Sochi recap: Cross-country skiing, women’s 30k

We saw two races today — a three-way race between three Norwegians, then a race among everyone else. Norway had some frustration in these Olympics, but not today. Marit Bjoergen won her third gold medal of these Games. She’s tied for the women’s Winter Olympic career records with six golds and 10 medals.

Date: 22-Feb

Sport: Cross-country skiing

Event: Women’s 30k freestyle mass start

Medalists: Marit Bjoergen (Norway), Theresa Johaug (Norway), Kristin Stoermer Steira (Norway)

SportsMyriad projections: Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland), Therese Johaug (Norway), Marit Bjoergen (Norway)

How U.S. fared: Not the USA’s best event, but a couple of skiers were seeded in the top 15. They were never a factor, though. Skiers have the option of changing skis at the 10k and 20k mark, and the U.S. skiers all changed at 10k. Then they saw few other skiers making the same decision. That cost them about 20 seconds, and no one was in the chase pack of about 12 skiers.

Liz Stephen finished 24th (3:06.6 back), Holly Brooks 27th (3:53.1), Kikkan Randall 28th (4:05.5), Jessie Diggins 40th (7:07.8).

What happened: Remember when Norway had all the wrong wax or all the wrong skis? Not today. At the 10k mark, Norway had the top three and the skier in fifth. Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla broke up the party, with Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk and Finland’s Krista Lahteenmaki immediately behind.

Then Theresa Johaug, Marit Bjoergen and Kristin Stoermer Steira simply broke away. At the halfway point, they were more than 30 seconds ahead of Lahteenmaki. Kowalczyk, unable to keep up, simply popped off her skis and withdrew from the race. (She prefers classical.)

By the 20k mark, the lead was close to a minute over a dispirited chase pack, where the other contenders had little interest in turning up the pace to chase for fourth place.

Bjoergen and Johaug pushed up the final climb and dropped Steira. Bjoergen gained some daylight at the top and raced away for the win. Johaug was 2.6 seconds back, then Steira 23 seconds behind.

The Norwegians had a minute — literally — to celebrate at the finish line before Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen won the sprint for fourth place.

Full results

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Defending the figure skating system — sort of

The current system for the inherently controversial task of judging figure skating competitions is the worst system ever designed — except the last one. And except the systems they used in snowboarding, freestyle skiing, gymnastics and pretty much everything else that’s decided by judges.

The old system had that old familiar air to it. Judges gave marks for technical merit and presentation ranging from 0.0 (never, ever seen) to 6.0 (rarely seen). But that wasn’t even the decisive factor — it was the “ordinals,” ranking skaters from first to worst.

And it had a few problems:

1. Rep meant everything. Judges weren’t going to give a bunch of high scores until the big names hit the ice in the last group. A veteran skater would often get the benefit of the doubt unless he or she skidded all over the ice.

2. Comebacks after the short program were all but impossible. Sarah Hughes’ rally from fourth after the short program to the 2002 gold medal was the exception, requiring an exceptional sequence of dominoes to fall.

Here’s an example: Let’s say Jane Jumpwell is fifth after the short program with a bunch of 5.5s while Sally Spinner is first with a bunch of 5.7s. Short program ordinals are cut in half, so Spinner would have 0.5 points to Jumpwell’s 2.5. (The fewer points, the better.)

Then let’s say Jumpwell has the best free skate ever — all 6.0s — while Spinner stumbles around to a bunch of 5.3s and 5.4s. But then everyone else stumbles around, and Spinner is still second-best to Jumpwell. From the free skate, Jumpwell would have 1.0 points to Spinner’s 2.0. Final totals: Spinner 2.5, Jumpwell 3.5.

Let’s make it less hypothetical: Denis Ten was ninth in this year’s short program and third in the free skate. Under the old system, he would have had 7.5 points. Spain’s Javier Fernandez would have beaten him just because so many skaters finished in the 2.34-point gap between Fernandez and Ten in the short program. The fact that Ten blew Fernandez away in the free skate would’ve meant nothing.

This year, 12 men’s skaters were in contention for the podium after the short program. Under the old system, most of them would’ve been out.

3. Transparency? What transparency? Why did a judge give a 5.3 instead of a 5.5? Who knows?

The current system lets us see every element. Was the triple axel underrotated? There it is, with a lowered base value and a negative Grade of Execution. And judges weigh in on the “components” — skating skills, transitions, choreography, interpretation timing, etc.

(Let’s dismiss one bit of criticism — the idea that skaters get credit for what they attempt. Utter nonsense. If you say you’re going to do a triple-triple but you only do a double-single, you get credit for the double-single. If you fall, you get a mandatory 1-point deduction as well as a negative Grade of Execution for the jump. And you may have underrotated the jump to begin with, which reduces the base value … add it all up, and you’re down many points.)

