Today began with the women’s aerials competition as we watched the qualifying rounds and the battle to be one of the top 12 to make it to the finals later next week. Firstly, let me just tell you that these athletes are crazy! They are going app. 40 mph as they come down off this little jump and then they are flipping, twisting and then try to land on their feet! It was a really impressive event and everyone looked amazing, in my opinion. The snow was the consistency of sugar and so it was really sucking on the athletes’ skis, which made it very difficult to land cleanly. Each athlete received 2 jump chances and they did different tricks each time so it was a great event to watch. Most of the skiers appear to come from a gymnastics background so the aerial part is, ironically, not the difficult section – it is the landing, or the skiing section that they really struggled with. One of the American skiers had a touching story of the close relationship she shared with her father and his support and care that he gave her as a single parent. She broke both of her feet a few years ago and yet here she was, back out on the hill. My favorite skier was the favorite to win, who did not qualify, as she landed and literally ran out of her skis on the bottom of the hill. The conditions were tough, but the athletes were tougher. With several surprises who snuck into the top 12, it should be an interesting final Wednesday.
Then we were back out at ski-jumping on the K-120 large hill for the men’s gold medal final. This is a difficult event to watch and understand as it is very hard for me to be able to tell the difference between the good jumpers and the decent jumpers. There is so much relying on wind conditions, the condition of the snow, getting the perfect start, etc., that it is very intellectual and not as instinctive. The commentators really did their best to explain what was going on, how the event was scored, and to point out the differences between the jumpers so the event held my interest, but it was a close thing. The little skier from Switzerland, Simon Ammann, who won on the normal hill also won gold here on the large hill. They call him a Harry-Potter look alike, but, aside from round-rimmed glasses, I just don’t see it. The big story for him was that he won both golds in 2002 at Salt Lake City and then came out with nothing at the 2006 Turino games. Now he was back and he was on fire. His country was thrilled and I know that they feel like they have their hero back. A great performance on the large hill today.
The best part about the day coverage was the men’s cross country 30k pursuit, which, like the women’s race yesterday, is split half-and-half between classic and free style skiing, with 15k of each. When the race began, I didn’t think that it was going to be that interesting to watch, but it turned out to be a real nail-biter and I was on the edge of my seat to see what was going to happen! Sweden’s Johann Olsson went out early and alone, leaving a pack of skiers behind. I thought he would get pulled back in before too long, but his teammate, Marcus Hellner, purposefully slowed down the pace and blocked the pack behind by skiing out in front. I was astonished at that as it seemed that Hellner, in order to get a medal for Sweden in cross country, a sport they should have dominated at these Olympics, but struggled with, was willing to sacrifice his own personal medal aspirations and take one for the team. What made the story even better was the ending. Olsson started running out of gas and Hellner couldn’t hold back Russia’s Legov, who broke away from the pack. So Hellner joined Legov, staying in 3rd and 4th place as he joined the little secondary pack with Germany’s Angerer. Olsson was slowly reeled in, Legov started slowing down, and, in a dramatic Olympic finish, Hellner made a huge pass and sprinted forward to take the gold. Germany’s Angerer took the silver, and Sweden’s Olsson took the bronze. A really great race with a classic-Olympic-moment finish, this one will be talked about for years to come!
Women’s Super G was competed tonight. Again, this event is unique in that you are able to inspect the course, but not to practice on the course beforehand. Lindsey Vonn went down the hill and seemed really pleased with her performance, but she ended up with the bronze behind Austria and Slovenia who went gold and silver, respectively. Still, the US has taken more Olympic medals with this year’s ski team than ever before and there are still more events to come!
Then it was out to the Olympic Oval, where we got to see Shani Davis try to win gold in the 1,500m. He took the silver in the Turino games and was the heavy favorite to take the gold here. Unfortunately, it was not to be, with Shani ending up with a silver repeat, and the Netherlands Mark Tuitert taking the gold. Of course, the Netherlands was absolutely thrilled and you know that Mark was looking forward to a visit that night to the Netherlands House, where he would be celebrated like a rock star. One of the sweetest moments of these Olympic games happened tonight when Shani Davis came up behind Mark Tuitert, giving him a hug and offering his congratulations to this skater, who had a great performance. Again, I was impressed with how classy Shani is and how he has really carried himself in a distinctive way throughout these games. His sportsmanship and belief in the Olympic creed has been a real standout here.
We finished the evening out at the short track, where Katherine Reutter tried to accomplish her goal of making it to the women’s 1,500m finals. Unfortunately, she had a really tough draw in the preliminary rounds and did not advance past the semifinals, but ended up with a 4th place position due to a disqualification in the final. China’s Zhou easily won the gold with 2 South Korean skaters taking the silver and the bronze. But all eyes were really on Apolo Anton Ohno as he skated for a chance to make Winter Olympic history by winning a 7th medal. Ohno has won many gold medals in many races, but the 1,000m has always eluded him and here he is, with another chance to win the race. He was sandwiched between 2 Canadian brothers and 2 dominant South Koreans. He was in excellent position to take the gold, when Ohno bobbled and the 2 South Koreans slipped ahead of him. I thought that Ohno slipped, but, in the replay, you could tell that Ohno was thrown off by one of the Canadian skaters. Unfortunately, this is the finals so there is no interference call, but Ohno was able to control his skates, stay on his feet and beat out both Canadians to take the bronze. I really think that, if Ohno was not as good as he is, he would have fallen, skidded off the track and perhaps taken the 2 South Korean skaters (who were behind him) with him into the boards, letting the Canadians take gold & silver. In a split second, the whole race changed. Legendary Olympians Michael Phelps and Peggy Fleming were on hand to watch Ohno break the Winter Olympic medal record and win his 7th medal with an opportunity to win 2 more at these Olympic games.