A historic day at the Sochi Games yielded a rich menu of winners and losers: from a new king in the men’s snowboard halfpipe and the first women’s ski jump competition to worrisome small crowds and a big cross-country ski disappointment.
Erin Hamlin took bronze as the first singles luger in American history to win an Olympic medal, and a Canadian ski coach performed a random act of kindness that embodies the Olympic ideal.
But let’s not tell you. Let’s show you.
Slopestyle gold and bronze medalists Dara Howell and Kim Lamarre circumvented the rule by International Olympic Committee pooh-bahs banning helmet stickers in tribute of freestyle skiing pioneer Sarah Burke.
The IOC said the stickers constituted a violation of the rule barring political statements at the Games.
So Howell and Lamarre used their actual voices to honor Burke, the face of the sport and mentor to many female freeskiers before she died in a 2012 ski halfpipe crash. Burke played a big role in lobbying for freeskiers in slopestyle and halfpipe to be part of the Games.
The pair, winners of the first medals handed out in ski slopestyle’s Olympic debut, made Burke a prominent subject of post-competition interviews.
"I said earlier this week that I hope maybe a Canadian can bring home a gold medal and it'll definitely be for Sarah," Howell said.
Lamarre paid tribute to Burke's legacy, saying, "She was with me today. I totally felt her. She's amazing and I'm happy to honour who she was by doing this today."
Meanwhile, Canada has issued a postage stamp in Burke’s name. Maybe Sochi skiers should plaster a bunch on an envelope and stick it to their helmets.
Ick. Bob Costas' eyes are getting worse, and they’ve knocked the 61-year-old from the broadcast lounge for at least one night.
He's being replaced by Today host Matt Lauer until a reported infection, which appears to have spread to his second eye, gets better.
Costas startled audiences on the first Olympics broadcast from Sochi by appearing in Poindexter-type glasses and sporting a left eye that looked like he had gone a round with Tonya Harding.
The issue, and the social media attention it has gotten, has taken on a life of its own. We can’t blame Costas for sitting this one out, though it does end a remarkable streak, noted by NBC's PR folks: This will be the first time since 1998 that someone other than Costas will host an Olympic prime-time show.
For his sake, and ours, let's hope Lauer keeps the Visine close and washes his hands frequently.
These are the kinds of stories that make the Olympics.
At the men’s cross-country ski sprint event, Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth lent a ski to a Russian racer during the race, allowing him to cross the finish line without a medal but with some dignity, per Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star.
Wadsworth, once one of Canada’s top Nordic talents, was still out on the course, despondent that all of his skiers had been eliminated early. He had an extra pair of skis for his team members. He and other coaches, including the Russians, saw Anton Gafarov slowly crest a rise before realizing he was dragging along the remains of a ski he had broken during a fall. Nobody moved to help until Wadsworth did.
Wadsworth seemed surprised when asked about it later, making a joke: “That makes me feel better, because the rest of our day was total s--t,” he said.
Americans have a stake in this feel-good story. Wadsworth is an American native but a Canadian citizen, married to Canada ski star Beckie Scott.
It must be hard to make a ruble when nobody’s spectating at Olympic venues.
International Olympic officials are concerned the Sochi Games lack crowds—and buzz. Empty seats are nothing new when it comes to the Olympics, but Sochi appears worse than most with half-full stands at biathlon—popular in Russia—and other mountain venues, along with stadiums in Sochi.
Gerhard Heiberg, the head of the International Olympic Committee's marketing commission, said to the Associated Press that the issue had reached the highest levels of the IOC.
"We were warned about this. The TV pictures are wonderful, the competitions are wonderful, the venues are great. But I feel a bit the lack of enthusiasm and the joy of sports," Heiberg said.
"There are not enough people," he added. "You have seen the stadiums are not filled."
The sport made its Olympic debut Tuesday, but the surprise was the depth of the women’s field.
For years building up to the Games, the storyline was a duel between Japan’s Sara Takanashi and American Sarah Hendrickson for gold.
Instead, audiences got a spectacular contest, with Carina Vogt of Germany winning historic gold as the first women's Olympic ski jumping champion, Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria taking silver and France's Coline Mattel winning bronze. The day's biggest surprise: Takanashi did not even medal, finishing fourth.
For the Americans, Jessica Jerome was 10th and Lindsey Van 15th. Hendrickson, who rushed to get back into form following knee surgery, was 21st.
Colorful, likable Kikkan Randall had a great chance to make history in her strongest event, the women’s cross-country individual sprint, but failed to get to the final-round start line.
That leaves the U.S. team still seeking its first Olympic medal for women, and first since Bill Koch’s silver in the 30-kilometer race 38 years ago. Koch’s medal remains the only one ever won by an American at the Olympics. Other chances remain for the U.S. women, the team sprint and 4x5 relay.
It’s not every day you win Olympic gold and defeat a superstar at his own game. Iouri Podladtchikov is the new king of the halfpipe, defeating Shaun White, the sport’s icon.
Have we seen a changing of the guard? Probably. But some might say it’s about time.
After all the drama—the slopestyle withdrawal, the complaints (though he was far from the only one) about the halfpipe, the injuries—superstar Shaun White wound up not winning his third gold medal after all. In fact, he didn’t even medal, finishing fourth.
That’s the first time the Americans have been shut out of the Olympic halfpipe medals in the (short) history of the event.
White also crashed during practice. Not a great day.
Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland wound up delivering a rare defeat to the former Flying Tomato. We know how difficult it is to win repeat gold, much less do it a third time. But perhaps White messed with the snowboard fates once too often this week and got his karmic comeuppance.
Erin Hamlin took bronze and is the first American individual luger to ever medal. She did it by stealing a podium spot from Germany, which has dominated the sport for years.
Hamlin is the first U.S. luge medalist since American doubles sleds won medals in 1998 and 2002.
We hate calling victims of a multi-skier pileup losers.
Let’s just say they had some bad luck on Tuesday during the men’s individual sprint competition.
Norway’s Anders Gloeersen, Russian skier Sergey Ustiugov and Marcus Hellner of Sweden were in the running for medals when they lost control on a downhill curve.
It looked more like a short-track speedskating wreck and produced a surprise medalist in Emil Joensson. In last place moments before the crash, Joensson bypassed the mayhem and cruised to bronze behind Norway’s Ola Vigen Hattestad and Sweden’s Teodor Peterson.
Meri-Jo Borzilleri covered four Olympic Games for the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Seattle Times.