On Sunday, February 25th, 2018, the Olympic flame was extinguished in Pyeongchang, South Korea, marking the end of an exhilarating Winter Olympics. With the games’ culmination, sports fans worldwide are left to ponder the exciting action of the past 16 days, taking in the brilliant spectacles, awesome athletes, and inspiring victories that were witnessed from what has been one of the best Olympic games yet.
Traditionally, after an Olympics, it is an American custom to be sitting atop the medal table, as we produce the most athletes backed by the most financial support. However, in one of the most shocking turns of events in the entire Olympics, the USA actually did quite poorly indeed, if you’re of a hyper competitive mindset.
The world superpower that sent the most Olympians to this year’s games with 242, drastically underperformed by winning only 23 medals, the lowest count since the United States’ measly total of 13 at the 1998 Nagano Games. The only difference is that in Nagano, there were 68 events to compete in, while 20 years later today, that number of events has risen to 102.
Additionally, over a third of the United States’ medals won this year were in events that did not exist as recently as the Vancouver games eight years ago. Had events such as big air snowboarding, slopestyle, and team figure skating not existed today, keeping in mind that these contests were put in the Olympics specifically tailored to the evolving youth culture of American winter sports, the USA would have left with just 14 medals.
Without getting any more technical, it is safe to say that the United States of America underperformed at these Olympics and will have to look in the mirror if they are to turn around and be successful in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
While the USA struggled overall at these games, the one sport where they excelled was snowboarding. Led by veterans 31-year old Shaun White and 27-year old Jamie Anderson, the USA had a strong, experienced core of athletes that dominated the slopes. White’s 98.50 in qualifying and 97.75 in the finals led him to the men’s halfpipe gold, while Anderson crushed her competition, becoming the first woman to win back-to-back snowboarding golds in women’s slopestyle. Anderson also took silver in the big air competition, leaving as a double medalist.
However, the youth also came to Pyeongchang ready to compete, with a pair of 17-year olds launching themselves into national hero status and international stardom. Redmond “Red” Gerard won the first American gold medal of the games when he posted a mark of 87.16 in men’s slopestyle, allowing him to just beat out a pair of Canadians for the gold medal. Gerard became the first medalist born in the 2000s, reaffirming the strong grip that the youth have over the Winter Olympics. Then, all eyes turned to Chloe Kim.
Kim, who stayed calm throughout the entirety of her halfpipe competition, even taking time to tweet about churros, ice cream, and breakfast sandwiches, won gold by posting a massive 98.25 mark, the largest ever. Kim is the daughter of South Korean immigrants, and truly embodies the progressiveness of modern-day athletes in terms of their commanding presence on sports and style. Kim’s Twitter presence and outgoing personality earned her not only sporting fame, but viral fame as her voice drew fans to her from all corners of the globe.
While the American snowboarders flourished, their compatriots in skiing did not fare as expected. Mikaela Shiffrin, the 22-year old skiing phenom from Colorado, was slated to win an unimpeded treble of golds in a variety of skiing disciplines. However, she could only muster a disappointing 4th place in the slalom, while she came back later to win a gold in the giant slalom and a silver in the combined event. Walking away with two medals is a monumental achievement, but for someone who many people thought had an outside chance of winning five golds at these Olympics, it was not enough.
Lindsey Vonn, the former face of the sport following her performance in Vancouver 2010, offered a heartwarming comeback story as she worked so hard to climb back into medal contention for 2018. Vonn, who tore her ACL and fractured her tibia in 2013, was told that she would never ski again, much less compete at the highest level. Vonn took this news and made it her personal goal to ascend to the top again, and after years of work, she finally reached that goal by winning the bronze in the downhill event at these Olympics. Following her achievement, Vonn announced that she will be retiring from Olympic competition, leaving the United States without another one of its star athletes.
As poor as the United States performed at these Olympics, Norway, a country with a population about the size of Colorado, won an impressive 39 medals at these games, including 14 gold medals. Spearheaded by 14 medals in cross-country skiing, including 5 from Marit Bjørgen, Norway won the most medals ever won at a Winter Olympics. 37-year old Bjørgen also became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time, surpassing fellow Norwegian Ole Einar Bjørndalen. She brought her total medal count to 15 over the course of five different games, becoming the third most decorated Olympian, winter or summer, of all time.
In addition, compared to the USA’s 242 athletes, Norway only sent 109, meaning that the USA sent more than double the number of athletes as Norway to the Olympics, but won only half as many medals. So, what is it that makes this tiny Scandinavian country so dominant? Is it the fact that Norway was rated the best place to live by the UN for 2017? Or maybe it’s the fact that the country does not allow children under the age of 13 to win first place in organized sports? Whatever the country’s secret is, it seems to be working, as Norway and its athletes were thrust into international glory with their performances at these games.
