Finally, after nearly a week of weather delays, we got the premier event of the Winter Olympics, the men’s downhill. As an added bonus, due to the mass rescheduling, it had to share the alpine spotlight with the women’s super G.
Downhill skiing is simply the best. Skiers take turns hurtling down the mountain at speeds you wouldn’t drive your car on such a slope, and they will make a few hairpin turns and catch air for good measure. In the quest for more speed, skiers push themselves to the brink of total disaster. It’s not merely a test of skill, it is a test of nerve. The skier who comes closest to crashing without doing so will usually go the fastest and take home gold.
It is simply spectacular to watch. It’s so compelling to watch racers take themselves to the razor’s edge and then pull themselves back from seeming inevitable disaster. There were about three times I was sure Askel Lund Svindal was going to die, but he always pulled it together and made the landing or pulled off the turn.
Even better, the top three were separated by 0.19 seconds. Take out a stopwatch, and try and click the stop and start buttons as quickly as you possibly can. Chances are, it will be right around 0.20 seconds. The margin for error in downhill skiing is literally the most minute of human reflexes. Oh, and you only get one chance at it.
Super G is a bit more fair. It’s not all nerves, there’s a healthy dose of technical skill as well, and the skiers have to make two runs down the hill, totaling the two times together. There are no accidents in super G, the best one usually wins.
Mikaela Shiffrin was in perfect position after the first run, just fractions of a second off the lead and in second place overall. This allowed her to see her rivals take the mountain on their second run before her, so she could see exactly what she needed to do to win the race.
Ragnhild Mowinckel took the top time, threatening to give Norway a sweep of the gold medals in the alpine events on the day. Shiffrin burst out of the gates and never gave anyone else a chance. She was up by nearly a second for most of her run, though a minute error in one the final gates narrowed the margin to 0.39 seconds at the line.
With only one seeded skier left, Shiffrin didn’t have to wait long to see if her time would hold up. Manuela Moelgg struggled out of the gate, and was down 0.63 seconds at the second checkpoint. It was over before she got to the critical middle section of the course. Shiffrin would collapse into a ball at the finish line, having delivered on her massive hype.
Speaking of hype, there had been the small murmurings at the biathlon venue that Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier could challenge Eric Heiden’s record for five gold medals in one Olympics. She already had two, and is entered in four more events.
Dahlmeier missed a shot from the prone position on her first trip to the shooting area, but that shouldn’t have been a problem. The 15km free has four shooting intervals, and there would be plenty of time to catch up so long as she had a clean sheet from that point.
The shooting held up, as Dahlmeier wouldn’t miss another shot, but she simply couldn’t close the gap all of the way. Dahlmeier was down 1:14 after 3 km and got the margin down to 32 seconds at the 9 km mark, a near perfect pace to catch the leader.
The gap would not close another second. Dahlmeier crossed the line 41.2 seconds back of the gold medal winner, Sweden’s Hanna Oeberg. Dahlmeier still has the opportunity to be the first German to win three golds at one Olympics since the country’s reunification, but Heiden’s record is safe.
Elsewhere in the biathlon, Martin Fourcade’s disappointing Olympics continued. He had rallied for a gold in the 12.5km pursuit on Monday, but he finished fifth in 20km freestyle yesterday. He missed two shots on the final stoppage, the final two. He had a clean sheet up until that point, and had held the lead since the 8km mark. Suddenly, 4km from the finish, he found himself down 49.6 seconds to the leader.
Fourcade’s biggest rival, Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe, missed one shot himself on the final station, but was only down 8.2 seconds after the penalty lap. Slovakia’s Jakov Fak and Austria’s Dominik Landertinger were perfect shooting on the day. They entered the final shoot virtually tied for third, and exited with Landertinger slightly ahead. Neither could hold off Boe, who came back for the gold, but both did manage to preserve their podium finishes, with Fak taking the silver.
And no, I cannot talk about the USA-Canada hockey game. Simply put, USA couldn’t get a bounce to go their way. That’s hockey sometimes. Hopefully, they are saving the good bounces for the gold medal game.
Today’s Medal Events
All times God’s Time Zone, the Central.
8:00 PM Men’s Super G
8:15 PM Men’s Skeleton
9:15 PM Women’s Snowboard Cross
10:15 PM Women’s Slalom
12:00 AM Men’s 15km Freestyle
5:00 AM Women’s Aerials Freestyle Skiing
5:00 AM Women’s 5000m Speed Skating