Winners and Losers of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang
John Shuster swept, slid and shouted Team USA to a dramatic gold medal in men's curling, becoming one of the biggest winners of the entire 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
With 102 events in the competition, we can't possibly do justice to all the big winners and losers in this space. But these are the stories that we won't forget any time soon.
Shuster found redemption on the curling sheet. Elise Christie did not find it on the short-track speedskating rink. Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall made history in cross-country skiing. Ester Ledecka did the same in multiple sports. And, oh, Canada, what happened in curling and hockey?
Let's take a look back through an entertaining two-plus weeks of frigid action in South Korea with the biggest winners and losers of the Games.
Let's start at the top with the country that won the overall medal count by a wide margin.
It didn't take long for Norway to assert its dominance in Pyeongchang, as it earned four medals on each of the first two podium days of the Games, including a clean sweep in the men's 30-kilometer skiathlon. From there, it cruised to unofficial victory with 39 total medals. Germany finished second on the list with 31.
Cross-country skiing was Norway's top sport, as it claimed 14 of its medals in that discipline. But the Norwegians dabbled in most everything, also medaling in Alpine skiing, biathlon, curling, freestyle skiing, Nordic combined, ski jumping and speedskating.
Sixteen athletes from Norway won multiple medals, but cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen took the cake with five. She won gold in the 30-kilometer mass start and the 4x5-kilometer relay, silver in the 15-kilometer skiathlon and bronze in the 10-kilometer freestyle and 10-kilometer team sprint.
What else is new for Bjoergen, though? She is the all-time leader in medals at the Winter Olympics with 15. In getting there, she bypassed fellow Norwegians Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (13) and Bjorn Daehlie (12).
In other words, it's hardly a surprise Norway fared well. The Norwegians have now earned at least 23 medals in six of the last seven Games.
Loser: United States' Ski Queens
In the month leading up to the Winter Olympics, we were bombarded with the names of three American athletes: Shaun White, Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn.
White held up his end of the bargain, winning gold in the snowboarding halfpipe at the age of 31 with a phenomenal final run.
But the ski queens were a disappointment.
Vonn missed the 2014 Winter Olympics with a knee injury, and this was (presumably) the 33-year-old's last chance to make history after she became a star in 2010 with an Olympic gold in downhill and bronze in the super-G. She did get on the podium with a bronze in the downhill, but she finished sixth in the super-G and didn't come anywhere close to living up to the hype.
Discussions about Vonn paled in comparison to those about Shiffrin, though.
There was talk the 22-year-old could win five gold medals. She got out to a great start with a gold in the giant slalom, but it was all downhill from there. (No pun intended.) She placed fourth in the slalom, which was supposed to be her best event. She didn't even compete in the super-G. She withdrew from the downhill after three training runs because weather delays pushed too many events too close together. And she only took silver in the Alpine combined.
One gold and one silver is darn impressive for anyone, but it was a letdown compared to the highly publicized possibility of five golds in one Games.
Winner: 17-Year-Old American Snowboarders
One of the few areas in which the United States was clearly the best in the world was snowboarding. Americans won four of the 10 gold medals as well as two silvers and a bronze. Canada was the only other country with more than two snowboarding medals, and the Canadians were well behind Team USA with four total.
The biggest stars for the Americans were a pair of teenagers who couldn't see an R-rated movie without an adult until a few months ago.
Redmond "Red" Gerard won the first gold medal in snowboarding in Pyeongchang. The 17-year-old struggled in the first two finals runs of the men's slopestyle event, but he threw down a ridiculous third run, edging a pair of Canadians for the gold. He also placed fifth in the men's big air event two weeks later.
Gerard was the surprise winner.
Chloe Kim was not.
This 17-year-old halfpipe phenom has been crushing it at the Winter X Games for the past several years, taking gold in the superpipe in 2015, 2016 (twice) and 2018. By the time she dropped in for her first run in Pyeongchang, she was the overwhelming favorite.
Kim's first run (93.75) was more than enough to win the gold. As the last rider in the third and final run, she didn't need to do anything. But to Kim, that just meant she had the freedom to go wild, which she did, scoring 98.25 to win by a huge margin (8.5).
Get ready to hear a lot about Kim and Gerard in the leadup to the Beijing Games in 2022. It's already a foregone conclusion they will be marketing gold for the next four years.
Loser: Canada's Curling and Hockey Teams
Some countries seem to win gold in the same sports in every Winter Olympics. And in most years, Canada is the team to beat in both men's and women's curling and ice hockey.
