Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Roundup: best of the Olympic moments
I've already written briefly about the first Olympic moment that really sucked me in - Alexandre Bilodeau's first Canadian gold medal awarded on home soil. Below is a round-up (in chrono order) of the other Olympic moments that drew me in, made me cheer, made me tear or made me smile. If you'd like to relive it with me, the links direct you to video on the NBC site, since they don't allow embedding. If you only watch one, I recommend #5.
1) Mens boarder-cross final - In a true nail-biter, Seth Wescott overcame injury and an unfortunate qualifying race performance that left him with a poor starting position in the medal race. Boardercross is a highly unpredictable sport, with mistakes by other riders as likely as not to take out a top competitor. Seth rode like the hounds of hell were chasing him, with an amazing come-from-behind performance to take the gold medal... the only man to hold an Olympic gold in this sport, as he defended his Turino gold medal earned in the BoarderX Olympic debut. In a sport dominated by inconsistency and the vagaries of fate, he deserves congratulations for making it to the top of the podium not once, but twice.
2) Mens speed-skating 1000m; Shani Davis defends gold - I adore this guy's shy smile, which sometimes even appears while he's racing. He won this race in Turino and left it all on the track to defend that gold in Vancouver, winning by a mere 0.18 sec. What astounds me - not only in this race, but over and over as I watched the Games - is just how small the margin between the athletes' performances were. These medals are won and lost on hundredths of a second - literally the blink of an eye.
3) Shaun White's snowboard half-pipe victory run - Shaun had already laid down a run that secured him the gold, so he could have slid right down the middle of the pipe. Freed from the pressure of achieving, he just let it fly. Now I know it's cliche, citing this moment, where a snowboard superstar that is flown by helicopter to train at his own private backcountry pipe in the Colorado mountains wins the inevitable gold. But in these games, where so many medals were decided by minute differences in athletes' performances, Shaun White was far and away the top competitor that evening. Stunning and obvious, even to the untrained observer. And off the snow, he seems such a nice guy - not at all full of himself.
4) Lindsey Vonn's gold medal in ladies alpine skiing downhill. - Confession time - hearing Linsdey in interviews before her race talking about her bruised shin, I thought she was a bit of a prima donna, offering excuses before the race to deflect a potential poor performance. However, learning more about just how much pressure she felt to succeed, and witnessing her touching tears in the arms of her coach and husband after the race (which unfortunately is cut from the linked video), my mind was changed. She's simply a competitive and talented skier that really, really wanted to live up to her potential, fought through injury to do so, and was thrilled to achieve her gold medal dream.
5) Italian Peter Fills big smile after crashing the gate at the end of men's super G - In the agony of defeat column, Fills crossed the finish line on his back after a truly spectacular wipeout which DQ'd him from the competition. Fortunately, he walked away uninjured, but even better, he stood up with a huge smile - whirling his ski pole to pump the crowd. I've got to admire his attitude and spirit.
6) Canadian skater Joannie Rochette's courageous short program - OMG, the pathos. This was by far one of the most touching stories of these games. I can't even imagine having the grace and courage to go out on the ice and turn in a season's-best performance as Rochette did a short few days after losing her mother to a sudden heart attack. The support of the crowd was palpable, and like the athlete she is, she delivered - going on to win the bronze after a composed performance in the free skate. But I cried like a baby with her when this short program was over.
7) Aussie Lydia Lassila's freestyle aerial win - Imagine you are back at the Olympics after a devastating knee injury suffered four years ago during the Turino competition. The Chinese team, as they so often do lately, has turned in a precise and impressive performance and sit 1-2 atop the leader board. You are facing a hill cloaked in fog and mushy snow. To win the gold, you need to turn in the jump of your life. You slide down the hill, launch yourself four stories into the murky fog, execute a seemingly impossible series of flips and twists - and stick a nearly perfect landing. Talk about making a moment count. I loved the truly enthusiastic and sincere hug that the previously-leading Chinese competitor gave Lydia after the gold medal score was posted.
8) Ladies free skate - I used to really get into the figure skating competitions, but lately - meh. It seemed for a while that the competitions were won by the skater that tried the hardest jumps and screwed up the least. So congratulations to the final 6 in this competition. Each and every one of them turned in clean performances that earned them a personal best score. When you consider just how young these girls are, you've got to admire their guts and composure to perform so well during the pinnacle competition of their sport.
9) Pretty much the entire catalogue of short track speed skating events - This sport is insane... the pace, the rhythm, the tactics, the crashes... my heart was in my throat for nearly every race I watched. The things these athletes can do on foot-long blades are amazing - a slideshow shows just how hard the skaters push the laws of physics. Plus one of my great friends has a huge crush on Apolo Ohno, resulting in no end of amusement as I watched him skate and thought of her harboring impure thoughts.
10) Women's 30km Cross Country photo finish. There were many, many photo finishes in these Games. But I found myself chanting "go, go, go" out loud at the end of this race. These women have spent 90 minutes in the snow over 30km, pacing themselves, working out ski strategy. And here they were coming to the final few seconds in an all out sprint to the finish... Justyna Kowalcyk of Poland watching her rival Marit Bjoergen, who charged up in the last few meters. The lead is changing with every stroke. Kowalcyk digs deep and pushes forward at the last possible moment to win by only 0.3 seconds and achieve Poland's first gold medal in this sport. Well done.
11) Last, but certainly not least, that amazing cap to the Games - the gold medal hockey match. Americans don't really understand what it is like to have a national sport that is very nearly a religion. Think soccer for the Brazilians, rugby for New Zealand... and hockey for the Canadians. I couldn't, with clear conscience, truly root for Team USA when I knew just how very much that win would mean to the Canadians - both the team and the country. I know people say that the US was disappointed by the result, but honestly, I was thrilled. And for Team USA to pull off a goal with 24 seconds left and send it to overtime.... one just cannot ask for a more exciting finish than that. My hats off to the Americans and hearty and sincere congratulations to Canada.
There are a few Olympic pet peeves I noted:
1) The media's frequent tallying of medals by country. Who cares? So what if the US - a country with 300 million people and the largest disposable income in the free world - could soundly beat all the other countries in the total medal count. I know it's a historic accomplishment for Americans at the Winter Games usually dominated by the Europeans, but really, I don't care. It seems to me the games should be about the athletes' achievements and the camraderie of competition, not which country can tally up the most medals - even if it is my own. Given that the count was reported, however, I was pleased to note that the Canadians took the most gold medals after never having won a gold at home before. Good on them!
2) Sour grapes silver medalists. Yevgeny Pleshenko, men's figure skating silver medalist, I'm looking at you. I mean, come on, everybody wants the gold - but everyone can't win it. To achieve an Olympic silver medal is a great accomplishment, and I love celebrating those achievements for the athletes that are genuinely excited to be awarded a medal at all. Pouting because you didn't come first just makes me want to smack you.
Lacking the coordination to accomplish any of these physical feats, and the mental fortitude not to choke were I given the opportunity, I admire all of these competitors so much. I appreciate the sacrifices they've made for their sport and I hope they enjoyed the Olympic competition experience as much as I enjoyed watching it and cheering them on.
Did you have any favorite Olympic moments this go-round?