Compare this with snowboarding and freestyle skiing. Athletes do all kinds of tricks and get exactly one number. Why was that run a 93 while the run before it was a 91? Who knows?

So when we question figure skating scores, we can take a closer look. That’s why The Boston Globe‘s John Powers attributed Adelina Sotnikova’s controversial figure skating victory to simple math: “There are those in the Land of the Morning Calm and beyond who’ll claim that Queen Yu Na wuz robbed, that it was a bag job for the homegirl, that figure skating is every bit as corrupt and confusing as it was in the years that culminated in the Salt Lake judging scandal. And then there are those who can count.”

So Sotnikova won because she got more points for her jumps, right? Well, not quite. Sotnikova may have done more technically demanding jumps, but the judges correctly knocked her down for a mistake. By Sally Jenkins’ figuring, it was actually the spins, not the jumps, that put Sotnikova ahead. And Amy Rosewater’s dissection shows how Sotnikova and her coaches refined her program for maximum points while Kim was in virtual international isolation.

But Rosewater’s piece hints at another problem: the “component” scores. Kim barely beat Sotnikova here. But Sotnikova kept it close by improving five points and change from the European Championships.

Improvement? Or a judging flaw? Ultimately, this is the most subjective part of the figure skating system. And there’s no way to take it out completely without reducing the whole sport to a jump-off and spin-off.

So that subjectivity is still there. And that’s why, for all of Powers’ protests, my former colleague Christine Brennan has a point when she investigates the makeup of the judging panel and the anonymity in the judging process. We don’t know who gave what mark.

On NBC, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir stressed the importance of “connecting with the audience.” That’s going to be a bit easier for the host country’s favorite than it is for Gracie Gold or Yuna Kim. Did that sway the judges? Maybe.

And would they mark things up any differently if we knew who gave what score? Would the pressure to please the home crowd be outweighed by the pressure of knowing the marks would be scrutinized by every observer around the world?

So what we can say of figure skating’s judging system is this: The numbers are fine. And the human beings behind them may be fine. But we need to know who they are. One simple change could ease so many problems.

 

Best/worst, Sochi medal projections vs. reality: Feb. 21

Justin Reiter, a nation’s hopes are in your hands.

Who? He’s a snowboarder who does parallel events, which we in the USA don’t follow or fund to the same extent we follow and fund halfpipe, slopestyle and various X Games-ish things. Reiter actually needs another $12,000 and change to fund his Sochi excursion.

How unknown is he? “Walking into the Olympics, I had other snowboarders on Team USA asking me if I was a coach.” he told ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk.

And yet, Reiter may be the USA’s key to reaching 30 medals.

The USA has 27 medals — the most, by one over Russia. The Games have 10 events left.

The projections give the USA two more medals. One, speedskating team pursuit, won’t happen — the U.S. men are racing for seventh place. Another, four-man bobsled, is a good possibility.

The U.S. is not projected to win a medal in ice hockey, but they have a good shot. That and bobsled would give the USA 29 medals.

Where could the USA get No. 30?

No Americans are entered in women’s snowboarding parallel slalom. The U.S. women’s speedskaters are racing for fifth in team pursuit.

Men’s slalom (the familiar Alpine skiing version) isn’t out of the question, but don’t bet on it. Ted Ligety has the gold medal to show for his giant slalom prowess, but he has done no better than 11th in slalom this season. The other skiers would need some sort of Weibrechtian surprise to get on the podium.

The cross-country endurance events (women’s 30k, men’s 50k) would also require a career performance for a U.S. medal. So would the biathlon relay, where the USA doesn’t have a lot of depth.

So if Reiter, who was second in the 2013 World Championships, can get a few breaks in the unpredictable world of snowboarding’s parallel events, the USA might have a shot at 30. Better than no shot, right?

CURRENT PACE

Original projections: Norway 39, USA 35, Canada 30, Russia 26, Germany 23, Austria 22, South Korea 15, Netherlands 14, France 12, Switzerland 11, Sweden 10, Japan 7, Italy 7, China 6, Czech Republic 6

If the rest of the projections were to come true, we’d end up with: Russia 32, USA 29, Norway 27, Canada 25, Netherlands 24, Germany 18, Austria 16, France 16, Sweden 15, Switzerland 12, China 9, Japan 9, Italy 9, South Korea 8, Czech Republic 8.

We know Russia won’t get a medal in men’s hockey. The remaining projected medals are biathlon (men’s relay), snowboarding (women’s parallel slalom), bobsled (four-man), and two in cross-country skiing (men’s 50k).

UP

China (+1 today, +3 overall): The narrow loss in curling may sting, but three medals in short-track will make any country happy.

USA (+1 today, -6 overall): Like Ted Ligety, Mikaela Shiffrin dealt with the pressure of being the favorite with no trouble at all. And the short-track men’s relay kept US Speedskating from a complete shutout in Sochi.

