Posted by: Captain Easychord | February 28, 2010

Vancouver Olympics Recap

What do you mean, “February?”  OK, OK… Between gawking at colossal snowfall here and then by 24/7 following of the Vancouver Games, I’ve been “busy” over the last month.  The Olympics always captivate me.  I just love ’em.  Every Olympiad, they grab my attention pretty much full time from Opening Ceremony to the Close, and every time I imagine just how great it would be to participate in the greatest sporting event that mankind has.  All the world coming together for sport… and not just any sport, but the gold standard (literally) for high achievement in so many sports.  Over the Olympic fortnight, there were just so many great stories and memorable moments.  After the jump, check out my extensive sport-by-sport memories that I’ll take away from these Games.  I tried to keep it relatively brief, but there’s just a lot out there… and I didn’t even mention Joannie Rochette, Apolo Ohno, the gold medal winning “Night Train” bobsled team and probably about ten others that aren’t coming to mind at the moment.  Anyway, check out what I’m taking away from the 2010 Winter Games.

ALPINE SKIING – Lindsey Vonn was one of the biggest stars coming into these Winter Games.  When she came out and brought home the downhill gold for team USA, I was thrilled.  Nevertheless, there’s always been something about her that makes me feel like she strives to be an elite ski racer because… well, because she wants to be an elite ski racer… as if the pursuit is more work and less fun.

In the meantime, Julia Mancuso came into the games relatively unheralded, despite winning gold in Torino.  She placed second to Vonn in the downhill and went on to win another silver in the super combined.  When Mancuso won, however, it just felt different…  maybe it’s because she couldn’t stop doing the happy dance… but it was less like relief and more like achievement, and somehow it felt more compelling.

BIATHLON – Ole Einar Bjoerndalen may not be a name you know, but he’s a household name in Norway and a colossal name in Winter Olympic history.  In Vancouver, the 36 year old anchored the Norwegian 4 x 7.5 km relay team to gold while winning an individual silver in the 20 km race.  These two medals brought Bjoerndalen’s personal medal count to 11, just one shy of the all-time Winter Olympic record.  He may return to try and match or surpass the record in Sochi, but in any case, he’s already one of the greatest Olympians ever.

CROSS-COUNTRY – Cross-country (and the other nordic events, biathlon and the nordic combined) have been my favorite events to watch for the last few Olympics.  To some extent, that’s because they were one of the few events that got live coverage on NBC.  The difference between live coverage and tape-delayed coverage (a glorified highlights package, really) cannot be understated, especially in the nordic events where the ebb and flow of a race can’t be so easily summarized.

And it is precisely the back and forth that makes the nordic events so much fun to watch.  Over the course of a race, there are opportunities to fall behind and to come back.  Where a crash in another sport may essentially eliminate a competitor, it’s just another barrier when you’re on the cross-country skis.  Furthermore, for a sport that plays out at relatively low speeds, there are a surprising number of photo finishes.   Today’s 30 mile men’s event saw the top five competitors finish within 1.6 seconds of one another.  Beyond that, a few other races ended with one competitor out-lunging another to the finish line.

What’s more, there are some remarkable athletes in these events… perhaps some of the best in the world.  While Petter Northug and Marit Bjoergen dominated the competition, the one performance from these Games that might be most memorable is the bronze medal won by Slovenia’s Petra Majdic in the individual freestyle sprint race.  What’s so memorable about that you say?  Well in practice, she fell off the course and into a ravine, breaking four ribs and puncturing a lung.  Then she got up and won an Olympic bronze medal.  That’s crazy, incredible and totally awesome.  So hats off to her!

CURLING – Curling was generally televised on USA or CNBC or something… I don’t really know, because I don’t have cable.  But the end result here was that I didn’t watch any curling at all this year.  In fact, it was the only sport that I didn’t see.  (As a point of comparison, during the Torino games, I watched curling every morning before heading into work.) Nevertheless, even I couldn’t miss the excellent fashion statement made by the Norwegian team and their awesome argyle pants.

FIGURE SKATING – I’m not much of a figure skating fan and the extent of my knowledge and critical analysis comes down to one simple question:  did the skater land his/her jumps?  I mean, I can’t really evaluate much beyond that… it all kinda looks the same to me.  So then we come to ice dancing, a sport that has no jumps and hence, very little opportunity for the competitors to differentiate themselves.  I mean, the footwoork or whatever all looks more or less the same to me.

Enter the American duo of Meryl Davis and Charlie White.  I only watched one of ice dancing’s three nights – the theme dance night where Davis & White performed an Indian-styled number.  I still couldn’t tell you what elements they performed, how the footwork played out or what have you… but I can say that their performance was actually entertaining and was clearly medal-worthy… and I think that was because they made me forget that I was watching ice dancing.  Well done, guys!

