Week one wonders at the games
Vail, CO Colorado
The 2010 Winter Olympics did not get off to the start for which athletes, fans, or planners in Vancouver had hoped.
A first day marred by the tragic death of 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili culminated with the opening ceremonies sputtering at a critical time, as technical difficulties delayed the lighting of the torch.
But despite the disappointing start to the Games, the first week has provided a fair amount of exciting storylines, major accomplishments, and heartwarming moments that will hopefully eclipse the early turmoil.
Congratulations to local Lindsey Vonn on her impressive win in the downhill Wednesday. But while the vast majority of the coverage will focus on Vonn and other headliners like Shaun White, here are some storylines you may have missed during the first week of competition.
Apolo Anton Ohno
Yes, the charismatic short-track speed skater gets a ridiculous amount of press compared to most of his peers in semi-obscure sports – participating in “Dancing with the Stars” tends to do that – but Ohno’s accomplishments on the ice in the last week are certainly worthy of more recognition than his tango.
Ohno’s second place finish in the 1500-meter short-track event last Saturday solidified his place in history. Earning that silver medal – his sixth – propelled Ohno into a tie with the legendary Bonnie Blair for the most podium finishes ever by a US Winter Olympian.
While Ohno needed some help in the form of two crashing Koreans to medal in that event, he has three more races in Vancouver to claim his place as the most-decorated American Winter Olympian ever.
USA Men’s Nordic Combined
Perhaps the most exciting finish of the first week came from the two-part event of Nordic Combined; a sport combining ski-jumping and cross-country skiing. Somehow, in more than 80 years of competition, the United States had never won a medal in Nordic Combined.
That is, before last Sunday.
Coming into the event, the USA looked loaded, with three former world champions (all with Colorado ties) competing: Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane, and Bill Demong. After the jumps portion of the event, Lodwick found himself in second, with Spillane in fifth, and Demong in a disappointing 24th. Then came the 10-kilometer, cross-country race.
As participants started in positions relative to their performance in the jumps, Lodwick began roughly 30 seconds behind the leader, Spillane was 40 seconds back, and Demong was an overwhelming 1:30 behind.
Undeterred, the three Americans performed incredibly on the biggest stage. Demong overcame most of his larrge deficit, posting the fastest time and finishing sixth. Lodwick quickly raced into the lead, where he remained for much of the race before fading down the stretch and earning fourth place.
But it was Steamboat native Johnny Spillane who ended the United States’ medal drought, breaking away with 800 meters left, and finishing second after getting edged at the finish line. It was an impressive day for a sport in which America had struggled greatly.
Canada’s first home gold
A much-discussed topic over the first few days of competition, Canada had never won a gold medal in their two previous times hosting the Olympics. However, that all changed after a magical moguls run by 22-year-old freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau.
The Montreal native was hardly a favorite coming into the moguls event, having finished 11th during the 2006 Torino games. But Bilodeau threw down a nearly flawless run, posting the second-fastest time and executing his difficult tricks perfectly.
Bilodeau’s victory was a special moment, not only due to the overwhelming national pride his win engendered, but because of the excitement of his biggest fan. While 22,000 people poured into the medals plaza to watch Bilodeau receive his gold, nobody was cheering louder than his older brother, Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy.
Bilodeau’s inspiration, Frederic embraced his brother after the run with an enthusiasm that surpassed any athlete’s. It was a poignant moment for a family and a country alike.
The ups and downs of snowboardcross
Is there any Olympic sport more entertaining than snowboardcross?
The sport has been in the Olympics only once before, but it has already provided lots of drama and intrigue. Coming into Vancouver, American snowboarders Seth Wescott and Lindsey Jacobellis were presumed the favorites in the men’s and women’s competitions.
In Monday’s men’s event, Wescott produced an incredible come-from-behind victory to remain the only gold-medal winner in the Olympic history of the event, winning it for the second time. But in a sport where so much can go wrong, back-to-back wins are not the norm.
Wescott’s impressive repeat was a stark contrast to the women’s competition, where the heartbreaking performances of Jacobellis continued. Well known for falling and losing first place while trying an unnecessary trick before the finish line in Torino, this was supposed to be Jacobellis’ shot at redemption.
But gold was not in the cards for Jacobellis, in fact she would have been plenty happy with another silver. Instead of a last-second collapse, Jacobellis failed early, getting disqualified after crashing into a gate in the semifinals.
The 2010 Winter Olympics are off to an exciting start, and we can only hope that more great moments lie ahead in Vancouver. Next week I’ll take an in-depth look at curling and ice-dancing. Brace yourselves.
Ascher Robbins writes a weekly column for the Vail Daily. A graduate of Battle Mountain High School, Robbins is a sophomore at UC-Santa Barbara, where he is double-majoring in communications and curling.
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