Ukraine (+1 today, even overall): What a great story — a country torn by unrest at home delivering a steady, gutsy performance in the women’s biathlon relay to win a convincing gold medal.

FULL TABLE

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HIGHLIGHTS

Biggest winner: 

Biggest opportunity for federation to question itself: South Korea let Ahn get away.

Best U.S. employment program: Maybe we can’t call it the best, but it’s expansive — Adecco has 291 athletes placed with jobs, including hotel valet/speedskater Patrick Meek.

Best Winter Games growth area: Latin America has snow but no medals.

Best trifecta of Dutch transportation methods/sports: 

Most surprisingly un-Photoshopped photo:

Best case to quit complaining and change tactics and/or coaches: British short-track speedskater Elise Christie has already been disqualified once in these Games for barging into someone else. (And once more for literally missing the finish line.) So in today’s 1,ooo-meter showdowns, she managed to pull off one miraculous escape by rallying from the back to advance, then tried to do it again against a pretty good group of skaters. See the 17:44 update at the BBC to see what Christie did to get past Li Jianrou. Christie and Li pretty much fell over each other at the next turn. They were both disqualified, which is quite reasonable. But don’t tell that to the British commentators or Twitter public.

Strangest speedskating suggestion (tie): From International Skating Union President for Life Ottavio Cinquanta – mixed team pursuit!

Strangest speedskating suggestion (tie): Dutch speedskating coach Jillert Anema thinks the USA should quit wasting time on sports like American football.

Quote most likely to be remembered in four years: Anema, from the same interview – “You won’t beat us, not in four years, not in eight years.”

SATURDAY’S PROJECTIONS

Alpine skiing, men’s slalom: Marcel Hirscher (Austria), Mario Matt (Austria), Felix Neureuther (Germany)

Also considered: Ivica Kostelic (Croatia), Andre Myhrer (Sweden)

Biathlon, men’s relay: Russia, Norway, France

Also considered: Austria, Germany, Sweden

Cross-country skiing, women’s 30k: Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland), Therese Johaug (Norway), Marit Bjoergen (Norway)

Also considered: Yulia Tchekaleva (Russia)

Snowboarding, women’s parallel slalom: Ekaterina Tudegesheva (Russia), Patrizia Kummer (Switzerland), Hilde-Katrine Engeli (Norway)

Also considered: Caroline Calve (Canada), Isabella Laböck (Germany), Amelie Kober (Germany), Marion Kreiner (Austria)

Snowboarding, men’s parallel slalom: Andreas Prommegger (Austria), Roland Fischnaller (Italy), Rok Marguc (Austria)

Also considered: Benjamin Karl (Austria), Zan Kosir (Slovenia), Justin Reiter (USA), Simon Schoch (Switzerland), Vic Wild (Russia)

Speedskating, women’s team pursuit: Netherlands, Poland, Japan

Also considered: Canada, Russia. Actual semifinalists: Russia, Poland, Japan, Netherlands

Speedskating, men’s team pursuit: Netherlands, South Korea, USA

Also considered: Norway, Poland, Russia. Actual gold medal final: Netherlands vs. South Korea. Actual bronze medal final: Poland vs. Canada.

Sochi recap: Curling, men’s gold medal game

Canada’s Olympic victory was never in doubt, as the curling-mad country swept men’s and women’s gold for the first time.

Date: 21-Feb

Sport: Curling

Event: Men’s gold medal game, Canada vs. Britain

Medalists: Canada, Britain, Sweden

SportsMyriad projections: Canada, Sweden, Britain

What happened: Canada jumped out in front early. Brad Jacobs’ team got a lot of rocks in play in the first end, and David Murdoch needed to take out two of them just to limit the damage. Jacobs scored two with the hammer.

Murdoch had a chance to tie in the second with a takeout, but his rock rolled as well, holding Britain to one.

It got worse. Canada again got a lot of rocks in play in the third, and British vice-skip Greg Drummond got his own rocks out of the house instead of Canada’s. Drummond rebounded to remove three of Canada’s five rocks with his next shot, but Murdoch was powerless to prevent Canada from scoring three for a 5-1 lead.

Murdoch had a tough shot for two in the fourth. He missed. A measurement confirmed a steal of one for Canada and a 6-1 score.

Canada piled on, getting some rocks in the front of the house to limit Britain to one in the fifth. A couple of botched British shots early in the sixth end left Canada in good shape to score two once again and lead 8-2.

Britain needed a big end. The seventh end wasn’t it. Murdoch had a shot for two but could only get one, trailing 8-3 without the hammer.

Murdoch managed to create some chaos in the house in the eighth end, but Jacobs cleared it out, and when Jacobs completed a takeout for a 9-3 lead, Murdoch conceded.

