Mark the day February 17, 2010 in an Olympic history book. Then hold it up as a benchmark for future days, because it may well have been the single greatest day the U.S. Olympic team has ever had at a Winter Olympics. No, there was no Miracle on Ice, and Eric Heiden didn't win a jillion gold medals, but here is the case: Never before has a U.S. team won six medals in a single day at the Winter Games. No other country has ever won more than six. At the 1988 Calgary Olympics, the last time a Winter Games took place in Canada, the United States won six medals over the duration of the entire Olympics.
Then consider the names who walked away with gold medals on Wednesday, the stars who were under the most glaring spotlights not only to perform well, but to triumph in Vancouver. If you were to name the team's flagship stars for these Games, you'd probably list Lindsey Vonn, Shani Davis, Shaun White and Apolo Ohno. Of those, only Ohno did not compete for a medal on Wednesday. He advanced cleanly in both the 1,000 meters and the 5,000-meter relay. But Vonn, Davis and White took on the favorite's role with aplomb, each delivering as fine a performance as they've had in their careers.
In the morning, Vonn and her bum leg took on a course that was ornery enough to propel Sweden's Anja Paerson, as good a skier as anyone over the past decade, some 60 feet in the air. Think women aren't ski jumping in Vancouver? It sure looked like it. Even the top skiers fought just to stay on course. But Vonn took on the course the way she does best: she attacked. If there was hesitation in her words during the days when she discussed the severity of her injury leading up to the race, there was none once she stepped onto the snow Wednesday. "This is the absolute highlight of my career, probably my life," she said.
In the afternoon, Davis, the defending champ in the 1,000 meters, repeated his victory against comparably tough indoor conditions. The ice in the Richmond Oval was known to be slow to begin with, and it seemed to be dragging legs and raising times as the sessions went on this week. Even the Zambonis have attempted to give up. Davis drew the final pair, when the grit accumulation on the ice surface might have slowed him. It did somewhat. He has been winning this race by a second or more for much of the season, but he gritted out a victory by .18 seconds on Wednesday. "What an amazing day," Davis said of the six-medal haul. "I'm happy to be a part of that honor ... We were making history." Even when Ohno stopped after races on Wednesday to chat with reporters about his successful advances into subsequent rounds, he was asked if he felt satisfied about the day and said, "Yeah, my boy, Shani, just won the thousand."
Then came White, who seemed to take jabs and body blows about how his skills and tricks don't match up to so-and-so. Forget it. Yes, this is a dude with a lot of hype and a lot of hair, but his second-run score of 48.4, which came after he had already secured the gold medal with his first run, was sort of over-the-moon, a bit like his double McTwist 1260 that still looks like it was done with the aid of four boosters, three rockets, two trampolines and a pogo stick.
Only four times in history has a U.S. athlete repeated as Olympic champion in the same event. Two did so on Wednesday thanks to Davis and White (hmm, sounds like a good ice dance team). Seth Wescott became the second to do so just days earlier when he won the snowboardcross. Figure skater Dick Button, a champion in 1948 and 1952, was the first.
"I woke up this morning and thought, 'wow, we've already got eight medals,'" said Mike Plant, the team's chef de mission and a U.S. team member for 15 Olympics in every position from speedskater to his present post. "And then I say, 'hey, we have a lot of star power going today. This could be a good day.' But now I can't imagine a better one."