I have a hard time with endings. After spending over two weeks getting to love these Olympic Winter Games once again, I find they are over all too fast. From a resplendent and respectful Opening Ceremonies, where Vancouver promised to give the world everything of themselves, to the very last event, a hockey game, where Canada received in return the only thing they ever wanted from us, we experienced the very best of a country and of a people. And for the world at large, we saw the best of our hero’s, both the unsung and the larger than life, who made their countries proud and made us proud of them. We talked of new cultures and then again, as we got to know those cultures, we talked of sameness. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: There is no place like the Olympics for competition, culture, and pride in all of sports. So now as I watch the Closing Ceremonies of these 2010 Winter Olympics, (just like reminiscing about a great vacation on the plane ride home) I think back to all the stories that made these such an amazing Games.
This is a day by day recap of the best of what I saw (and even though I tried, I didn’t see everything), and how I felt about it (I wouldn’t do it any other way).
The Opening Ceremonies told of a nation, but welcomed the whole world.
* U.S. skaters Apolo Anton Ohno and J.R. Celski find Silver and Bronze while showing the world just how exciting Short Track Speed Skating can be.
* American Hannah Kearney blazes down the moguls in perfect form and just the right time find the Gold Medal she missed out on in Torino. As there can only be one Gold Medal, the host nation would have to wait one more night for theirs as Canadian Jenn Heil took Silver.
* The Dutch, who love their Long Track Speed Skating, got just what they wanted when national hero Sven Kramer earned Gold in the 5000m.
* I spent Valentine’s Day afternoon watching a bunch of guys on skis shooting guns as I got into the Biathalon Men’s 10km sprint where Frenchman Vincent Jay won Gold and the sport’s king, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen proved he was human in his fifth Olympic Games.
* After 86 years (every previous Winter Games) Johnny Spillane earned the United States’ first medal in the European dominated Nordic Combined as he takes Silver two spots ahead of his teammate Todd Lodwick
* Alexandre Bilodeau. Wow. The nicest guy in the world won Canada’s long awaited home Gold in the Men’s Moguls with his big brother and inspiration Frederic cheering him on. And as it was Valentine’s Day, it’s worth mentioning he got a hell of a kiss from his blond girlfriend as his score was posted.
* Shen and Zhao, talk about your perfect pair. They skated together for 18 years, finding love along the way and getting married in 2007. After taking some time off to enjoy life away from skating, China’s most popular couple came back to the sport to hunt for Gold in Vancouver. In the Pairs Short Program they broke a World Record and put themselves in a place to find what they came for.
* Bode Miller, with a renewed dedication to his sport and a new outlook as a father, earns a Bronze Medal in the Men’s Downhill.
* Seth Wescott let his board run and carved all the right turns to come from behind and win to remain the only Gold Medalist in the sport (he won in Torino as well).
* Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, while not perfect, were Golden in the Pairs Free Skate. With 1.3 Billion and everyone I knew behind them all the way, the great Shen and Zhao got the Gold Medal they came for.
* I woke up and watched the cutest girl in Germany fire a rifle with pinpoint accuracy (more like grapefruit-sized accuracy) and ski with an inspiring mix of power and desire as Magdalena Neuner won the Gold Medal in the Women’s Biathalon 10km Pursuit.
* Four years ago in Torino I yelled at the screen when I saw Lindsay Jacobellis try a trick and fail to win a sure Gold Medal. I tried to forgive her as I rooted her on to redemption in the Women’s Snowboard Cross, but she missed a gate in the semifinal and finished fifth in the event. After four years and a couple weeks of reflection, I have a new perspective on things. While I say I appreciate the Olympic spirit over anything, I sure didn’t hold to that with Jacobellis. All I wanted was a winner, she wanted to stay true to the spirit of her sport. I’m letting her off the hook. Here’s to fresh starts (and maybe Sochi in four more years?).
