Olympics produce memorable moments in PyeongChang
After 17 days of competition, the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are complete. After 102 events in 15 sports, the world has watched both dreams come true and expectations loom too large. But in the end, we have also watched the spirit of the Games prevail as well.
As always, politics threatened to take over the Olympics, from the fragile relations between North and South Korea to the Russian doping scandal running its course. But as always, the Games themselves were the best story, as they should be.
For the United States, there was some familiar territory at the top of the podium, but also a fair share of disappointment. Americans dominated the Phoenix Snow Park. Teens Red Gerard and Chloe Kim took gold, in men’s slopestyle and women’s halfpipe, respectively, becoming instant household names. Jamie Anderson defended her gold in women’s slopestyle, and picked up the silver in the Olympics’ inaugural big air competition. David Wise was the only other American to defend his gold medal from Sochi, in the men’s freestyle ski halfpipe.
With his gold in the men’s snowboarding halfpipe, his third overall, Shaun White fulfilled the comeback story laid out perfectly for him by NBC after his fourth place finish in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He is undoubtedly the greatest snowboarder ever, but his legacy is now a murky one, with sexual harassment allegations and a settlement against him.
Ester Ledecká of the Czech Republic became the first woman to win gold in two sports, the alpine skiing super-G and the snowboarding parallel giant slalom. Her win in the former was one of the best moments of the entire Olympics, as the shock on her face at the run of her life remained plastered on her face long after ours had moved on.
Norway exerted its Winter Games dominance, with a world-leading 39 total medals, including 14 gold, tied with Germany for the most. The Netherlands, clad in the country’s vibrant orange and blue, continued its speed skating supremacy with all their 20 medals in the sport, eight of them gold, while Hungary won its first ever Winter Games gold in the men’s 5000m speed skating gold.
Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan defended his men’s figure skating gold from Sochi, the first man to do so since American Dick Button in 1952. American Nathan Chen showed all his 18 years in his first Olympics. Billed as a gold medal contender and one of the biggest challengers to Hanyu, he succumbed to nerves in his first two Olympic skates, the two worst of his short career. But he also showed the fearlessness of a teenager, coming back in his historic free skate, landing six quadruple jumps, five of them cleanly.
The home country also boasted some of the greatest moments of the Games, with Yun Sung-bin taking gold in the skeleton, the first athlete outside North America or Europe to win an Olympic sliding medal. The Garlic Girls curling team, all of the surname Kim, swept their way to the silver medal and into the hearts of their people watching.
But curling also saw the most quintessential example of what Americans hope they can be and what the Games should be. The U.S. men’s curling team was led by John Shuster, the best curler America has to offer, who followed a bronze in the 2006 Torino Olympics with last and second-to-last finishes in the two following Olympics. The team battled back after a 2-4 start in round-robin play, captivated an American audience that fell in love with the games for two weeks, and won the most unlikely of golds.
In a time where the greatness of White’s snowboarding skill has seemingly exonerated him to the public, we saw the flip side with women’s perseverance paying off. The U.S. Women’s Hockey team got their revenge on Canada, their biggest rivals, from the heartbreak silver from Sochi. Last year, the team announced they would boycott the world championships to protest equal pay. They took the risk, and won, striking a deal with USA Hockey, an important victory in the fight for equal pay for women.
The women’s hockey gold medal match itself was everything a fan could ask for (especially since NHL players, the best in the world, are not part of the men’s competition) – lead changes, momentum swings, and a heart-stopping shootout.
And so closes this 23rd Olympic cycle, as the athletes continue with their off-season competitions and training, and the world waits another four years to fall in love with sports they still don’t completely understand. But some moments will live with us forever, and that’s what the Olympics are all about.