Young Daredevils First To Gold

Slopestyle. What is it exactly? It’s not a race. It’s more like an exhibition, and in my view has more in common with diving and figure skating especially in the way that it’s judged. But unlike diving and figure skating, it seems significantly more dangerous.  There have been quite a few injuries, fortunately none too serious on the Sochi course during practice runs earlier in the week.  One such injury compelled veteran Shaun White to withdraw from the event.  True, a diver could crack open his head on the board or do a belly flop and be knocked unconscious, but that’s rare to see.  I liken the slopstylers to cliff divers.  They are young daredevils.  In impressively fearless fashion, Americans Sage Kostenburg and Jamie Anderson won Gold in the inaugural event.

Obviously including the sport in the Olympics is an attempt to attract the interest of the younger crowd who grew up on the X Games and who might find curling and biathlon skiing a little boring.  I do think they made the mistake of making Slopestyle the first event of the games.  While it is true that Halfpipe snowboarding and Freestyle skiing have yet to “air”, the pioneer daredevils have left the stage and perhaps their age demographic viewers along with them. Speaking of age, the average age of the men who medaled in Slopestyle is 21.  Silver medalist Canadian Mark McMorris in a laid back reflection said that he was just happy to “podium”.  The Gold and Silver medalists on the women’s side are both 23.  You have to admire the Bronze medalist, Jenny Jones of Great Britain who at 33 is likely the oldest competitive snowboarder on the circuit.

I don’t know for certain what the American chances for other Gold medals might be in the Sochi Games, but it is possible that most of them will be from the Snowboarder contingent.  If I had to predict, it would be this: Shaun White and speed skater Shani Davis will win Golds and possibly several other Americans in the various events from Halfpipe to Snowboard Cross. It’s entirely possible for an American skater to eke out a win in short track, but it’s such an unpredictable event that anything could happen – all but one could wipeout and the slowest of the group could skate to victory.  It’s happened before.  Oh the thrill of victory when it’s least expected!

Apolo Ohno In Perspective

Apolo Ohno is the now the most decorated American winter olympian, but are his 7 medals – two gold, two silver and three bronze more impressive than Bonnie Blair’s 6 medals, 5 of them gold or the 5 individual gold medals Eric Heiden won at Lake Placid? Is the comparison even fair? All three are speed skaters, but only Ohno skates short track, an unpredictable sport more like roller derby than pure racing. In fact, it’s not pure speed or pacing that wins, there is a fair bit of strategy and improvisation involved. Heiden swept the golds in all the individual speed skating events he entered at Lake Placid, pure dominance the likes of which only Americans Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps have ever achieved at a single games. Blair and Ohno might be a better comparison because they both medaled in 3 games. This level of endurance and consistency is quite impressive, perhaps even more so in the case of Ohno given that so few, perhaps none other than Ohno have competed in short track over the span of three olympic games.

Ohno is the most decorated American winter olympian ever in terms of medal count. Is he the most dominant winter olympian ever? I submit that both Blair and Heiden should retain that title. Is it possible to dominant the sport of short track? No, but I think it is safe to say that Apolo Ohno is the greatest short track racer in history given his longevity and consistency. It will be hard for another racer to match his medal accomplishments on the short track ice.