* Things were tight at the top after the Men’s Figure Skating Short Program. Evgeny Plushenko lead Evan Lysacek and Japanese skater Daisuke Takahaski by a .55 and .60 points respectively. Plushenko, already a Gold Medalist, demonstrated his power one more time in his Short Program, but also demonstrated a weakness in his dancing that might play out more noticeably in the Free Skate to follow in two nights.
* Lyndsey Vonn won Gold and Julia Mancuso won Silver in the Ladies’ Downhill, which gave us our first opportunity to see that teammates don’t always get along during an awkward podium stand hug.
* Shani Davis repeated as Gold Medalist in the Long Track 1000m event, justifying (not to me) his pulling out of the 500m event two days before.
* Men’s Halfpipe finals. How Shaun White flew…he won the Gold Medal after one run, but saved his very best, and an even higher score, for his second run. He developed the Double McTwist 1260 so he could beat the best in the world, instead he used it just to show us he already was.
* Back to Alpine Skiing for the Ladies’ Super Combined and guess who won? Lyndsey Vonn? Nope, she got a DNF while Julia Mancuso collected another Silver Medal. Vonn probably took some comfort, if not from her teammate’s Silver, from her best friend, Maria Reisch’s Gold.
* Norway loves their Cross Country Ski Team who they call the Red Army. Well, the Biathalon athletes are not only cross country skiers, but crack-shots with their rifles as well, so Norweigans must have celebrated when Emil Hegle Svendsen took Gold and Biathalon King, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, took a shared Silver in the Men’s 20km Individual event.
* Evan Lysacek skated first and had all the pressure in the world on his shoulders. He showed what it is to be an athlete and as the most fit and dedicated of all the skaters he brought enough of both gracefulness and power to his flawless performance to hold off the quad-flying Russian, Torino Gold Medalist, Evgeny Plushenko.
* Up against a trio of tricked-out Americans, Australian cutey Torah Bright was the best of all in her second run (after falling in her first) to win a Gold Medal in Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe.
* Bode Miller got on the podium again, one spot better this time, to Silver in the Men’s Super-G ahead of fellow American and surprise Medalist Andrew Weibrecht and behind Norweigan Man of Steel Aksel Lund Svindal.
* Red, White, and Blue caught my attention for a different country as Great Britain put in a showing outside of the curling rink with a Gold Medal in Women’s Skeleton for Amy Williams.
* While the Figure Skating Ice Dancing – Compulsory Dance was skated, I skipped the whole lot. It was all about G.O.E. Grade of Execution on the same dance, and I just couldn’t do it.
* Lyndsey Vonn won Bronze in the Ladies’ Super-G, making for a very successful Olympics by almost any measure.
* Swiss high-flyer Simon Amman won his fourth Gold Medal overall as he soared past his competition in the Ski Jumping Large Hill event. In his interview afterwards, Simon said that he would be celebrating long and hard and that four Gold Medals is something to celebrate. Almost as excited as Amman was the Silver Medalist from Poland, Adam Malysz. His joy at winning Silver was as anything else I saw that day.
* Norweigan Cross Country Skiing took another blow in their rough start to these Games by seeing arch-rivals Sweden claim two podium spots in the Men’s 30km Pursuit. Marcus Hellner took Gold and Johan Olsson Bronze.
* After slipping/getting pushed into fifth place, Apolo Anton Ohno shows quality by cutting up the Short Track and getting into third place behind South Korean’s Lee Jung-Su and Lee Ho-Suk to win a Bronze Medal and his seventh Olympic Medal overall. With those seven Medals, Apolo Anton Ohno became the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian to date.
* Bode Miller goes Gold in the Men’s Super Combined, making it his third medal of the Olympics, completing his story of redemption.
* Neuner! My girl does it again, Magdalena Neuner wins the Women’s 12.5km Mass Start. I love it when she wins Gold.
