Sage Kotsenburg celebrates his snowboard slopestyle victory.
Finally the discussion of stray dogs, dangerous accommodations and questionable security can come to an end. It's time to focus on what really matter in Sochi—the athletic competition.
The opening day of the 2014 Winter Olympics was a busy one, both on the rink and the slope. The Americans and Norwegians are expected to battle back and forth for supremacy but, for one day at least, the Netherlands were in the mix with three medal wins—all in the same sport.
Let's take a look at the day and play both judge and jury. Who were the real winners and losers on Saturday in Sochi? Come explore the answer. Have some thoughts of your own? Let us know in the comments.
Tired of hearing about Shaun White and his decision to abandon the inaugural men's slopestyle snowboard competition? Our long national nightmare should be over as the event came and went Saturday without any gnarly injuries and without controversy.
Best of all for the patriots and xenophobes? The good old US of A was the big winner even without White.
Sage Kotsenburg delivered when it mattered most, nerves apparently not in his DNA. Just happy to be there, he held it down on his first run, earning Olympic gold with a routine that included some massive air. Laid back and unassuming, the 20-year old from Park City, Utah won the Games' first gold.
“I really want to medal just as much as the next guy, but my attitude in the run, if I land, that’s cool,” he told the press before the finals. “If not, I need to try harder obviously. That’s just how I snowboard."
Canada's Max Parrot, the X-Games champion, isn't shy about sharing his thoughts. When Shaun White, the most famous snowboarder in the world, pulled out of the slopestyle snowboarding event after citing a dangerous course, Parrot told the world why, in his mind at least, White really wanted out—because he knew he couldn't compete with the likes of Max Parrot.
"Shaun knows he won't be able to win the slopes, that's why he pulled out," Parrot tweeted and then deleted. "He's scared!"
White, it seems, had the last laugh. After falling and finishing fifth, Parrot attempted to walk his comments back, per Vicki Hall of Canada.com:
Yes, I think it missed Shaun White. We would have loved to see him here and enter the competition with us. I think he would still have had a chance to do well. He could have got the gold. I would have been happy for him had he got it and I wasn’t getting it.
On my tweet, I was just saying I was disappointed he wasn’t doing the competition with us.
Were there other countries competing in the men's 5,000-meter speedskating competition? You'd never guess by looking at the medal podium, where it was a clean sweep for the Dutchmen.
Sven Kramer took home his second Olympic gold, starting fast and never letting off the gas on his way to running away with the competition. Even his countryman Jan Blokhuijsen, the silver medalist, finished almost a full five seconds behind Kramer. Jorrit Bergsma took the bronze.
Things looked good for the host nation as Denis Yuskov got off to a blistering start in the 5,000-meter speedskating event. But just as it looked like Russia would earn its first medal of the competition, the inevitable happened.
Yuskov faded. The Netherlands' Sven Kramer didn't. And what looked like a potential gold medal showing became a sixth-place finish. Someone else, it turns out, will have to be the first to bask in the cheers of an approving Vladimir Putin. Today was not Yuskov's day.
I talked with Getty photographer Al Bello last week before his departure for Sochi to learn a bit about how the world's best shutterbugs capture history at the Olympic Games. Getting the perfect picture, he says, is a mix of technology, talent and no small bit of luck.
But one place it's easy to snap a compelling image is during the speedskating event. The contrast between the skater and the blurry background, out of focus due to the sheer speed and movement, is generally pretty cool, as David J. Phillip demonstrates above.
How can a legend, and one who has been dead for 45 years at that, be a loser in the 2014 Olympic Games? Well, for years, ice skating goddess Sonja Henie has been Norway's biggest historical star, winning three gold medals between 1928 and 1936.
Petite, glamorous and gorgeous, she turned that Olympic success into a career in the pictures and a very successful (and sexy) ice skating revue that made her rich. Even Adolf Hitler, much to the world's chagrin, was smitten.
But Henie stands atop that pedestal no longer.
The "Iron Lady" Marit Bjoergen won her fourth gold medal in the skiathlon, a 15-km cross-country race split between the classical and free styles. She beat Sweden's Charlotte Kalla by less than two seconds, passing her in the final turn to claim the gold.
The close knit Norwegian team skied in the face of devastating pain when they found out just prior to the opening event that teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen had lost her brother unexpectedly.
