The Den Mother’s Olympic Update: Part 2
Sunday was a big day in Torino, with medals being awarded in eight events in seven sports. And that’s not even mentioning the two women’s hockey games and the two women’s speed skating preliminary races.
It was while contemplating all that and looking ahead to today’s curling games pitting the United States against Norway and Finland that I realized, as I do every two years, that I watch sports during the Olympic Games that I don’t even think about at any other time. More surprising is that I enjoy watching sports I know little to nothing about. The only explanation I can offer is Olympic spirit, something I doubt those who have never attended an Olympics would understand, and frankly I would be hard pressed to explain it in terms they could understand. I can only say that I don’t recall being this interested in each and every sport before going to Atlanta in 1996.
They’re Dropping Like Flies
In sport after sport, American athletes considered to be Olympic medal favorites are falling faster than exhausted cross-country skiers after a 30km race.
First, figure skater Michelle Kwan withdrew because of a lingering groin injury after getting a spot on the team despite having been unable to compete in the qualifying National Championship. The women’s short program isn’t until a week from tomorrow, but when she saw the hand writing on the wall when she couldn’t even put together a reasonable practice.
Then, alpine skiers Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves, both eminently capable of gold, failed to not only beat the formidable Austrians, but managed only fifth and ninth place respectively. Both tried new skis the day before the race and Miller might have blamed his loss on the new equipment if it weren’t for multiple mistakes that cost him precious fractions of a second that could have vaulted him onto the podium. Rahlves fared even worse despite a technically near-perfect run.
It was a different story for short track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, who failed to qualify for the medal round in the 1500m even after stumbling in the last laps. Anyone who remembers Dan Jansen‘s hard luck races in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics knows that inexplicable bad luck can rear its head at any time, but Ohno’s gaffe was largely avoidable, coming as a result of an ill-advised and unnecessary attempt to move from the second position to the first. Finishing second in the semi-final would have been enough to advance.
Now we hear the news that downhiller Lindsey Kildow was among three women who crashed during today’s training runs. Her condition, like that of Canadian Allison Forsyth and Frenchwoman Carole Montillet-Carles, is unknown. But it seems unlikely that she’ll be in any condition to race on Wednesday.
The Den Mother’s Day 2 Viewing
See paragraph 2 of this post for the reason why I breathlessly watched the men’s cross-country 30km pursuit yesterday afternoon. (Why do they call it “pursuit”, and how is it different from “classical”? Post a comment if you can enlighten us.) Watching cross-country skiing on television may seem a bit like watching the Boston Marathon, but a marathon generally doesn’t include racers falling on top of each other at the beginning of the course. Norway’s Frode Estil was the favorite who fell almost immediately, causing a pile-up that allowed the entire field to pass him as he wondered what to do with his broken ski. After getting a new ski, he spent the rest of the race trying to catch up, which he nearly did. Estil ended up with the silver medal.
My evening viewing of the men’s short track and halfpipe was interrupted when the snow plow arrived to clear my driveway and I had to go outside to move my car. I managed to watch the aforementioned collapse of skater Apolo Ohno and the gold medal performance of snowboarder Shaun White, a.k.a. the Flying Tomato. I admit to being enough of an Olympic snob to have deliberately ignored snowboarding and short track speed skating in Salt Lake City, but both sports have won me over. Watch halfpipe carefully for about 60 seconds and you’ll see some tremendous acrobatic skill. Watch for about 90 seconds and you’ll see some near-catastrophe, like a boarder hitting the top of the pipe instead of the snow surface, that illustrates what can happen if something goes awry. As for short track, the lack of lanes and tightness of the corners adds the excitement of potential chaos to an already fast-paced sport.
Alpine skiing remains my favorite Olympic event, and it was more than exciting to see a dark horse Frenchmen win gold in the men’s downhill. Antoine Deneriaz, the last skier to run, came in nearly 3/4 second ahead of Austrian Michael Walchhofer. The more heavily favored Austrian, Hermann Maier, came in sixth just behind Bode Miller. The mountain had plenty of disappointment to go around.
Speaking of champions coming from out of the blue, Dutch speed skater Ireen Wust, a mere 19 years old, blew away the rest of the field in the women’s 3000m final. At 1.05 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor, she was also the only skater in the event to top her personal best. The ice on the Torino oval has been described as softer and slower than that of other international venues. I enjoy all the speed skating events, but my favorites are the longer races, which are the 5000m and 10,000m for the men and the 5000m and 3000m for the women. How they stay in that bent-over position for anywhere from 2 to 6 miles is beyond me.
See all of Sunday’s results at the official Torino web site.
What to Watch on Day 3
This evening’s non-cable programming consists of the pairs free skating, women’s halfpipe, and men’s 500m speed skating. The 500m is the shortest of the long track events, skated by both the men and the women. American Casey FitzRandolph is defending his 2002 Olympic title in the final that is underway as I type. Already complete is the women’s halfpipe snowboarding, which features a strong U.S. contingent of four boarders in a field of 12. (Again, no spoilers here.) The pairs final features Chinese and Russians in the top five spots, so a medal for anyone else is a long shot at best.
I will miss the finals in the women’s luge singles, scheduled for telecast this afternoon. Two Germans and an American hold the first three spots after the first run. Also off my viewing radar are today’s two women’s hockey games, Sweden vs. Italy and Finland vs. Switzerland. I’m pretty sure hockey isn’t bit in Italy, so they’re only thrill will probably come from the hometown crowd.
Sadly, I won’t see any curling competition tonight, even though there’s a day full of it. I’ll just have to wait awhile longer to figure out exactly what the heck they’re doing out there. I understand that the teams try to get the “stone” into a certain optimal position, and that they use a sort of broom apparatus to modify the surface of the ice in order to affect the track and speed of the stone. But I have no idea how what they do has the desired effect.
Other Olympic News
The U.S. women’s hockey team is undefeated in two games in which they outscored the competition 11-0. Yesterday’s victim was Germany. Also cruising to another easy win was Canada, who trounced Russia 12-0. Our northern neighbors outscored their first two opponents 28-0. Any guesses as to which two teams will be playing for the gold medal?
Michelle Kwan‘s withdrawal from the Games clears the way for this year’s U.S. bronze medalist, Emily Hughes. Figure skating fans will recognize Emily as the younger sister of Salt Lake gold medalist Sarah Hughes.
Finally, men’s ice hockey is scheduled to begin… Wednesday. Can I be the only person who thinks it’s ridiculous to let the NHL control the Olympic hockey schedule this way? If pros are to participate, they ought to be ready to go on Day 1 just like everyone else. An entire hockey tournament among 12 teams in a week and a half is absurd.
Chick Comment Alert
Just because I’m serious about sports doesn’t mean I can’t also appreciate some of the other, um, attributes of the athletes. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t kick Chad Hedrick out of bed for eating crackers.