Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018: Day 9 Winners and Losers
Day 9 of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang was a bit quieter than most with just six medal events taking place. Norway was on the podium in four of those six events to pad its lead atop the medal table.
It was also a strong day for France, which won three medals and jumped into a tie for sixth place with 10 total.
The French are now tied with Team USA, which got a silver medal from Nick Goepper and nothing else. The Americans now have a total of two medals over the last three days.
But that one medal made Goepper one of the biggest winners of the Games, given his journey to get there.
Read on for the rest of Day 9's biggest winners and losers.
Loser: Team USA Men's Curling
On behalf of all Americans who consider curling to be their favorite event at the Winter Olympics, this was a brutal day for the men in Pyeongchang.
Team USA played twice on Day 9, and neither match went well.
First, they were blown out 8-2 by Japan. The Japanese men started with the hammer and capitalized with a two in the first end. The Americans didn't finally get on the board until the fifth end. In total, there were three ends in which Japan scored without the hammer, including a two-pointer in the seventh after which the Americans offered the resignation handshake.
Things were looking better early in the match with Norway, as the Americans led 4-3 after five ends. But USA skip John Shuster was off by a significant amount on seven of his eight shots in ends six through nine, allowing Norway to storm back for the 8-5 victory.
At this point, it's almost impossible to imagine the Americans landing in the semifinals. They are currently 2-4, and their remaining matches are against three of the best teams in the tournament: Canada, Great Britain and Switzerland. Even if they were to muster up a three-match winning streak, there's no guarantee they would finish in the top four.
Winner: Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine
Medals at the Winter Olympics are few and far between for Ukraine.
From 1994-2014, Ukraine won a total of seven medals—five in women's biathlon and two in figure skating. And through the first eight days at the Games in Pyeongchang, the Ukrainians had nary a podium appearance.
Oleksandr Abramenko changed that in a huge way by winning gold in the men's aerials.
This was Abramenko's fourth time competing in this Olympic event. He finished outside the top 20 in both 2006 and 2010 and came in sixth four years ago in Sochi. But in his final run Sunday night, he executed a near-flawless back full-full-double full to edge out China's Jia Zongyang by a margin of 128.51 to 128.05.
By a wide margin, Abramenko saved his best for last. He was unable to qualify for the final with his first jump Saturday, placing ninth out of 25 athletes. And he didn't soar into the final with the fourth-best jump of the second qualifying round. (In each, only the top six advance.) Abramenko placed third in the first round of the final and fourth in the second round, never scoring higher than a 125.79.
It's almost unfathomable that he was able to break out such an impressive score when it mattered most.
Loser: Ligety Fails to Fire in Giant Slalom
Ted Ligety was the American gold-medal hope in the giant slalom Alpine race, but the accomplished skier struggled in his opening run and found himself looking up at nearly all the event's top competitors.
Ligety trailed Austria's Marcel Hirscher by a whopping 2.44 seconds after the opener, and he couldn't make up that deficit in the second and final run. As a result, Ligety not only missed out on the gold medal; he also couldn't earn a medal of any color despite his status as one of the world's best giant slalom skiers.
Ligety had hoped to defend the gold he won in Sochi, but he struggled to make his turns cleanly and lost time as he careened down the course. Back and knee injuries apparently have taken their toll.
NBC's Heather Cox reported Ligety told her the giant slalom was likely his last Olympic race. According to her report, the 33-year-old skier is most likely going to bow out of the slalom run because it is not one of his strongest events.
Hirscher won the giant slalom, Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen finished second and France's Alexis Pinturault was third.
Winner: Nick Goepper's Rebound in Ski Slopestyle
Anyone can recognize the emotional pain of training for years for the Olympics and falling short of one's podium goals.
What often goes unrecognized is the feeling of winning an Olympic medal and then trying for four years to maintain the emotional high that comes with it.
Nick Goepper was one of three Americans to medal in the men's ski slopestyle in Sochi four years ago, taking the bronze. Then just 19 years old, he was unprepared for the overnight transformation into a celebrity, as well as the sudden disappearance from the national spotlight that comes when we forget all about the Olympics just as quickly as we become obsessed with it.