Full results | Recaps with diagrams

Sochi recap: Biathlon, women’s relay

Wild day in Olympic biathlon, with Germany and France out of contention in the first leg while Canada and the USA were in the top five with one leg to go. And then an inspiring winner — Ukraine, torn apart by unrest at home, came together for a strong win.

Date: 21-Feb

Sport: Biathlon

Event: Women’s relay

Medalists: Ukraine, Russia, Norway

SportsMyriad projections: Norway, Germany, Russia

 

How U.S. fared: Susan Dunklee is the story of the Games for the USA out at the Nordic venues. She was once again absolutely fearless, taking off ahead of the contenders. She needed two extra shots in the prone shooting and one standings, sticking close to the leaders and handing off in fourth place, just 12.9 seconds back.

Hannah Dreissigacker, still a relative newcomer to biathlon, needed three extra shots at each stage but avoided the penalty loop and skied quickly. She was in sixth, 58.2 seconds back, at the exchange.

Sara Studebaker shot the lights out. She cleaned all 10 shots and stuck with the Czech Republic and Switzerland to contend for fifth place. At the exchange, she was indeed in fifth.

Annalies Cook stayed in that group through the first lap. Two missed shots let the Czech Republic get away, but she stayed ahead of Switzerland and the charging Italian team. Two more misses let the favorites pass, but she came across in seventh, the best result for the U.S. women in this event.

What happened: Colder but not really better. We had rain and snow, and Chad Salmela said the new snow would retain a bit of the rain to make a bit of slush on top of the solid man-made snow.

Maybe that accounted for anomalies that took out two of the contenders. Germany’s Franziska Preuss, a 19-year-old who got the nod ahead of Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, had some sort of equipment problem on the first lap, possibly from a fall not seen on camera. She came into the shooting range after nearly everyone else had gone, then needed to blow snow out of her rifle to shoot. She used three extra shots and hit the checkpoint nearly two minutes down.

Then the cameras found France’s Marie-Laure Brunet face down in the snow with medical crews racing to her aid. NBC’s reporters later said she had felt dizzy and collapsed.

 

Russia and Ukraine set the pace early. Then Italy’s Dorothea Wierer flew past them to lead at the first exchange.

 

Norway had a rough first leg, sitting 50.8 seconds back in ninth place. Tiril Eckhoff erased half of that deficit, pulling Norway into third past Russia’s Olga Zaitseva.

The developing story was Ukraine. The war-torn country would have something to cheer, with Vita Semerenko putting them in contention with her first leg and Juliya Dzhyma shooting cleanly to take the lead when she handed off to the other Semerenko twin, Valj.

At the halfway point, the Czech Republic was second but had just sent out its best athlete, Gabriela Soukalova. Then Norway, Russia and surprising Canada.

Ukraine’s Valj Semerenko came into the range first. She hesitated twice but went five-for-five. So did Russia’s Ekaterina Shumilova and Norway’s Ann Kristin Aafedt Flatland, each of whom left a little more than 40 seconds behind Semerenko. Next was a shocker: Canada’s Megan Heinicke. The Czech Republic challenge had faded.

Semerenko struggled on the standing shoot. She missed three of her initial five shots. She took plenty of time before each of her extra shots but managed to get out without a penalty loop. Shumilova made the crowd cheer by clearing her shots and pulling through 23.4 seconds behind. Then Flatland a couple of seconds later. And Heinicke once again shot cleanly, keeping a 30-second edge on the Czech Republic, Switzerland and the USA.

Ukraine had an excellent anchor lined up — Olena Pidrushna, the reigning print world champion. She took the course with a 28.4-second lead over Norway, which sent out the great Tora Berger. Russia, right on Norway’s tail, had Olympic sprint silver medalist, Olga Vilukhina. Canada was less than 20 seconds behind them, improbably poised to swipe a medal if the favorites faltered.

Pidrushna barely missed her second shot but cleaned it quickly with her first extra shot. Canada’s Zina Kocher zipped around the first lap and came into the range in second place, but Vilukhina and Berger shot quickly to get away from her. Kocher missed twice and dropped 25 seconds behind the third-place Berger.

Ukraine’s lead was down to 6.7 seconds, and Pidrushna could see Vilukhina come in alongside her. But Pidrushna mowed down all five targets. Vilukhina missed once and left the range 11.1 seconds back. Berger had an opportunity but also missed once, stumbling out of the range 25.1 seconds back.

The North Americans finally faltered. Canada’s Kocher only knocked down three targets with her eight shots, consigned her to two penalty loops. The USA’s Cook missed twice, falling behind two stars — Italy’s Karin Oberhofer and Belarus’s Darya Domracheva.

