Updates are in italic. Things have taken an upturn.
We’re at the middle Sunday of the 2018 Olympics, and the USA has … 10 medals.
The Netherlands have 13, perhaps an advantage of picking one sport and getting really, really good at it. They only have four athletes at the Olympics who aren’t speedskaters.
Canada has 16 medals in seven different sports, and we haven’t even hit the hockey medal rounds yet.
Germany has 18. They slide, shoot and ski jump quite well.
Norway has 26. Basically, if it involves skis, the Norwegians have medaled. They’ve already equaled their total from Sochi.
The USA had 28 medals in Sochi. It’s no surprise that they do better in North America — 34 in Salt Lake City and 37 in Vancouver, compared with 25 in Torino.
Sure, the numbers were in the 20th century. In those days, 13 was a record. In 1988, Bonnie Blair and Brian Boitano were the only Americans to take gold, and Blair accounted for two of the USA’s six medals. But that was a different era. The Winter Games have grown — 38 events in Lake Placid 1980, 68 in Nagano 1998, 98 in Sochi 2014.
And the USA has gained from the X Games-ification of the Winter Olympics. Freestyle skiing officially debuted with one event (moguls) in 1992, then added aerials, then ski cross in 2010 and halfpipe and slopestyle in 2014. The USA had 21 medals in that sport coming into Pyeongchang, along with 24 in snowboarding.
But it’s not just the newfangled sports that have kept the USA near the top of the medal table. In Sochi, the USA took five medals in Alpine skiing, four in bobsled (including two in women’s, still a new-ish event), one in luge and one in ice dancing. Even with the long-track speedskating shutout, that’s not a bad showing.
The USA is actually competitive in sports that were once far beyond Americans’ grasp. I was there in 2010 to see the USA’s first Nordic combined medals. The long-overmatched bobsled and luge programs have sprung to life. Skeleton’s return to the Olympics was a boon for the USA — apparently, going head-first down a long slide suits us. And the USA took two medals in last year’s biathlon World Championships to go with a steady stream of cross-country skiing medals, two sports in which the USA has a combined total of one all-time Olympic medal.
So what’s going on in Pyeongchang, where snowboarding accounts for half of the USA’s medal haul so far and all but one of the Americans’ golds?
Two categories. First, near misses:
- An ailing Mikaela Shiffrin, who already has the only non-snowboarding gold for the USA so far, was fourth in her best event (slalom).
- Jessie Diggins came into South Korea with a terrific shot at winning the USA’s first women’s cross-country medal, and she has finished fifth, fifth, fifth (relay) and sixth.
- Nathan Chen made a heroic effort to reach the podium in men’s figure skating and posted the top free skate, but he was fifth overall. (Should’ve been fourth.)
- The luge team relay, led by surprise men’s medalist Chris Mazdzer and track record-breaker Summer Britcher, was fourth.
- Lindsey Jacobellis and Nick Baumgartner each took fourth in snowboardcross. The USA also nearly had fourth-place finishers in men’s and women’s halfpipe, which you may have not noticed given Shaun White and Chloe Kim’s golds.
- Brittany Bowe has nearly broken the speedskating hex, placing fourth, fifth and fifth.
- Maggie Voisin, who was injured in a training run in Sochi and couldn’t compete, finished fourth in slopestyle skiing.
- Casey Andringa was fifth in men’s moguls.
So the 10-medal haul could easily be 15 or more.
Second, ill-timed down years:
- Biathlon. Lowell Bailey took gold and Susan Dunklee took silver in last year’s World Championships, but it’s just not happening this year in the World Cup or in South Korea.
- Men’s Alpine skiing. While the women have two skiers vying for G.O.A.T. status (Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn), Ted Ligety is the only viable medal contender for the U.S. men. He was fifth in the combined.
- Long-track speedskating. There’s really no good way to explain how a team with Bowe and Heather Bergsma has gone two Olympics without reaching the podium.
- And the glory years are long gone for Nordic combined, women’s short-track skating and skeleton.
So what’s the path forward here? Can the USA still get into the mid-20s?
Let’s peek at the remaining medal events:
Sun/Mon, Feb. 18-19 – Day 10. 0 medals. Indeed, none
6:15 a.m.: Bobsled, two-man final two runs. No chance.
6:53 a.m.: Speedskating, men’s 500 meters. Little chance.
7:30 a.m.: Ski jumping, men’s team. No chance.
Mon/Tues, Feb. 19-20 – Day 11. 1-2 medals (running total: 11-12) Got both, bronze in each case. Total of 12.
