Women carried the United States in the Winter Olympics that ended Sunday. They won 12 of America’s 23 medals and five of Team USA’s nine gold.
You go, girl? I’ll say. From 17-year-old snowboarder Chloe Kim to 28-year-old hockey player Hillary Knight to 35-year-old cross-country skier Kikkan Randall, America’s women entertained us with their skill, thrilled us with their daring and brought tears to our eyes with their refuse-to-quit grit.
I hope the U.S. Olympic Committee keeps this in mind when it doles out training dollars between now and Beijing in 2022.
America’s Olympic heroines? Let’s start with Minnesotan Jessie Diggins, 26, and Alaskan Kikkan Randall, who delivered America’s first gold medal in cross-country skiing, thanks to an unforgettable dash to the finish by Diggins to edge Sweden in the team sprint freestyle. I have watched and listened to NBC analyst Chad Salmela’s epic call of Diggins’s furious sprint from third to first about 30 times, and it still gives me chills.
“HERE COMES DIGGINS! HERE COMES DIGGINS! YES! YES! YES! YES! GOLD!! . . . . . IT’S A GOLD MEDAL FOR THE UNITED STATES. IT’S NOT JUST A MEDAL! IT’S THE GOLD!”
Salmela’s unabashed excitement gets me even more than Al Michaels’s “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” at the end of the U.S.’s shocking upset of the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics. Indeed, I would put his call right up there with Johnny Most’s “Havlicek stole the ball!” and Russ Hodges’s “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” If you don’t know those gems, look them up.
Fittingly, Diggins, flashing her spectacular smile, carried the U.S. flag during the Closing Ceremonies.
Let’s continue with the U.S. women’s ice hockey team, which tied the score in the third period and beat its bitter archrival, Canada, 3-2, in a shootout, ending a run of three silvers and a bronze since winning the first gold medal in women’s Olympic hockey in Nagano in 1998. When goalkeeper Maddie Rooney blocked Canada’s last shot, she took her place beside goalies Sarah Tueting and Sara DeCosta of the 1998 team as a hockey heroine.
Let’s move on to Mikaela Shiffrin’s gold-medal run in the giant slalom and silver in the Alpine combined, a downhill run and a slalom race; Jamie Anderson’s gold in snowboard slopestyle and silver in big air, and Kim’s gold in halfpipe.
Hail to silver medalists Elana Meyers Taylor and Brown University alum Lauren Gibbs in the bobsled and to bronze medalists Arielle Gold in snowboard halfpipe, Brita Sigourney in freestyle skiing halfpipe, Lindsey Vonn in downhill and speed skaters Heather Bergsma, Brittany Bowe, Mia Manganello and Carlijn Schoutens in team pursuit.
The U.S. men were not a complete wipeout. Snowboarder Red Gerard, 17, won gold in slopestyle, and the veteran Shaun White, 31, returned to gold medal status in the halfpipe. Freestyle skier David Wise earned gold in halfpipe.
Silver medalists included Chris Masdzer in singles luge, John-Henry Krueger in the short track 1,000, Nick Goepper in freestyle skiing slopestyle, Alex Ferreira in freestyle skiing halfpipe, and Kyle Mack in snowboard big air.
Finally, did anybody dream that America’s icemen in Pyeongchang would be curlers, not hockey players? Probably nobody but skip John Schuster and his crew and their families and close friends. But Schuster led his team to five consecutive victories after a 2-4 start, including the first over Canada by any American curling team ever. All Canada had done was win the last three gold medals. This time the Americans defeated Sweden for the gold.
The U.S., with more than 200 athletes, finished fourth in the medal standings with 23. Norway, which invented winter sports 8 million years ago, led the medal haul with 39, breaking the record of 37 set by the U.S. at Vancouver in 2010. They included 14 gold, 14 silver and 11 bronze. Germany tied Norway for the most gold medals, but the Norwegians stood alone on the silver and bronze steps.
Germany was second in the medal standings with 31 and Canada third with 29. The Canadians smiled bravely during the Closing Ceremonies, but you know the silver in women’s ice hockey and the bronze in men’s ice hockey just won’t cut it in a country that invented hockey on a frozen pond in Quebec 6 million years ago.
The U.S. Olympic Committee won’t be bragging about 23 medals, well short of its target of 37 and even its minimum expectation of 25, according to a chart received by the Associated Press. This was the worst showing by an American delegation since the 13 medals earned in Nagano 20 years ago. Figure skaters, speed skaters, men’s hockey players and Alpine skiers except for Vonn and Shiffrin, bombed. Alan Ashley, chief of sport performance for the USOC, mentioned that Americans finished fourth, fifth or sixth 35 times in these games. Good, but they don’t give medals for fourth.
As president of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001, Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain was fond of proclaiming each Olympics as “the greatest ever.” As the games wound down, exhausted local organizing committee members, and the international media horde, wondered if Samaranch would bless the Olympiad. Inevitably, he did.
Were Samaranch still alive – he died in 2010 -- he would have approved of the Pyeongchang Olympics for three simple reasons: North Korean and South Korean women played on a unified ice hockey team; Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, attended the Opening Ceremonies, and fireworks, not nuclear-tipped missiles, lit the sky over Pyeongchang.
Medalists from around the world, including those women who carried the United States, will remember these Olympic Games as the greatest ever.