Ah, an underachieving Winter Olympics for Americans, who won their fewest medals in 20 years.
Canada, pop. 36 million, earned more medals (29) than the United States (20), pop. 326 million. Expect serious soul searching at the United States Olympic Committee headquarters on Tejon Street in Colorado Springs.
But the gloom was lifted, a bit, if you are a Coloradan. We watched residents of our state win nine medals, same as China, and only one less than Italy. If Colorado were its own country, we would have finished 14th in medal count. (Just two medals behind a Colorado-less United States.)
Here’s a Colorado-centric look back at the South Korea Olympics:
One – Potential
I was sitting in the media crowd in Sochi when 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin let it slip that she planned to win five gold medals in South Korea. Alas, nerves and weather limited her to two. Notice I didn’t say “only” two. Shiffrin soared, just not quite as high as she, and we, expected.
Shiffrin arrived in Sochi four years ago as a supremely calm, stunningly confident teen. She was having fun. She was oblivious to the immense pressure. She was magnificent while winning gold in the slalom.
But the pressure caught up to her. In a story similar in some ways to swimmer Missy Franklin, the ease of a teen transformed to the crushing nerves of a young adult.
Franklin ruled the London Olympics in 2012 but failed to win a personal medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She later said she was suffering from depression, insomnia, anxiety and an eating disorder
Shiffrin’s performance at South Korea was strong. No doubt about that. She earned gold in the giant slalom and silver in alpine combined. But weather scrambled and tightened her schedule, forcing her to withdraw from two events.
Anxiety attacked her during the slalom, her signature event. She finished fourth, which would have thrilled just about any female skier in the world . . . except the prohibitive favorite named Mikaela.
She’s 22. She’s won three medals, including two gold. She’s still learning to blend her immense talent with a healthy and profitable mental approach. She must learn to be gentler with herself. This is one of the difficult, and essential, lessons of adulthood. This is an especially essential lesson for the never-satisfied competitor.
So much could still be ahead.
Two – Being real
We’ve been watching Lindsey Vonn for a decade-and-a-half. We’ve watched her develop into one of the greatest skiers in history. We’ve watched her endure a long string of injuries. We’ve watched her off the slopes, too. She’s been the most public of sports stars, posing for Sports Illustrated and dating Tiger Woods.
But we’ve never seen her perform any better than she did in what will be remembered as her farewell interview.
Interviews immediately after sporting events can be perilous. An athlete or a coach might not yet be ready to talk or might not want to talk or might want to only blur the conversation with the empty language of clichés.
But those interviews can be powerful.
Vonn spoke clearly through tears as she examined her long ride to the top of the ski world. She had overcome so much pain. She had overcome so much disappointment. She had willed her scarred body to a bronze medal in the downhill
She was, she said, so proud of her wild, wonderful ride.
And so were we.
Three – Endurance
Figure skater Mirai Nagasu was left off the Olympic team four years ago in a controversial decision. It was a brutal disappointment for a skater who finished fourth in the 2010 Olympics.
Nagasu, who trains at the Broadmoor World Arena and has studied at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, refused to surrender, even though she was heading into, by elite skating standards, advanced middle age. Nagasu, only 24, was the oldest female American skater competing in South Korea.
In her dazzling Olympic comeback, Nagasu pushed the Americans to a bronze in team competition after becoming the first American woman to land an Olympic triple axel.
It was an eventful trip for Nagasu.
She said she wanted to dance on TV.
“I would like to be on Dancing With the Stars because I am a star,” she said.
She said she struggled to enjoy a decent shower during the entire Olympics.
“I . . . haven’t taken a warm shower because there are a lot of people on Team USA,” she said. “Somehow I keep trying to take a shower and all the hot water is gone.”
But when it mattered, she delivered and chased away thoughts of what might have been in Sochi.