I’ve spent the first few days hammering NBC’s coverage, which has been terrible, but today I offer them a bit of a defense. PyeongChang has been hammered by bitter cold temperatures and high winds, so much so that it has wreaked havoc on the outdoor events.
I know, I know. It’s the Winter Olympics. Some cold weather is part of the deal. However, there’s a point at which it becomes nearly impossible to put on a competitive event when the weather gets too awful. Men’s downhill, the premier event of any Winter Games, has already been pushed back to later in the week due to high winds. Yesterday, the weather got even worse.
This leaves organizers with two bad options. With events already rescheduled for later in the week, it is getting harder and harder to move events back and find a slot for it. There’s also the problem that if you cancel the event, there’s no content for the broadcasters. NBC was counting on men’s downhill and then giant slalom in primetime on back to back nights. Instead, they got neither.
For long stretches of NBC’s broadcast last night, there were literally no Olympics going on, and they had two channels to fill. NBC stalled with pre-packaged athlete profiles and rebroadcasts of things they had shown earlier in the day. Because… well, what else were they gonna do? They spent billions on the Games, and they had to show something.
This leads us to option two: forging ahead and putting on the event in grossly unfair conditions. Option B is reserved for secondary sports like snowboarding slopestyle, moguls, and ski jumping. Because there’s no safety concerns about the impact of high winds on a sport in which people on slippery planks of wood go airborne.
Only eleven riders out of twenty-six qualifiers managed to finish the course once in two tries. Only six scored above 70 out of a possible 100, and only one, Jamie Anderson, scored above an 80. Anderson won consecutive golds for the US by being the one person who managed the weather conditions. That’s not ideal.
The weather affected events on the mountain meant that skating took center stage. Now, figure skating will always be NBC’s bread and butter, but it was hard to coax much drama out of a team event that was virtually decided before the night began. Really, all the event did was serve as a preview for future matchups of the same skaters in the individual events.
Adam Rippon asserted himself as a contender in the men’s. He finished third despite the two skaters finishing ahead of him both falling to the ice, but he had less difficulty in his program. The man needs a quad. Mirai Nagasu finished second by over 20 points to Alina Zagitova of Russia, who essentially lapped the field. But Nagasu looked every bit the part, so let’s not hand off the gold medal just yet.
The real action took place on the speedskating oval, where the Dutch continued their complete and utter domination of the sport. The Dutch already had two gold medals in two events, including sweeping the women’s 3000m on Saturday. While that was an awesome feat, it also cost Ireen Wust a gold medal, as she finished second to her countrywoman.
Wust entered these Games as the second most decorated speed skater of all-time. Her eight total medals, four of them gold, both ranked second to Claudia Pechstein of Germany (9 medals, 5 gold). And let’s be honest, it is insulting a German holds the record in a sport dominated by the Dutch. Wust tied the medal count in the 3000, but was still short of Pechstein and Bonnie Blair’s 5 golds.
Wust laid down the hammer in the 1500m. After a false start warning, she got off to a slow start by her standards, only to gradually build up speed like a boulder rolling down hill. She finished at 1:54.35, a full two seconds ahead of any finisher, but many of the big contenders were yet to come, including her own teammates.
Marrit Leenstra and Lotte van Beek came within a second of Wust’s mark, but neither could overtake the leader. In the final heat, American Heather Bergsma started on a blistering pace, well ahead of Wust’s mark, but she could not keep it up, eventually falling back to an eighth place finish. Her starting partner, Miho Takagi of Japan, raced the opposite way. Starting of behind by slowly reeling back the time. She would catch Bergsma before the bell lap, but couldn’t quite catch Wust, finishing two tenths of a second behind.
The gold, and the record, was Wust’s. Ireen Wust is now the most decorated speed skating Olympian of all-time from any nation, man or woman. She still has two events left on her program to extend her claim as the greatest ever. The only Olympians with more individual gold medals (excluding team events and relays) are Michael Phelps and Carl Lewis.
Ireen Wust, all-time Olympic bad ass. All hail the Queen of the ice and snow.