Her fourth gold medal was bittersweet for the "Iron Lady" Marit Bjoergen, who put her hand on her heart in a gesture of solidarity just moments after crossing the finish line.
“Astrid and her family wanted us to race for her brother, and we really did a good race for him today,” Bjoergen told reporters after the race. “Of course it is emotional. We did it for her, her family and her brother.”
It seemed, before the Olympics kicked off, that the women's hockey tournament was a two-team race, a battle for supremacy between arch-rivals Canada and the United States. Sometimes, however, what happens on the ice can surprise even the most competent oddsmakers. Just ask the host country, which suffered a shock of its own in 1980.
But any potential dreams of an upset were likely dashed during the opening day. The U.S. and Canada smashed Finland and Switzerland, respectively. They are head and shoulders above everyone else.
Both teams are locomotives—and a collision is coming. They meet February 12 in Group A competition.
The Americans had plenty of chances against Finland, attempting a whopping 43 shots against the third-ranked European squad. The shots on goal were numerous—but none cooler than Alex Carpenter's ridiculous backhand to secure a 3-0 lead for her squad.
Carpenter, the 19-year old daughter of former NHL all-star Bobby Carpenter, fired a backhand into the crease that bounced off a defender and into the goal. The victory moves the Americans one day closer to a February 12 showdown with their Canadian rivals in the round-robin group competition.
Weir and Lipinski
I appreciate what NBC was trying to do. I really, really do.
Figure skating doesn't need a histrionic Gus Johnson type, screaming over the music and turning a graceful and beautiful exhibition of artistry into a gaudy spectacle. So when announcers Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir let the action speak for itself, I was on board.
But the whole short program is not a "moment" and it often felt like the announcers had abandoned the booth for a smoke break, leaving the skaters to tell their own story in what seemed like endless seconds of silence.
NBC also did nothing to indicate who was skating at any given moment, leaving the vast majority of viewers, who don't follow ice skating routinely, desperately trying to remember who was competing on their television.
And, when the performances ended and the scores were read, we heard very little by way of explanation. Why were some scores lower than expected? What made other programs so strong? NBC often left the viewer guessing, which kind of lowers the stakes. When scores are given seemingly at random, it makes the whole experience feel less like a sport and more like an exhibition.
Fifteen-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya wowed the world with her routine during the team competition. Her star-making victory propelled the Russians into the lead in the race to the first figure skating gold medal.
The Russian sensation's almost inhuman flexibility was the real takeaway, but her overall game was impressive. Despite her diminutive size, she was still able to power through all the standard jumps on her way to victory.
A big win is nothing new for Lipnitskaya. She took home the European Championship in Budapest in January and, with the win in the team competition, immediately becomes a medal contender in the individual competition next week.
This was a bad day for Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the defending Olympic champions in ice dancing. Not only did their rivals, Americans Charlie White and Meryl Davis, defeat them (75.98-72.58) in the short-program phase of the team skating competition, but they also allegedly have been set up to fail in these Games:
The French magazine L'Equipe reports that the fix is in—with Moir and Virtue the victims of a scheme to ensure success for traditional rivals America (in the regular ice-dancing event) and Russia (in the team event). Per Canada.com:
Because they are not in direct competition with each other in these events, the United States would help Russia win the team gold event, while Russia would reciprocate by supporting U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White (to) win gold over defending Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the L’Equipe source said.
Of course, if White and Davis skate like they did today, it's a moot point. The Canadians could lose on merit to another great team.
Canada.com reported that the U.S. skating organization denied any plot.
The U.S Figure Skating Association on Saturday denied the allegations. “Comments made in a L’Equipe story are categorically false. There is no ‘help’ between countries,” Renee Felton, the association’s media relations manager, said.
It was a quite a day for the Canadian Dufour-Lapointe family—the clan had three sisters in the moguls competition and took home two medals. While Maxine, the eldest, failed to make the finals, her younger sisters Justine and Chloe did the family proud.
"It was really emotional," Justine said of the family affair, per the ABC. "We were all really stoked. When we really realized we were all going together to the Games we were just proud and excited."
I imagine they're even more thrilled with the results. Justine, just 19, won gold, with sister Chloe falling just short to take the silver. The defending champion, American Hannah Kearney, had to settle for the bronze.