* All day I watched ski cross and tried to get into it. I was hoping for as much excitement as we got with the Snowboard Cross, but it didn’t happen. I was counting the races where the finishing order was determined a third of the way into the race and that doesn’t play well for drama on the course. NBC rolled the story of Chris Delbosco the U.S. young talent who threw his life away on drugs and alcohol until he sobered up and then decided to ski for Canada instead. He got to the final and was the only one to make an exciting pass, but it ended up being too exciting even for him and he wiped it on a jump late in the race. All that about a guy with all the talent in the world who decided to squander it forever while Jamaica’s only representative Errol Kerr came and went too quietly.
* Another night of Ice Dancing…for some. I skipped it. Again.
* US v Canada 1. An empty netter with under a minute to play secured the win for the United States, 5 to 3. This was the first most exciting hockey game. A rematch in the finals? Could these neighbors handle the tension?
* Petter Northug and team take the Gold Medal for Norway and make the Red Army’s supporters happy in the Men’s Team Sprint Free.
* Welcome back to Ice Dancing! There were two Gold Medal performances, but only Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada wore it around their necks at the end of the evening. I won’t see another performance like that for Olympics to come, and the Awards Ceremony was magical. I wasn’t into the previous nights’ skates, but I was captivated by Americans Davis and White who held my attention to the end of the evening. What a night of and for skating.
* This was a tough day for the Netherlands. They love their Speed Skating and the longer the distance the better. The longest distance in the Winter Olympics is the 10,000m, which Dutch superstar and favorite Sven Kramer seemed to have sewn up. But with a fateful gesture, Kramer’s coach, Gerard Kemkers had his skater switch from the outside land to the inside, incorrectly, which cost him the Gold Medal that went to Le Seung-Hoon instead.
* Team Silver for the United States’ Nordic Combined Trio! After an 86 year, Olympics spanning drought, Johnny Spillane, Bill Demong, Todd Lodwick, and Brett Camerota jumped second best and skied their hearts out to win the Silver Medal behind the Austrians.
* Kim Yu-Na looked unreal in her golden glittering dress (confident color scheme) and showed all the personality, grace, and skill of a champion in the Ladies’ Short Program while Joannie Rochette, having just lost her mother, needs no superlative to exclaim her performance. Two medal quality performances from those Women with Mao Asada knocking on the door, under five points away from Kim Yu-Na.
* U.S. over Switzerland 2-0. Another empty netter made this one look even better, but the Swiss played tough and definitely better than expected. U.S.A. is still on track.
* Women’s Speed Skating Short Track 3000m Relay. Don’t. Get. Me. Started. Click the Speed Skating tag and you’ll see what I mean. Once is enough. Especially when you say it as definitively this.
* Women’s Freestyle Skiing Ariels weren’t as excited as the Moguls. The tricks are bigger and the jump is bigger, but the whole thing is over in 3.2 seconds and there’s just not the drama of the Moguls. The only thing I’m watching for is to see if they can stick the landing, if they do, then I’m clueless beyond the score the judges put up. The viewer’s participation is limited. That being said, what these girls do is absolutely crazy and so athletic. Lydia Lassila from Australia crazier and more athletic than any of them tonight, Gold Medal to her.
* The best most exciting performances out of the American Nordic Combined athletes yet as Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane worked together to hold Austrian Berhard Gruber to a Bronze Medal in the Individual LH/10km CC. During an interview with Mary Carillo in late night, Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane, Medals around their necks, talked about their success and about how Demong just got engaged to his girlfriend, telling the story together. At some point they said that they took an individual sport and turned it into a team sport. How about that for a couple of champions. Bill Demong Gold Medal, Johnny Spillane his third Silver.
* Queen Yu-Na was crowned as she skated the most beautiful and lasting skate of these Olympic Games. What an amazing group of women, to see three true champions on the Medal Stand was a stunning sight. Kim Yu-Na, Mao Asada, Joannie Rochette, I won’t soon forget watching Kim Yu-Na on the podium, crying and smiling and listening to her national anthem. Beautiful.