The three medalists were set — the Czech Republic was a distant fourth — but the order was still in doubt. The crowd roared for Vilukhina to catch Pidrushna, but the Ukrainian would not be caught. And Ukraine flags flew proudly as Pidrushna crossed the line. Berger’s challenge faded in the last kilometer, and Vilukhina made it across for second. The Czech Republic was fourth, while the great Domracheva pulled Belarus into fifth. Then Italy, then the USA, then Canada in eighth. Germany, which has never not medaled in this event, finished 11th.

Full results

 

Sochi recap: Curling, men’s bronze medal game

What a game for Olympic bronze. Sweden and China were nearly perfect through five ends, then punished each other’s rare mistakes to set up a dramatic finish. Sweden was forced to give up the hammer to force an extra end, but Niklas Edin and company expertly set up a steal to take the bronze against a Chinese team that is making a lot of noise in curling just in time — the World Championships next month are in Beijing.

Date: 21-Feb

Sport: Curling

Event: Men’s bronze medal game, Sweden-China

What happened: A whole lot of quality curling.

Sweden’s Niklas Edin hit a precisely angled double takeout to hold China to one in the third, tying the game at 1. Then the teams set up a complex fourth end with several stones in a jagged line from the front of the house to the back, with China’s Liu Rui tossing precise draws and Sweden’s Sebastian Kraupp and Edin converting takeouts with very little of the rock available to hit. Edin drew to take a 2-1 lead.

In the fifth end, four rocks of alternate color were staggered in the house. Edin put up a guard. Then Liu somehow removed the three Swedish rocks from play while leaving two of his own. Edin came right back and played a double takeout to knock out China’s rocks and clear the house. Liu played through the house to blank the end.

At the halfway point, the skips’ percentages were off the charts — Liu at 97%, Edin at 100%. Sweden was shooting 90%, China 89%.

Edin finally erred in the sixth end. Needing to bump or draw ahead of a Chinese rock in scoring position at the back corner of the house, he missed and sent his rock through the rings. China put another another in scoring position with no potential for a double takeout. Edin took that one out, and China put it right back to score two for a 3-2 lead.

Sweden couldn’t keep rocks in the house in the seventh, and Edin hit a simple takeout to tie the game 3-3.

The eighth saw China wrestling with a typical curling dilemma. Swedish vice-skip Sebastian Kraupp hit a double takeout to clear the house, and the teams traded draws and takeouts after that. But before using the hammer, Liu called timeout to discuss options with coach Marcel Rocque. The Canadian said either option — blanking the end to keep the hammer or leaving one in the house to go up 4-3 — was fine. Pressed by his team, Rocque said he would opt to blank it. But he insisted it was their choice. Satisfied, Liu blanked the end.

That was a curious conversation for a team that may be representing a young curling country in China but has an experienced skip in Liu. Then Liu made an elementary mistake in the ninth end, failing to release his rock before crossing the line. The red light on the stone that detects such things went off, and China was forced to steer it out of play.

Sweden used its own timeout, with coach Eva Lund stepping down to make a few emphatic points. They opted to take out the lone Chinese rock within the eight-foot, leaving Sweden with three in scoring position. A triple takeout was unimaginable, and Liu was forced to play his last one to the button to tie it 4-4 and give Sweden the hammer for the 10th end.

That’s a big advantage, but Kraupp erred with his deliveries, leaving too many rocks in play in the four-foot. Liu hit a takeout to leave three Chinese rocks on the button. He was scored a “4” on the play, keeping his percentage up at 93% despite the dreadful error in the ninth, but NBC’s commentary team was less impressed. They saw an opportunity for Edin to get one in play. After bumping a couple of the rocks, Edin’s shot nestled on the edge of the button, probably in scoring position but close enough that no one could be sure.

Liu’s last shot nudged another Chinese rock just a bit, also to the edge of the button. Sweden’s rock still looked closer. But there was no good shot for Sweden to take two and the win. With so much traffic near the button, Edin risked losing if he so much as tapped one of the Chinese rocks. He opted to throw it through the side of the house to preserve his single — if the measurement confirmed that his rock was closer. It did. Tied 4-4 after 10, we were off to an extra end, and China had the hammer in a game in which neither side had managed a steal.

Incredibly, China had another hog-line violation, this time by vice-skip Xu XiaoMing on the 10th rock. Sweden called timeout to consider the situation — China had one in scoring position in the back of the four-foot, Sweden had one in the front of the four-foot, and Sweden had two guards. They opted to have Kraupp freeze his shot in front of China’s scoring rock, and the shot wasn’t bad — in scoring position on the button but just a couple of inches shy of China’s rock. Xu tried to take out both Swedish rocks, but he left one sitting slightly off-center and ahead of the tee line.

Edin put up another guard. Liu tried to bump the Swedish rock off the button, but it just went even closer to the center. Edin slammed out the one Chinese rock in the house, leaving Liu a difficult takeout — he would have to curl around some well-placed guards with enough momentum to get the Swedish rock out of there.