In a video posted just before the 2018 Winter X Games, Goepper discussed his subsequent battle with depression.
"I would literally stay up all night, because that was how the time would tick by the slowest, thinking that the morning would never come," Goepper said. "And then all of the sudden, the sun would come up, and I'd be like, 'Another day of feeling this way and it just sucks.'
"There came a point when I was drinking every day and I was constantly thinking about ways to end my own life."
He spent two months in rehab in the fall of 2015 before getting back into training and re-becoming one of the best in the world.
In addition to Olympic bronze, he took three X Games gold medals in ski slopestyle in 2013-15. Until Day 9 in Pyeongchang, that was effectively the end of his biography. But in his last run of the final, Goepper threw down a 93.60 to win the silver medal.
Loser: OAR's Men's Cross-Country Relay Team
Calling a silver medal-winning group a loser is harsh, but given the circumstances, the Olympic Athletes from Russia have to be disappointed with the finish.
OAR's men's cross-country relay team led at every interval for more than 15 kilometers in the middle of the race. And we're not talking about a slim lead, either. At the 16.6-km mark in the 40km race, Alexander Bolshunov was more than 40 seconds ahead of France in second place. By the time he turned it over to Alexey Chervotkin, OAR still led by about 25 seconds.
That lead evaporated in a hurry during the third leg. They were in third place at the start of Denis Spitsov's portion of the race. But he made up an 18-second deficit in the span of five kilometers, reclaiming the lead for OAR by the slimmest of margins.
In the end, Norway's Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo was too good, pulling away in the final kilometer to win gold by nearly 10 seconds. OAR finished comfortably in second place, 27.5 seconds ahead of France in third.
Winner: Nao Kodaira, Japan
For Japan's Nao Kodaira, heartbreak on Valentine's Day was followed by redemption on Sunday.
Kodaira placed second in ladies' 1,000m speedskating four days ago. She set the world record at that distance in December with a time of 1:12.09, entering the Games as the favorite.
No one came close to beating that record, but two skaters did beat the previous Olympic record set by USA's Chris Witty in 2002. Witty's time was 1:13.83. Kodaira skated a 1:13.82. But Netherlands' Jorien Ter Mors was a little bit faster at 1:13.56. Thus, Japan's star ended up with a silver medal.
But in the 500m race, it was Kodaira's turn to edge out the world-record holder.
South Korea's two-time reigning gold medalist, Lee Sang-Hwa, entered the day in possession of both the world record (36.36s) and the Olympic record (37.28s) at the shortest of the long-track events. And she had a strong showing with a time of 37.33s.
It wasn't enough to beat Kodaira, though, who won gold with an Olympic record of 36.94s.
Loser: Germany in Men's 15km Mass Start Biathlon
As with the previous loser in the men's XC relay, it might seem silly to call Germany a loser in the men's 15km mass start biathlon, considering it won the silver medal.
But silver is a rather sour consolation prize compared to what could have been.
For starters, that silver was decided by a photo finish. France's Martin Fourcade and Germany's Simon Schempp both finished with a time of 35:47.3, but after 14.999 kilometers, Fourcade edged out Schempp by millimeters.
And then there's the other three Germans.
Arnd Peiffer finished in 13th place, but it's because he missed four targets that he was one minute behind the photo finish. Peiffer was right there with the leaders at both the first and third shooting "breaks," but those penalties doomed him.
Speaking of brutal penalties, Erik Lesser was in first place heading into the final shoot, but he missed two of those five targets. After those two penalty laps, he still temporarily fought his way back into third place. However, he finished in fourth place, just 0.4 seconds shy of a medal.
Checking in just behind Lesser in fifth place was Benedikt Doll, who led at multiple intervals of the race and was in third place after the final shoot. He only missed one of 20 targets on the day, but he ran out of gas at the end and missed the podium.
Hard to believe that with all those capable competitors, Germany was only able to come away with one second-place medal.