We’re over the halfway point of the Olympics, and we’ve settled into the rhythms of this event. The Dutch are dominating speed skating, the Germans have seen cracks in their rule of the sliding sports, Canada is competitive everywhere, and Norway has added alpine skiing to their usual fiefdom of Nordic skiing.
However, the Olympics season is turning to fall, and as the sliding center has moved from luge to skeleton and now to bobsled, it signals the end is near. There is talk that the US is having a disappointing Olympics, which is true, but it misses the context of these Games.
This is where we run into our problem with jingoistic coverage again. Now, there is a difference between nationalism and jingoism. Nationalistic coverage of international sporting events is awesome, as anyone who lived through the Cold War can tell you. Rooting for the US to dominate the podium is a hell of a lot of fun, and of course we are sitting at home rooting for the home team.
However, this US team competes in a media bubble. Unlike those Cold War Olympics, there is apparently no one we’re competing with. Beat Norway lacks the same ring as Beat Those Commie Bastards, but we go into each event with no idea what is the expectation for success. Pulling off the huge upset, like the Miracle on Ice, only matters if you know who the favorite was in the first place.
And sure, Russia is doing their part to be the villain of these Games. The IOC let them compete as the Olympic Athletes from Russia, backing away from an outright ban for their systemic doping program in Sochi. Russia has responded by having a guy from their curling team – CURLING! – caught for illegal doping.
The problem is, the Russians are having an even worse Olympics than the US. Russia is yet to win a gold medal in any sport, though their 8 bronze medals puts them ahead of the US in the medal count 11-10. But the US has 5 golds, 3 silvers, and 2 bronzes, a medal haul objectively superior to the Russian’s 0-3-8.
But battling for fifth place on the medal count lacks a certain panache. Speed skating is winding down, so the Dutch might stop winning medals, so fourth place is attainable for the US, but the top three of Norway-Germany-Canada seems set in stone, and likely in that order.
Which brings us to Norway. Norway is crushing the field, and its not getting played exactly like a titanic upset, but plenty of mention to Norway’s small population is made to make it seem like an up from the bootstraps kind of story. And this, frankly, is ridiculous.
Norway has won more medals than any nation in Winter Olympic history. Not this Olympics, I’m talking ever. And that’s even if you count East Germany’s medals for Germany and give the Soviet medals to Russia. Norway has more golds than anybody, more silvers, and more bronze.
Talking about Norway’s population to make them seem like an underdog in any way, shape, or form is like using the state of Alabama’s lower population as a justification as to why the Tide are underdogs in college football. It’s crazy.
The amazing thing for Norway is that their medal count probably should be even better than it is. Johannes Thinges Boe is the best male biathlete in the world, next to Martin Fourcade. Fourcade has had a poor Olympics (it has been revealed he is battling a fever), opening the door for Boe, who won just one medal in four events, a gold in the 20km.
Usually, to get a huge medal total, you usually need at least one athlete pulling down a huge haul. For example, Laura Dahlmeier has three medals in the biathlon for Germany, including two golds.
Norway, on the other hand, doesn’t have anyone who has won more than two individual medals. Kjetil Jansrud has two alpine medals (silver and bronze), Simen Krueger has two cross-country medals (gold and silver), as does Marit Bjoergen (silver and bronze). Robert Johansson also has two bronze medals in the ski jump. That’s crazy depth.
Canada follows the same model, having medaled in eight of the fifteen sports so far. They have an entry in every sport save the Nordic Combined. They are guaranteed at least a silver in women’s ice hockey, so they will add a ninth sport at the least to the list.
This is where the US is falling down. The US has an entrant in all fifteen sports, but has medaled in six of them (with women’s ice hockey assured of making it seven). But outside of snowboarding, it’s been one and done in every sport.
Take away the snowboarding haul, and the US has five medals across five sports. Figure skating, normally a reliable producer of medals for the US, has been a media success and an athletic disaster. It’s great to talk about Adam Rippon getting a TV gig, but he finished in tenth. Nathan Chen and Vincent Chou finished fifth and sixth, both doomed by short programs that ranked in the teens.
It’s cool that NBC treats figure skating as a fun event and a vehicle for its personalities. Tara and Johnny are worth the price of admission. But from a competition standpoint, we have stunk up the joint. Our pairs team finished 15th out of 16. We’re now hoping we can scrounge a bronze out of ice dancing and maybe get an unlikely medal in women’s singles, an event in which not a single US skater was ranked in the top of the World Grand Prix.
Speed skating, a traditional strength, has bottomed out. We have won more medals in long track speed skating than any other sport, and by a huge margin. The Dutch used to dominate the longer distance events, but now have gobbled up the shorter events as well, at the expense of the US.
The US were locked out of the speed skating medals in Sochi, the first time in a half century. Right now, the US is poised for a repeat of the same. The US likes to compete in everything, but it relies on a few sports to carry the medal load, and the US speed skating team can no longer be counted on to boost the medal count.
Part of the US disappoint is simply that the Dutch have crushed speed skating to a near unprecedented degree, and Norway has extended its dominance to alpine. Both of these developments came at the expense of the US medal count. The US had 4 alpine medals in Sochi.
So what’s left for the US? Can we rally in the final week? Let’s take it by day:
Tuesday (which is tonight here): Ice dancing is third and fourth right now. The US finished third and fourth in skiing halfpipe qualifications as well. We should pick up two medals tonight.
Wednesday: Lindsey Vonn in the women’s downhill. Not the morning line favorite, but a contender. Women’s bobsled has two Americans in the world top four. The US is gonna get its doors blown off in the semifinals of the women’s team skating pursuit by the Dutch, but will have a shot at the bronze in the B Final. That’s one near certain medal (bobsled), plus a decent shot to add one to three more.
Thursday: Women’s ice hockey final. We got one in the bag, as the worst possible result is a silver. The US has all of the top three in the world cup standing in ski halfpipe, so medals are likely there. Let’s play it conservative and chalk up two, with the chance to get to maybe get four.
Friday: Women’s alpine combined gives us an event with both Shiffrin and Vonn, so a medal is possible here, too. Though its not a slam dunk, as neither is favored to medal. There’s two freestyle events, with a decent shot to medal in aerials. I wouldn’t write Shani Davis off in the 1000m to prevent an Olympic washout for US speed skating, but I wouldn’t bet on it. We could go oh-fer here, with one medal being a good night.
Saturday: Some cool events, but nothing we are expected to medal in, save men’s snowboarding big air. There we go with the snowboarding again.
All in all, we’re looking at between a half dozen and dozen medals. We won’t match the 28 medals in Sochi, but there’s still a chance to avoid disaster. Hey, as long as we beat Russia, I’m cool. I still hate those Commie Bastards.
Tonight’s Medal Events
7:00 PM Ice Dancing
7:30 PM Women’s Ski Halfpipe
4:00 AM Men’s Large Hill/10km
5:15 AM Biathlon Women’s 2x6 + Men’s 2x7.5 Mixed Relay
5:23 AM Women’s 3000m Speed Skating Relay
Oh, and the US men’s ice hockey team tries to not get eliminated by Slovakia at 9:10 PM. Even as a dedicated hockey fan, I can’t in good conscience recommend anyone watch this.