⭐8 p.m: Figure skating, ice dance free dance. Very good chance. If the Shib Sibs aren’t at their best, two more teams have a shot.
⭐8:30 p.m.: Freestyle skiing, women’s halfpipe. Very good chance. Maddie Bowman is the defending gold medalist.
6:15 a.m.: Biathlon, mixed relay. If Dunklee, Bailey and Tim Burke have awesome legs … well, we can dream.
6:33 a.m.: Short-track speedskating, women’s relay final. Didn’t qualify.
7:45 a.m.: Nordic combined, large hill 10k race. No chance.
Tues/Wed, Feb. 20-21 – Day 12. 1-4 medals (running total: 12-16) OK, I was wrong about the women’s team pursuit. The USA took bronze. That made up for only getting one in women’s bobsled. Vonn got her medal, and yes, so did Diggins (with Kikkan Randall). Still running on the high end of the projections — 16 medals.
⭐9 p.m.: Alpine skiing, women’s downhill. Lindsey Freaking Vonn, folks.
⭐5 a.m.: Cross-country skiing, men’s and women’s team sprint finals. Please, please let Jessie Diggins get her medal here.
⭐6:40 a.m.: Bobsled, women’s final two runs. Certainly one, maybe two.
7:52 a.m.: Speedskating, men’s and women’s team pursuit finals. No chance.
Wed/Thurs, Feb. 21-22 – Day 13. 2-4 medals (running total: 14-20) Not quite a sweep, but two medals in halfpipe and then gold in women’s hockey. So just one off the high end of the projection at 19 medals. Also, the Alpine combined and big air were moved ahead a day, but I’ll leave them with the next day for projection purposes.
⭐9:30 p.m.: Freestyle skiing, men’s halfpipe. Outstanding chance. Might even sweep.
⭐11:10 p.m.: Hockey, women’s gold medal game. All-but-certain gold or silver.
11:45 p.m.: Alpine skiing, men’s slalom. Not likely.
5:20 a.m.: Nordic combined, team relay. Not this year.
6:15 a.m.: Biathlon, women’s 4x6k relay. I wish, but no.
6:18 a.m.: Short-track speedskating, men’s 500-meter final. Slight chance.
6:30 a.m.: Short-track speedskating, women’s 1,000-meter final. Little chance.
7:03 a.m.: Short-track speedskating, men’s relay final. Didn’t qualify for A final, though if a bunch of teams are disqualified …
Thurs/Fri, Feb. 22-23 – Day 14. 1-5 medals (running total: 15-25) Already got two of these a day early thanks to rescheduling. That’s probably going to be all, so they’ll still be at 21. But five medals here was always a stretch.
⭐7:30 a.m.: Snowboarding, women’s big air. Pretty good chance.
⭐8 a.m.: Figure skating, women’s free skate. Less than 50-50, but maybe?
⭐12:30 a.m.: Alpine skiing, women’s combined. Shiffrin and Vonn could contend.
12:35 a.m.: Freestyle skiing, women’s skicross. No U.S. entries.
5 a.m.: Speedskating, men’s 1,000 meters. Only if Shani Davis turns back time.
6:15 a.m.: Biathlon, men’s 4×7.5k relay. No chance.
Fri/Sat, Feb. 23-24 – Day 15. 1-4 medals (running total: 16-29) This will be at least one thanks to the men’s curlers. So the minimum stands at 22. The Torino total of 25 depends the snowboarders and speedskaters.
⭐8 p.m.: Snowboarding, men’s big air. Possible.
9 p.m.: Alpine skiing, team event. Hard to say.
10 p.m.: Snowboarding, parallel giant slalom. Probably not, but you never know.
12 a.m.: Cross-country skiing, men’s 50k mass start. No chance.
⭐1:35 a.m.: Curling, men’s gold medal game. They’re still in it, but this might be a stretch.
⭐7:30 a.m.: Speedskating, men’s mass start. Decent chance. Joey Mantia won the 2017 world title. Maybe they can finally break through.
8 a.m.: Speedskating, women’s mass start
Sat/Sun, Feb. 24-25 – Day 16. 0 medals
7:05 p.m.: Curling, women’s gold medal game. Not likely.
7:30 p.m.: Bobsled, four-man final. Not likely based on two-man runs.
11:10 p.m.: Hockey, men’s gold medal. No Miracle here.
1:15 a.m.: Cross-country skiing, women’s 30k mass start. Not Diggins’ best event.
So the chances of matching Sochi are slim. They’ll struggle to match Torino. But 20 medals wouldn’t be so bad.