Reviewing the great, the good and the not-so-good from Sochi's first half
Halfway through the Winter Olympics in Sochi, it is time to award unofficial medals to go with the hardware the athletes have already received in Sochi. Here are our picks:
U.S. extreme sport athletes: Jamie Anderson might have been predictable, but who had ever heard of Sage Kotsenburg, Joss Christensen and Kaitlyn Farrington before these Olympics? Well, they have now. Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper swept the medals for the U.S. in the debut event of ski slopestyle. This is a golden age for those of the new age. And Kenworthy even adopted some stray puppies to take home with him.
Dutch long track skaters: Always among the elite of their sport, Dutch skaters have simply dominated action during the first week in Sochi. They captured golds in three men’s events (Michel Mulder at 500 meters, Stefan Groothuis at 1,000 meters, Sven Kramer at 5,000 meters) and one for the women (Ireen Wust at 3,000). In all, the team has amassed 14 of 21 available medals in seven races.
German lugers: Does any other nation dominate a sport the way the Germans own the luge track? The Germans swept gold medals in all four events in Sochi, taking first for the men (Felix Loch), women (Natalie Geisenberger), doubles (Wendl and Arlt) and the team relay, which is a new event on the Olympic program this year.
Ole Einar Bjorndalen: With his victory in the 10-kilometer sprint, the great Norwegian biathlete tied countryman Bjorn Daehlie’s mark for most medals in winter Olympics history with 12. Bjorndalen has made two attempts to break the record and stand alone, missing by a little (fourth place in the 12.5K pursuit) and a lot (34th in the 20K individual). The 40-year-old carpenter will still have cracks at the record in the mass start and relay events.
Charlotte Kalla: In the first three women’s cross-country skiing events, Kalla already has three medals. She skied a brilliant final leg on the Swedish team’s dramatic victory in the 4x5-kilometer relay, helping her countrywomen erase a 25-second deficit against the Finns and she won silver medals in the 10K classic and the skiathlon, which entails two separate 7.5K legs of both classic and freestyle skiing.
T.J. Oshie: Welcome to the 2014 Oshie Olympics. Maybe you can’t give a man gold for his performance in a preliminary-round game, but thanks to IIHF rules for shootouts, the U.S. forward was able come back for round after round of shootout attempts against Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Oshie’s persistence paid off for a victory in one of the best Olympic hockey games that means absolutely nothing in the standings. Imagine what the medal-round games will be like.
Erin Hamlin: The U.S. slider finished third in singles luge in Sochi. For the past four years, she had been trying to live up to the world title she won on her home track in Lake Placid in 2009 and trying to live down the idea that she couldn’t be successful on anything other than that familiar track. Hamlin predictably finished behind Germans Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Hufner, but she outpointed the rest with her best four runs in several years.
Evgeni Plushenko: The good news is that the 31-year-old skating legend completed two good programs in the team competition and won his fourth gold medal at his fourth Olympics, tying the mark set by Gillis Grafstrom in 1932. The bad news for Plushenko is that his subsequent withdrawal from the individual event was met with such derision in Russia that a parliament member suggested a law be introduced limiting Russian athletes to two Olympic appearances, allowing younger athletes to step in and have a chance.
Viktor Ahn: Born in South Korea as Ahn Hyun-soo, the short-track speedskater won four overall world championships in his land of birth, but switched nationalities to Russia after a lengthy conflict with the coaching staff over money and training. In Sochi, Ahn won bronze in the 1,500 meters and then captured gold in the 1,000, leaving the rest of the field, Koreans included, in his wake.
Shaun White: First, the double champ in the halfpipe pulled out of the debut slopestyle event. Then he bombed out of the halfpipe. There is a new generation of X-Gamers set to take over the sport. Maybe one day White will be as beloved by those in snowboarding as he is by those on the outside. But for now the less celebrated names of the sport, particularly those on his own team, are openly reveling in White’s misfortunes.
U.S. Speedskaters: Is it poor training? Did the Dutch skaters steal their spinach? Was there excessive wind drag caused by weight-bearing racing suits? For whatever reason, the same program that has produced Eric Heiden and Bonnie Blair has hit a big zero so far. In seven races through Saturday, the U.S. long-track team is without a medal so far. The short-track team is also 0-for-3.
The Fifth Ring: The snowflake that never quite opened during the opening ceremony last week spawned a great theme for a knock-off t-shirt that has been making its way through the black market. It is also a symbol of some of the things that haven’t quite gone right in Sochi. From unfinished hotel rooms to bobsledders getting stuck in bathrooms to elevator doors opening into empty shafts to snowboarders blasting organizers for creating unsafe conditions for competition, the events have had their critics as well as their fans.