Everyone feels it. It starts to happen around the mid-point of every Winter games. A lingering tension begins because of medals not won, neither on the slopes nor the biathlon courses. Not that us Americans care if we medal is those events necessarily, but it would be refreshing to win one periodically.
With that thought, I’ve come to realize that oddly enough, of all world events, the Winter Olympics has become the single greatest equalizer of national pride. Germans figure to do VERY well on the bobsled and luge hill. Thus far, they’ve won every gold medal in luge and a silver too, just for Angela Merkel to wear as a broach when she negotiates with Putin in March. Who knew that Slovenia and Luxemboug have been around the block in the Super-G in more ways than one ;) Norway literally OWNS cross-country skiing and that’s pretty cool. That looks too hard anyways. The national pastime of the Netherlands is Speed skating and their favorite sport is partying after they win all the gold medals in it. In the end, everyone gets a medal in something. So it is, every four years, the nations of the world (save for Africa and the Arabia) descend upon a small sleepy town, high in the mountains of some unheard of city, to compete and party in an athletic orgy of ice and snow. This exercise in egalitarian philosophy extends itself in earnest good will for only so long… Americans like to win, a lot. Therefore, when the second week of competition begins, we know its our time. That is, the Hockey and Figure Skating competition begins.
We don’t even consider the possibility of not medaling, the question is, will we sweep the podium? How many goals will we beat Sweden by, 3 or 4? Every Winter Olympics, America fetes a fresh-faced champion more than happy to rip the tiara and title from her predecessor. Just ask Tara and Sarah how good it felt to blitzkrieg the media and analysts alike, winning surprise gold medals on a night that was supposed to belong to someone else.
Hockey is just as important. We make movies, write books, let them light the Opening Ceremonies’ cauldron and revere these Hockey teams as the stuff of legend. We all know that story, the ‘Miracle on Ice’ when a scrubby bunch of nobodies effectively ended the cold war by beating the Kommies in the 1980 Winter Olympics. It was the perfect platform for Reagon’s campaign. Collectively, in the US, we finally said it, “Amer-I-Can!”
Well, that’s what we’d like to think. The games have actually become the great equalizer that we say they are, but never actually believed. We’ve always kept a running tally at the medal count, how many golds each country has won, always expecting to be either #1 or #2 competing with Canada or Russia. But, well, with globalization, technology, a burgeoning sports culture in Asia, turns out, they’re pretty good at some of these sports too and they want a piece of the pie now. Things are getting uncomfortable.
Despite winning the Men’s Figure Skating Gold in Vancouver, and Ice Dancing silver, it was the first time since 1964 that the US didn’t win a medal in Women’s figure skating. We haven’t even gotten one of our gals on the podium since 2006 at Worlds.
In 2010, the US lost the Gold medal game to our bitter passive/aggressive rivals to the north, Team Canada in overtime. Same thing with the women’s hockey team. Canada kicked our ass.
Russia, backed the ever-expanding ego of Adolf Putin, believes itself to be at their former Soviet level, and quite honestly, they aren’t that bad. In round robin play, the US barely got by Russia in a shoot out, 3-2. In Russia, everyone was upset.
So as we look forward to the second and most important week of the Olympics, let’s take a moment to remember how nice the Games have been so far. South Korea cleaned up in Short Track Speed Skating and China won their first Gold in long-track speed skating. Poland even got some gold, albeit in ski jumping, but good for them!
The gloves are off and unfortunately its that time, where the American’s what we feel is inherently ours. We want our Prom King and Queen for the world to see. But, things aren’t looking too bright. We’ll be lucky to get on the podium in women’s figure skating, #BronzeAtBest! Conversely, however, the US Hockey team is showing some moxy and could very well pull off just one more of those ‘miracles on ice’. And wouldn’t it be fitting? It is no secret Putin is putting an immense amount of pressure on the Russian Hockey squad to win gold. With old Cold War tensions renewed of late, between frenemies President Obama and Vladimir Putin, the pawns in their new war are glad to duke it out the old fashion way, through sport. It’s the fairest venue. Because on that night, in that arena, that’s when it matters most. No politics, no past glories, it happens right there, under the lights… and it is truly amazing what these athletes, regardless of nationality achieve.