That shot just brushed Sweden’s rock, and Edin had a 6-4 win for the bronze.

Full results | Recaps with diagrams

Best/worst, Sochi medal projections vs. reality: Feb. 20

So many ups and downs today. Athletes who seemed to have the prize in hand and saw it slip away. Countries that saw success in one venue and disappointment in another. A wonderful figure skating contest undone by questionable judging.

That’s the Olympics in a nutshell, isn’t it?

CURRENT PACE

Original projections: Norway 39, USA 35, Canada 30, Russia 26, Germany 23, Austria 22, South Korea 15, Netherlands 14, France 12, Switzerland 11, Sweden 10, Japan 7, Italy 7

If the rest of the projections were to come true, we’d end up with: Russia 32, USA 28, Norway 27, Canada 25, Netherlands 24, Germany 19, France 17, Sweden 15, Austria 15, Switzerland 13, Italy 10, Japan 9, South Korea 9.

But if you look at the current medal count, you don’t see Russia on top. It’s USA 25, Russia 23, Netherlands 22, Norway 21, Canada 20.

So is Russia really going to win nine medals over the last three days of the Olympics while the USA gets only three?

We know one medal Russia won’t be getting — men’s hockey. The rest are entirely possible: Biathlon men’s relay, biathlon women’s relay, short-track men’s 500 meters, short-track men’s relay, snowboarding women’s parallel slalom, four-man bobsled, and two in the cross-country men’s 50k.

The USA’s only remaining projections: Alpine women’s slalom, four-man bobsled, speedskating men’s team pursuit. At this point, you can just about add men’s hockey. But you might want to forget speedskating.

And there aren’t many remaining events in which the USA could surprise. Americans aren’t even entered in women’s skicross or women’s parallel slalom. The long-distance cross-country races are the USA’s weakest.

For the USA to reach 30 medals, someone will have to surprise in short-track. Or maybe men’s slalom.

But it’s funny that in the largest Winter Olympics by far, no one will come close to the record of 37 medals the USA set in 2010. We might not even see anyone beat Germany’s total of 29 in 2006.

Enjoy the Parity Games.

UP

France (+3 today, +5 overall): The only projected medal today was in the Nordic combined team event, where they never quite managed a challenge to the podium. They got four medals elsewhere, all in freestyle skiing. That’s a silver in women’s halfpipe and a sweep in men’s skicross.

UP AND DOWN

Canada (-2 today, -5 overall): No medals in freestyle skiing? They’ll just have to settle for gold medals in their national sports of curling and hockey.

FULL TABLE

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HIGHLIGHTS

Biggest online audience

Biggest U.S. heartbreak

Best camaraderie: Call it the Sarah Burke influence or just action sports mutual respect, but the women’s halfpipe skiers could hardly finish a run without hugging each other. Great stuff.

Sharpest figure skating commentary

https://twitter.com/PushDicksButton/status/436575179561783296

Worst timing for 1980 “Miracle” star

Wildest finish

Best picture

FRIDAY’S PROJECTIONS

Alpine skiing, women’s slalom: Mikaela Shiffrin (USA), Marlies Schild (Austria), Frida Hansdotter (Sweden). Also considered: Tina Maze (Slovenia), Tanja Poutiainen (Finland), Kathrin Zettel (Austria)

Shiffrin was a solid fifth in the giant slalom.

Biathlon, women’s relay: Norway, Germany, Russia. Also considered: France, Italy, Ukraine

Curling, men’s bronze and gold medal games: Canada, Sweden, Britain

Canada and Britain are playing for gold. Sweden faces China for bronze.

Freestyle skiing, women’s skicross: Fanny Smith (Switzerland), Ophelie David (France), Marielle Thompson (Canada). Also considered: Katrin Mueller (Switzerland), Kelsey Serwa (Canada)

As unpredictable as this sport is, I’d be happy with one of these five medaling.

Short-track speedskating, men’s 500: Viktor Ahn (Russia), Charles Hamelin (Canada), Wu Dajing (China). Also considered: Liang Wenhao (China), Seyeong Park (South Korea), Freek van der Wart (Netherlands)

Hamelin didn’t make it out of the heats.

Short-track speedskating, women’s 1,000: Suk Hee Shim (South Korea), A-Lang Kim (South Korea), Arianna Fontana (Italy). Also considered: Seung-Hi Park (South Korea), Jorien ter Mors (Netherlands)

All advanced.

Short-track speedskating, men’s relay: Canada, Russia, South Korea. Also considered: Netherlands, USA

Canada and South Korea didn’t reach the final.

Sochi recap: Figure skating, women’s free skate

It’s not fair to say Olympic figure skating is still the same mess it was in the past. The new scoring system does add a bit of transparency. But judges are human, particularly in a sport in which the athletes are also artists trying to connect with a crowd. And that’s why Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova is a gold medalist ahead of defending champion Yuna Kim.

