Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

Nice Winter Olympics by the Yanks, Eh?

February 26th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Abu Dhabi, Olympics, Vancouver Olympics

After all the Winter Olympics I went to, and chased around American teams that averaged about two medals every three days … and I miss one for the first time since 1988 … and the U.S. is apparently going to win more medals than anyone.

Have you been talking about this, back home? How big a deal this is?

The United States has not finished atop the Winter Olympics medal standings since 1932, the first Lake Placid Games. And it is about to replicate that top-o’-the-medals finish at Vancouver, only 78 years later.

Are you Olymaniacs appreciating this? All it took was the introduction of a half-dozen random sports, a whole lot of money and some really, really strange breakthroughs by your winter Yanks.

And I’m missing it!

I’ve just been going through some old medals standings.

In 1960, when the Winter Games were at Squaw Valley, the Americans won 10 medals. But finished a distant second to the Soviets.

In 1980, the Miracle on Ice year, when the Olympics were at Lake Placid the second time, the U.S. won 12 medals, which was nice (thanks, Eric Heiden) –  but the East Germans (remember them?) won 23 and the Soviets won 22.

In 1984, my first Winter Games, in strange and exotic Sarajevo, the Americans won eight — while the Soviets were bagging 25 and the East Germans 24. Scott Hamilton, Bill Johnson, the Mahre brothers, and that was about it.

In 1988, the bottom fell out. The Yanks won six medals at Calgary. Yes. Six. The Netherlands won seven. As did Finland. Austria won 10. Switzerland won 15, the East Germans 25 and the Soviets 29. (This is when the U.S. Olympic Committee finally got serious about the Winter, and the Summer, too, with the Steinbrenner Committee and all that, a focus on winning medals and not just participating … and things have gotten much better since, with serious money down the pipeline for year-round training, etc. A real turning point, but so long ago I bet no one on NBC has mentioned it.)

In 1992,  some signs of life at Albertville, with 11 medals. The unified German team won 26, though.

In 1994, up to 13 — but Italy had 20, Russia had 23, Germany 24 and host Norway 26.

In 1998, 13 again, sixth-best total. But hanging in there. A gold in women’s skating.

In 2002, at Salt Lake, the closest previous shot at winning. The U.S. with 34 medals, the Germans with 36.

In 2006, the U.S. a solid second in medals, with 25, to Germany’s 29. By now, almost all the new sports were in play, and the U.S. was winning things like snowboard cross and short-track medals and aerials stuff. We still weren’t winning the old-fashioned things too often (ski-jumping, cross-country skiing, etc.). Oh, but we had a breakthrough in long-track speedskating in 2002 that carried right on into 2006 with Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis.

And now? With three days left in Vancouver, the U.S. has 32 medals (with one more, in men’s hockey, guaranteed) and Germany with 26 and Norway 20.

How did this happen? For those of us who remember the long waits between medals back in 1984 and 1992 … it seems almost beyond belief.

This is how it added up:

–Clutch performances by the alpine ski team. Bode Miller, bad knee, three medals. Lindsay Vonn (bad shin) and Julia Mancuso, two each. One by Andrew Weinbrecht. That’s eight on the slopes, and that may never happen again. The greatest performance by the U.S. alpine crew any of us will ever see. Or not see, as the case may be over here in the United Arab Emirates. (I mean, do you know how hard it is to beat the Swiss and Austrians and Scandinavians at this?)

–Four medals in freestyle skiing. That goofy stuff that we got into immediately. Not a great haul, but 20 years ago this stuff didn’t exist.

–Five medals in snowboarding disciplines. (See above.) Including the gold by Shaun White, The Flying Tomato, and one of the stars of this Olympics.

–Four in short-track speedskating.  Three were bronze, one silver, and we seem to be fading in this sport, but four medals is still hanging in there.

–And then the shocker of this Olympics, four medals in Nordic combined. Really. Nordic combined. A sport 99.1 percent of Americans couldn’t identify if they had an hour and a wikipedia page staring at them. A combination of ski-jumping and cross-country skiing. A gold to a guy named Bill Demong — who I vaguely remember from Torino and maybe Salt Lake — two silvers to Johnny Spillane, a team silver, and they’re still in shock over in Europe over this. I used to go to media days with the Nordic combined guys, and they’d already be making excuses for why they were so bad, and how a top-10 finish was their goal (which they never achieved), and now they are winning gold and silver. Amazing. Something, too, that may never happen again.

Anyway, that’s 25 of the current 32 medals right there.

The good news for the future is that the U.S. actually didn’t do well at all in a couple of disciplines it normally wins medals in — figure skating and long-track speedskating. Evan Lysacek won a gold in men’s skating, and there was the silver in ice dancing. But the women did nothing, and the pairs whiffed. In long-track speed, the Shani Davis medal machine didn’t quite materialize (one gold, one silver), and the rest of the team contributed a grand total of one (Chad Hedrick’s bronze). This is after the long-track team had a huge 2002 and a pretty good 2006. And did the American women even compete in long-track? Oh, they did? Are you sure?

The sliding crew (bobsled, luge, skeleton) didn’t do much, either. One medal in women’s two-man bob. Ugh. In part, that’s about Canada not allowing anyone else to train on its sliding run but, then, Canada won only three medals in those three sports. So part of it was our guys not doing what they were supposed to do.

Anyway, for all the journos covering the American team, that’s two-plus medals a day, on average for the 2010 Games.

And for all you fans, somebody winning a medal of some color every night. Watching some Yank drape himself/herself in the flag at the end of every NBC telecast.  (At least, that’s how they used to do it.)

I hope you all appreciate this. The “we’re No. 1 thing” in Winter.

May never happen again.  Starting in 2014, when I’ll bet you a dollar right now that Russia, at home in Sochi (aka, the Vladimir Putin Games), leads the table.

But this time, up in BC? Party time. May as well have the Yanks win the hockey gold, too. Put a cherry on top of this icy sundae.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jason Davis // Feb 26, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    NBC has mentioned Calgary, if only because of the return-to-Canada angle.

    If it weren’t for the withering criticism of NBC’s coverage, the American dominance would be a much bigger deal, methinks. But it’s getting plenty of run.

  • 2 Tom Ordoñez // Feb 26, 2010 at 5:48 PM

    “Or not see…” Actually, we didn’t get to see much of the skiing either. NBC really bungled the games in my opinion. At one point last weekend they showed an hour of skier cross qualification runs where the competitor goes down the cross course by himself to determine the seeding, followed by an hour of biathlon, while Miller was winning gold in the super combined. I knew because I was following Miller’s performance on Twitter, and ran to a bar to watch it live.

    The whole point of skier cross is the skiers going down together in a bunch. It is the Alpine events where the racer races by himself against the clock. I honestly think that NBC executives are so clueless they didn’t understand this.

Leave a Comment