* Jeret “Speedy” Peterson put it all on the line again with his second run and the Hurricane in the Men’s Aerials. If he were to miss the landing like he did in Torino, he would fall out of medal position again, but if he landed it…Well, he’ll have the answer with him forever now, Silver Medal!
* Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and team show how good the Red Army can shoot (actually they started out shooting terribly, so really they showed how well they can ski mostly) on their way to the team Gold Medal for Norway in the Men’s 4×7.5km Relay.
* Six goals in the first period was a comfortable enough lead for the United States to blow past Finland and into the Gold Medal Game. Canada would go up 3-0 over Slovakia only to find them holding off the hot Slavs in the third after being scored on twice in that same period. After the ice cleared, the matchup for the great North American Face-Off was on. U.S.A. vs Canada for the Gold Medal.
* A terrible rock in the 10th end by Canadian Skip Cheryl Bernard allows the Swedes to tie and fourth an 11th end where well executed shots by Swedish Skip Anette Norberg get the Blue and Yellow a second straight Gold Medal.
* Back to the Short Track for the Men’s 500m. Apolo Anton Ohno earned a Gold Medal in this same event in Torino, but in Vancouver he earned a disqualification for his contact with Francois Louis-Tremblay on the final turn. He accused the Canadian judge of misconduct and bias, which didn’t hold for Ohno’s case, but it might explain why Gold Medalist Charles Hamelin didn’t earn a DSQ for his actions at the head of the pack. I feel terrible for the South Koreans who “may or may not” have been terribly victimized here in the Western Hemisphere.
* Wang Meng is an ice cold killa on the Short Track and she proved it once again as she crushed the comp in the Ladies’ 1000m ahead of American Katherine Reutter and South Korean Park Seung-Hi, while her teammate Zhou Yang earned an unnecessary disqualification after she finished the finals in last, long back of the rest of the group.
* Ohno finds some sort of redemption by taking the last leg of the Men’s 5000m Relay and leading them to Bronze.
* Three amazing athletes and huge favorites to Medal at these Olympic Winter Games, come through for their countries (for the fifth time in the case of Bjoergen). World number one Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland won Gold, Norweigan Marit Bjoergen Silver, and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen of Finland took Bronze in the Ladies’ 30km Mass Start Classic.
* Steve Holcomb led his American teammates down four runs of the world’s fastest sliding track to win the Gold Medal in the Men’s Four-Man Bobsleigh. Holcomb named a late turn in the course the 50/50 turn because half of the sleds he saw come down turned over at that turn, but he piloted four clean runs based on fast starts that were enough to get him the top honors.
* The first of the two events was the Men’s 50km Mass Start Classic Cross-Country Skiing event, and with all the jockeying and exhaustion and battle of a 30 mile race the finish came down to a sprint. They talked about the unparalleled pole-push of the world’s best cross-country athlete Petter Northug all week, but there’s nothing like seeing him give it his all after pushing his body long past the point of exhaustion. Northug rose out of his skies and threw his poles skyward like a Grizzly Bear about to pounce, and then he ripped himself forward, sliding and sliding and muscling past German Axel Teichmann for the Gold Medal, his fourth Medal of the Games.
* What some say was the best hockey tournament in the history of the sport had to come to a close eventually, but it wasn’t at the end of three periods. Clutch goal-scorer, U.S. player Zach Parise came through again with 24.5 seconds left in the game to find the back of the net against Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo. It sent two nations into hysterics. The Canadian’s were in real danger of losing the Gold Medal they wanted so bad and that they’ve wanted for years, but Golden boy Sydney Crosby begged for the puck and got just what he wanted as he ripped it for a goal between keeper Ryan Miller’s legs and ended the sudden death overtime with a Gold Medal slapshot.
* Closing ceremonies and the putting out of the Olympic torch in Vancouver to be passed on to Sochi Russia for 2014. They were a great Winter Olympics.
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