The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics concluded with the Closing Ceremony last Sunday, capping one of the most thrilling and record-breaking games ever. The American athletes had a disappointing performance, at least relative to their standards, while the Norwegians dominated. Here are a couple of the most interesting storylines from South Korea.
Ester Ledecká: This 22 year old Czech snowboarder came into the games expected to medal in Parallel Grand Slalom Snowboarding, but a complete non-factor in alpine skiing, given that it isn’t her main sport and she barely competed in any competitions. After the 19th skier finished her run, the current leader, Anna Veith celebrated, assuming that she had won the gold medal. However, she didn’t count on Ledecká, the snowboarder, having the run of her life to knock Veith off of the top spot on the podium. Mikaela Shiffrin, the American skiing star said about her, “I thought this sport was hard, but apparently not. It’s an incredible example for young aspiring skiers, snowboarders, freestylers — anybody.” To cap off her magical Olympics, Ledecká took gold in snowboarding to become the first athlete ever to win in two different sports at one Olympics.
Norway!: The Scandinavian power was expected to do well during these Olympic games, but not this well. The Norwegians blew past the United States’ record for most medals during a Winter Olympics, setting the new mark at 39 medals. They were especially dominant in cross country skiing, with 37(!!!) year-old Marit Bjørgen snagging 5 medals, giving her a record 15 Winter Olympics medals. 14 of their 39 medals came from cross country skiing, with another 7 coming from alpine skiing, proving that it is true that Norwegians are born with skis on.
The USA’s Up and Down Games: The American athletes entered Pyeongchang with sky-high expectations, with one AP article predicting that they would win 40 medals. They missed that mark by 17 medals, with their 23 in fourth place among competing nations, a position that was quite familiar to American athletes given that they finished in 4th, 5th, or 6th place 35 times.
The alpine skiing and figureskating teams, the “traditional” sports, did not do well, despite the presence of wunderkinds Mikaela Shiffrin and Nathan Chen, the “Quad King.” Shiffrin won 2 medals, but didn’t win the competition that she has dominated over the last couple of years, the slalom. Chen fell multiple times during his short program, sinking his chances to medal before the second leg of the competition, the free skate. With nothing to lose, Chen delivered perhaps the most spectacular figure skating performance of the games, a free skate with 6 quads that earned him a score of 215.08, his personal best.
Chloe Kim, the 17 year old Korean-American snowboarder, dominated the halfpipe and earned thousands of followers throughout the games by tweeting about how “hangry” she was and how she regretted not finishing her breakfast sandwich, while competing. Shaun White, the 31 year old snowboarder who won his first gold medal in the 2006 Olympics in Turin, turned back the clock and won another gold medal in the halfpipe. Jessie Diggins, who describes herself as “bubbly”, and Kikkan Randall won the first women’s cross country medal in America’s history, by taking gold in the Women’s Team Free Sprint, a massive accomplishment for a sport that has been traditionally dominated by Europeans. Perhaps even more impressive, John Shuster, a skip which the USOC tried to move on from after Sochi in 2014, led the team in a series of logic-defying wins against powers like Sweden and reigning world champion, Canada.
However, the moment that Americans take away from these Olympics is the Women’s Hockey team finally winning the gold medal that they have been waiting for since 1998. They finally defeated the Canadian women in the Olympics in a game so thrilling that it had the press on their feet. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s stunning triple deke, which caused her to remark afterwards, “I’ve butchered it a thousand times… I’m just glad it worked out this time,” in the 6th frame of a shootout put the Americans on top, and goaltender Maddie Rooney stopped Meghan Agosta to seal the victory. All in all, these Olympics were relatively successful for the American athletes.
The Olympic Spirit: Despite the political tensions caused by the Russian doping scandal and the proximity to North Koreans (and their creepy cheerleaders), the Olympic spirit that Pierre de Coubertin envisioned shone through yet again, this time in the form of cross-country skiers from tropical climates. The winner of the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle cross-country race, Dario Cologna, finished in just under 34 minutes, but the best part of the race came half an hour later. That was when the athletes from the “exotic countries” began to finish, the ones from countries that rarely participated in the Winter Olympics.
A Moroccan, an Ecuadoran, a Portuguese, a Colombian, and a Tongan that is best known for going shirtless during the Opening Ceremony, crossed the finish line. They stood, friends who had fought the same uphill battle, and some even training partners, shoulder to shoulder waiting for one last skier to cross the finish line. Finally, 43 year old German Madrazo from Mexico dragged himself across the line with a Mexican flag in his hand, an eternity after the Swiss champion. The other skiers waiting for him grabbed him in a group hug and hoisted him on their shoulders, and Cologna, the gold medalist, came over to congratulate all of them. Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan, said before the race, “The Olympic creed, it’s about struggle. What we do… to inspire those millions of kids that are watching, to push through with their challenges in life? That’s the Olympic spirit, and that’s what’s important for me.”
Pyeongchang 2018 provided the thrilling mix of artistry, breathtaking stunts, joyful celebrations and tearful disappointment that consistently makes the Olympics one of the most must-see sports events every time around.