Another talking point heading into Pyeongchang was the tensions between North and South Korea. The two nations could not contrast each other any more than they do, the South being one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, while the North is led by a temperamental dictator in Kim Jong-un. However, the nations were nothing but friendly when it came to the Olympics, as the two showed promise of bettering relations in the future.
At the opening ceremonies, the delegations of the two countries marched out together under a flag depicting the entire Korean peninsula. This statement showed that when it came to sport and culture, the two nations were unified and cooperative, and this feeling was made clearer by the women’s hockey team comprising of both North and South Koreans competing as “Korea.” In addition, Kim Yo-Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader, made an appearance at the opening ceremony, shedding a more humane light on the shadowy Kim regime.
Korea was not the only progressive action taken at these Olympics, as two Americans made waves in terms of the LGBT community’s inclusion and representation in sports. Figure skater Adam Rippon and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy became the first two openly gay Olympians competing for Team USA, and they did not shy away from the spotlight when it came to making their voices heard.
Rippon, a self-proclaimed ‘America’s sweetheart,’ became famous for his quips and quotes about anything from skating to Reese Witherspoon. Most notably, Rippon advocated for LGBT rights in sports, saying of Vice President Mike Pence, “I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick.” Rippon would become the first openly gay American medalist as well, winning the bronze in the team event.
Kenworthy, who competed in 2014 but was not officially open about his sexuality, kissed his boyfriend after his run, a scene which was broadcasted globally to social media. As the image was met with overwhelming positivity, it became a symbol for change in American sports, calling for more inclusive actions to be taken by Team USA in the future regarding LGBT athletes.
Whether it was one of Chloe Kim’s or Adam Rippon’s tweets or one of Norway’s numerous medal-winning performances, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics were a progressive step in the right direction towards noble goals such as unification and equality, all through the entertaining lens of sports.
In Case You Missed It
Tongan athlete Pita Taufatofua, made famous for his shirtless, oiled up entrance bearing his nation’s flag at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, made another appearance, this time in Pyeongchang. Pita, who appeared at Rio 2016 competing in taekwondo, entered into the Men’s 15-kilometer freestyle cross-country skiing event, in which he finished in 114th out of 119 skiers, remarkable considering he picked up the sport just 12 months before the opening ceremonies. At the opening ceremonies, the Tongan did not disappoint, coming out once more in his traditional oiled-up Tongan outfit, cementing his place into the pantheon of viral fame.
The United States curling team, consisting of John Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, and John Landsteiner, won the country’s first ever gold in men’s curling, shocking the world of sport in the process. The team formerly called ‘The Rejects,’ surprised everybody in the competition, dismantling powerhouses Canada and Sweden on the way to Olympic glory. What is even odder however, is the fact that the United States’ long-awaited curling victory was predicted in a February 2010 episode of The Simpsons, even down to the victory over Sweden to win it. Just goes to show, if you want something to happen, put it in an episode of The Simpsons.
Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall became the first Americans ever to win gold in a cross-country skiing event at the Olympic games. The pair ended the drought in the team-sprint freestyle, crossing the finish line just two-tenths of a second in front of the Swedish favorites.
Mirai Nagasu started off the Olympics strong, becoming the first American woman to land a triple axel in the team event, leading the American team to a bronze medal finish. However, things went downhill for the figure skater after some questionable comments about her teammates and an underwhelming performance in the individual competition left her off the podium. Nagasu later apologized for downplaying her teammate’s contributions in the team event, but this distraction affected her performance, ending the skater’s Olympic dreams.
Czech snowboarder Ester Ledecká came into the Olympics as a fledgling hope for a medal, but left being dubbed the ‘ice queen.’ On February 17th, Ledecká won gold in the Super-G alpine skiing competition, and just a week later on the 24th, she won gold in the parallel giant slalom for snowboarding. Becoming the first Olympian to ever win two golds in two different events in the same Olympics, Ledecká made history while simultaneously dominating the two most popular snow sports.
The first African-American woman to qualify for the women’s speed skating team, Maame Biney, hails from a nation that sees no snowfall for decades at a time. The Ghanaian-born Biney moved to the States at age five, and picked up speed skating at her local rink, where she became an instant success. The 18-year-old competed in both the 500m and 1500-meter short track races at these games, and despite not advancing far into the competition, Biney maintained her trademark positive attitude and smiles throughout it all.