Date: 20-Feb

Sport: Figure skating

Event: Women’s free program

Medalists: Adelina Sotnikova (Russia), Yuna Kim (South Korea), Carolina Kostner (Italy)

SportsMyriad projections: Mao Asada (Japan), Yuna Kim (South Korea), Ashley Wagner (USA)

How U.S. fared: Polina Edmunds, who’s not yet old enough to drive, had a graceful skate with a few difficult elements. She hit the combinations but fell on a triple — Johnny Weir pointed out it was the same error she had in the national championships. Everything else was solid, and Edmunds had a personal best 122.21 and a total of 183.25, just behind Japan’s Akiko Suzuki in third place with the top six to come.

Gracie Gold skated very well. She just had one costly fall on a triple flip. She also followed Russia’s Sotnikova, and the lack of energy in the arena may have deflated some of her component scores. She beat the personal best she set in the team program with a score of 136.90 and a total of 205.53.

Ashley Wagner had dazzling spins, and she didn’t fall or land too awkwardly. She pumped her fists as she finished. But Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski noticed a couple of small errors, including one underrotation. That was enough to limit her score to 127.99, just shy of her personal best.

The USA is officially in a medal drought in this event, but finishing fourth (Gold), seventh (Wagner) and ninth (Edmunds) isn’t too bad. Maybe the Olympics could add a team event with three women per team?

What happened: Japanese favorite Mao Asada rebounded from her dreadful short program by landing everything in her demanding free skate, including the fateful triple axel. She was marked down on two jumps but not much else, getting a career-high 142.71 points. Her total of 198.22 wouldn’t contend for a medal. Would it?

France’s Mae Berenice Meite, who skated to the same Prince tune as Jason Brown in the short program, did her free skate to the sounds of someone tuning his guitar. It segued into some slow blues, then Queen’s We Will Rock You, then ZZ Top’s La Grange. Sounds like an iPod for old guys like me, but the segues were awfully jarring. So was a fall on the triple loop. Everything else was solid.

The other highlights of the second-to-last group were Edmunds and Japan’s Akiko Suzuki, who was just clean enough to edge past Edmunds. Asada was well in front.

Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia led off the final group. She was the darling of the country after the team event but fell badly in the short program. She did it again here. She eked ahead of Asada but knew the score wouldn’t stand.

Italy’s Carolina Kostner had an entertaining program to Ravel’s Bolero, with just one shaky landing. Everything else was terrific. She beat her personal best by more than 10 points, putting Olympic disappointments in the past.

Then came Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova, who flew through the heavens, solved Fermat’s last theorem, inspired soldiers to lay down their arms … or something like that. We really have no idea what the judges saw. She was good, surely. But she did miss a landing (which was indeed downgraded), and her program was simply not as good as Kostner’s. The judges said it was more than seven points better.

Gold and Wagner had the misfortune of following that. So did South Korea’s Yuna Kim, the defending champion. Kim was flawless. Beautiful. If only she were Russian.

“Any other night, it would’ve been hers,” said Johnny Weir. And it should’ve been.

The medalists deserved it. Just not in that order. Kim, Kostner, Sotnikova would’ve been just fine. Lipnitskaia probably deserved seventh rather than fifth ahead of Asada and Wagner.

Full results

Sochi recap: Freestyle skiing, women’s halfpipe

Surely, somewhere, Sarah Burke is proud. She didn’t live to see it, but her sport made its Olympic debut with aplomb. The USA’s Maddie Bowman may have been overlooked while all this happened because figure skating and women’s hockey were going on, but watch for her on NBC tonight.

Date: 20-Feb

Sport: Freestyle skiing

Event: Women’s halfpipe

Medalists: Maddie Bowman (USA), Marie Martinod (France), Ayana Onozuka (Japan)

SportsMyriad projections: Virginie Faivre (Switzerland), Roz Groenewoud (Canada), Maddie Bowman (USA)

How U.S. fared: Annalisa Drew was first up for the Americans and landed a 1080, not a common trick here. Yet she only got a 66.40, seventh after the first run.

Angeli VanLaanen was in the middle of a good first run but falling. Brita Sigourney was going even bigger when she slipped on her backside, recovered, did another trick and tumbled badly to the center of the pipe. After a few seconds, the medical crew raced out, as did teammate Maddie Bowman. But Sigourney got to her feet and went to the finish under her own power.

Bowman was simply the class of the first run, landing back-to-back 900s. She took the lead with 85.80 points.

In her second run, Drew tried to go even bigger with a 1260, but her skis smacked the lip of the pipe on her landing, and she fell. She smiled and whistled as her scores were read.