FREESTYLE SKIING, SNOWBOARD – Every night, there was something exciting going on over at Cypress Mountain.  It’s really hard for me to pick out a defining aspect of any of the individual competitions.  Moguls, half pipe, snowboard cross, aerials, and the rest… they’re all fun.  Like the demographically-skewed audience for gymnastics, figure skating and diving, most of these events are determined by scores assigned by judges.  Nevertheless, the freestyle skiing and snowboard events have a much wider demographic appeal.  Is it any wonder that Shaun White is a multimillionaire?

ICE HOCKEY – OK, I hate to be a buzzkill after what so many commentators are calling the greatest hockey game of all-time (o rly?  you guys forget about that little game 30 years ago that you’ve been hyping all fortnight?  ’cause that has it all over today’s game), but I’m not a huge fan of Olympic hockey.  For me, I think the Olympics are more about a celebration of sports and individuals that toil in relative obscurity for four years and then put on the performance of a lifetime in front of a world stage.  Since professionals have been participating in the Olympics, the hockey tournament feels more like a glorified NHL all-star game featuring lots of guys who are all rich and famous superstars.  Furthermore, I’m not even sure if Olympic gold is the pinnacle of the sport so defined by the drive to get your name on the Stanley Cup.

BOBSLED, LUGE, SKELETON – The major player in all the sliding sports was the track at the Whistler Sliding Center.  After the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, starts for the various events were lowered.  When athletes continued on the difficult course, additional modifications were made to slow speeds and make the course more navigable.  Nevertheless, so many of the events there will be remembered for the treacherous nature of the course including the 50/50 curve, named for the odds that a racer might make it through unscathed.  While the official investigation cited athlete error as the cause of Kumaritashvili’s death, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili noted that no error in athletic competition should ever result in the death of a participant.  Says here that that’s certainly true.

NORDIC COMBINED – By now, you’ve probably heard the tale of the US Nordic Combined team.  Three guys with 9 Olympic appearances between them finally breaking through and snapping an 86 year medal drought by winning 4 of 9 medals awarded (including silver in the team competition and Billy Demong’s first gold for the US in the history of the competition).  Yeah, that’ll get some press.  Really, these guys were fun to watch and you had to feel happy for them after all the time and effort they had put in.  After winning that gold, Billy Demong proposed to his girlfriend (she said yes) and then was named flagbearer for the Closing Ceremonies.  Good day to be Billy Demong!

SHORT TRACK – These Games were the first ones I’ve followed via Twitter.  One thing that I followed for coverage was Wired Magazine’s list of all the tweeting US Olympic athletes.  This first-hand recounting of the Olympic experience was really cool and almost made me feel like I was part of the events.  Although it’s sometimes too much information, sometimes you can learn neat little bits about the folks you’re following.  One case in point was short track athlete, JR Celski.  Celski is a young, talented speed skater who looks like he’ll be a force in four years at the Sochi games, but he gets extra cool points from me for his tastes in music, as revealed via Twitter.  A medal contender who listens to Andrew Bird and Grizzly Bear?  Awesome!  Go JR Celski!

SKI JUMPING – Ski Jumping is one of those sports that doesn’t make for great television.  To the casual observer, there’s not much difference between one athlete in flight and another.  Sure, we see them land in different places, but otherwise they all look kinda the same:  speed down the ramp, launch into the air, fly, land.  One thing we don’t get to see is the scope of the competition.  Tight shots of the skiiers mid-air doesn’t do much for a casual viewer.  But wouldn’t it be neat to get some sense of scope?  To see the hill, the jump and the landing all in one shot?  Just a suggestion that might give us a better idea of the performances…

SPEED SKATING – Is it just me, or has long track speed skating fallen behind short track in terms of viewer interest.  To me, speed skating used to be one of the premier events of the Games, but nowadays it feels like it’s often relegated to late night viewing and even then, with reduced emphasis on non-American competitors.  So despite Sven Kramer’s memorable mishap, Ani Friesinger’s slide over the finish line and Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick’s medal performances, I’m not sure that there will be much that I’ll remember from these Games.

……….

All in all, I really, really enjoyed watching the Vancouver Olympics.  For two weeks, I was pretty much glued to the television watching whatever coverage that I could.  And while there were plenty of gaffes and such, the competition will always be outstanding and the Olympics will continue to be a world-class event.  The Olympics are like a big party that you never want to end, but tonight, The Flame was extinguished and now it’s time to go home.  Now that they’re done, I’ll definitely miss them, but I’m already counting the days ’til London 2012.

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