medals, six of them gold. They have never gone longer than two Olympiads without winning the men's downhill gold and what do you know? The last Austrian winner was 2002, so Austria must be due.
The Winner: Austria
Sure enough, the Austrians came through. You cannot argue with math! Matthias Mayer put down an early great time, and no one could match it. Skier after skier flew down the hill, only to fall just short. Svindal seemed like he was going to catch Mayer, but he kept bleeding time by what seemed to be a thousand paper cuts.
Miller actually built a pretty big lead over Mayer at the top of the hill, but the lead dissipated the middle section, as Bode seemed to be all over the place. I actually like that style, as it seems he really puts the throttle down the whole way, consequences be damned. Unfortunately, it also means he can't always keep the tightest lines in the world. Give Bode credit, he is a blast to watch. You'd rather a guy lose out on the podium by taking too many risks than not enough.
Nothing yet. The NHL wrapped up on Saturday so most of the players were flying to Russia today. There is some women's hockey going on, which is a methadone drip for us heroin addicts. I don't want to knock women's hockey, which has gotten a lot better, but it still just killing time for the USA-Canada matchup. No one else is a serious contender for the gold.
Next sport: Short Track Speed Skating