VanLaanen had some copious bandages on her nose at the start of her second run. She put together some nifty tricks and was building up to something big but slipped about midway through.

Bowman was assured at least a bronze when she took her second run, but she still went for it, bumping her score up to 89-flat.

Sigourney, badly banged up in her first run, took her time before dropping in for the second. She got the 900 on her second trick but slipped on her backside in nearly the same spot as her first run. Rather than repeat the rest of the painful opener, she pulled up a bit and finished with some conservative elements before embracing her friends at the bottom. A solid 76.00 got her sixth place.

What happened: After Drew, who skied early in the first run, the next four were rather conservative, getting about as much air out of the pipe as I get when I dunk on an 8-foot basketball hoop. A couple of scores were in the 70s somehow.

The North Americans kicked things up a notch. VanLaanen and Canada’s Roz Groenewoud went big but crashed. Japan’s Ayana Onozuka raised the bar with a big run for 79.00 points and the lead. Then came Bowman with the 85.80, Sigourney with the nasty crash, and France’s Marie Martinod with a sensational 84.80.

Again, the first few skiers were nothing spectacular in the second run. Swiss favorite Virginie Faivre, coming back from a back injury, was solid but gained little air.

Groenewoud went big with a 900 but landed far down in the pipe, losing momentum. She ended with 74.20.

Onozuka exulted when she finished a clean run with a 720 thrown in. She improved to 83.20, still in third place but setting a more difficult task for Sigourney, the only person who could bump her from the podium.

After Bowman and Sigourney, Martinod was the closer. Silver was assured, but could she bump Bowman off the top spot? She had some solid tricks through the program and closed with a 900. The score: 85.40. Slightly better than her first run, not enough to beat Bowman. No one seemed to care — everyone was thrilled. Martinod had retired to raise her daughter but came back to make a run at the Games, and it paid off.

Full results

Sochi recap: Curling, women’s gold medal game

The women’s curling Olympic title has returned to Canada at last. The teams weren’t the same as the 2010 final, when Sweden rallied on Canada’s gruesome errors to win gold, and neither was the result. Jennifer Jones and company wrapped up a perfect sweep through the Games.

Date: 20-Feb

Sport: Curling

Event: Women’s gold medal game, Sweden vs. Canada

Medalists: Canada, Sweden, Britain

SportsMyriad projections: Sweden, Britain, Canada

What happened: Jennifer Jones, perfect so far in these Games, looked a little uncertain in the first end. She had the hammer and needed a takeout to score one and prevent a score of three. She did, but it nearly hit a guard and nearly rolled too far away. Disaster averted, but would Jones be able to get back in the form she had shown so far in Sochi?

Maria Prytz, not the Swedish skip but the curler tasked with throwing the last rocks, scored an impressive single in the second, knocking a guard into one of her own rocks and dislodging one of Canada’s from the rear.

After a blank third end, Prytz was only able to take out one Canadian rock when she wanted two, leaving Jones an easy draw for a 3-1 lead. But Prytz got it back with a double takeout in the fifth.

Canada wasn’t looking as solid as it had. Using curling’s scoring system — four points or 100% for a well-executed shot, then three, two, one or zero for those that fall short — vice-skip Kaitlyn Lawes was shooting less than 60%, well down from her tournament average of 81%. More than once, she strolled back along the ice and slammed the tip of her broom to the floor in frustration.

They blanked the next two ends, carrying a 3-3 tie into the eighth. But Lawes again struggled with her two shots. After Prytz’s last shot, each team had one rock in the four-foot. Canada couldn’t quite tell which was closer. Jones tried to draw to the center and perhaps nudge Sweden’s rock just a bit. She did neither. The measuring stick came out, and Canada was relieved to score one and take a 4-3 lead — still less than they wanted with two ends to play.

Lawes improved with her deliveries in the ninth end, the second taking out a Swedish rock and leaving four Canadian stones in scoring position. Then Sweden’s Christina Bertrup had a rare miss, sliding her stone between two Canadians stones and out the back of the four-foot. Three Canadian stones were still in scoring position. Jones made it four with a draw to the top of the button.

Prytz responded with a raise, displacing the rock Jones just threw at the top of the four-foot but leaving one Canadian rock closer. Then Jones’ last rock covered half the button, leaving Sweden virtually no chance to score a double.

swe-can 1

But Prytz still had a chance to score one. Instead, Prytz’s hammer was a disaster. Needing to get to the button and dislodge Jones’ stone, she instead knocked her own previous stone out of the four-foot. Canada stole two, taking a 6-3 lead into the 10th.

swe-can 2

The 10th was anticlimactic. Canada kept clearing rocks, making a Swedish triple impossible. Jones had tears of joy in her eyes as her teammates took their final shots, and her own takeout sealed the 6-3 win and the gold.

Full resultsRecaps with diagrams