Let's start with curling, because the Canadians always win some sort of medal. (Or so we thought.) Dating back to 1998, Canada had won five gold, three silver and two bronze medals. Its men and women medaled in all five Games during that time, and they both won gold in Sochi four years ago.
In Pyeongchang, Canada won gold in the inaugural mixed doubles event, but it whiffed in both the men's and women's tournaments. The women failed to even qualify for the semifinals, going 4-5 in the round-robin sessions. The men earned the No. 2 seed, but losses to the United States in the semifinals and to Switzerland in the bronze-medal match left Kevin Koe and Co. off the podium.
Canada's hockey results may have been even more embarrassing.
Its women entered Pyeongchang with four consecutive gold medals dating back to 2002. The men had won three of four gold medals with 2006 the exception to the rule.
At least the women earned a medal. The gold-medal match that everyone was expecting long before the Games began ended up being one of the most exciting Olympic hockey games ever. The United States beat Canada in the sixth round of a shootout thanks to some incredible stick work by Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson on the game-winner. As a result, Canada had to settle for silver, which Jocelyne Larocque wasn't too happy about it.
In the men's tournament, Canada was upset by Germany in the semifinals. That set up a bronze-medal match with the Czech Republic, which the Canadians won.
Still, one silver and one bronze from what was supposed to be four golds is a tough pill to swallow, eh?
Winner: Team USA Women's Hockey
As previously mentioned, Canada and the United States entered the women's hockey tournament as the overwhelming favorites. They were in a group with the third- and fourth-best teams—Finland and Olympic Athletes from Russia—and made mincemeat of both teams in round-robin play. That set up a battle between 2-0 Canada and the 2-0 United States in a relatively meaningless game that just decided which team went to which semifinal.
The game may not have mattered, but the North Americans battled fiercely in a 2-1 win by Canada.
It was all just a formality before the gold-medal match, though, as both teams won their semifinals by a 5-0 margin.
Once there, the Americans were finally able to dethrone the Canadians who had won gold in four straight Games.
Team USA got on the board first with a power-play goal late in the first period. Canada battled back with two goals in the first seven minutes of the second period. And then a Monique Lamoureux-Morando goal in the final seven minutes of the third period forced a 10-minute sudden-death overtime period. Despite a penalty on Team USA's Megan Keller with 95 seconds remaining, neither team was able to score, setting up the most dramatic possible situation in the Winter Olympics:
A penalty shootout for the gold medal.
Tied at one goal each after three shots, the shootout went into an overtime of its own. Both teams scored on the fourth shot. Both goalies saved the fifth shot. And then Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson brought the Americans the gold with a deke for the ages.
The Americans didn't actually win until Maddie Rooney saved an attempt by Meghan Agosta after Lamoureux-Davidson's sensational goal. That's a shootout that will be remembered for a long, long time.
Loser: Elise Christie, Great Britain
In non-Olympic events, Elise Christie is arguably the best short-track speedskater in the world.
Last March, at the 2017 World Short Track Speed Skating Championship in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Christie won gold in the 1,000 meters and 1,500 meters and finished first in the overall classification. She also took fourth in the 500 and bronze in the 3,000, finishing less than two tenths of a second (in a five-minute race) shy of another gold.
At the previous five World Championships, she amassed three gold, four silver and five bronze medals. And she has 10 individual medals at the European Championships since 2013. She also holds the world record in the 500 meters.
But in the Olympics, Christie has consistently had trouble.
As a 19-year-old in 2010, she finished in the top 20 in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 but didn't finish in the top 10 in any of them. Four years later, she was disqualified in the final of the 500 and the semifinals of the 1,000 for being the at-fault skater in a collision. She was also disqualified in a qualifying heat of the 1,500 for missing the finish line.
Pyeongchang was supposed to be her redemption story, but no such luck. She reached the final of the 500, but she finished fourth after crashing. In the semifinals of the 1,500, Christie collided with Li Jinyu and was disqualified. To add injury to insult, she suffered an ankle injury, which caused her pain in her 1,000 qualifying heat. She was also disqualified from that race and had to be carried off the ice.
So, in six events in the last two Games, that's five DQs, one crash in the finals and zero medals.
"I just see it as three races that went rubbish in the last four years," Christie said, according to the Telegraph. "Unfortunately, all three of them were here. ... I'm going to get myself so strong that I'll get out in front and get away from everyone, and that'll be the focus now. I'll be back in Beijing [in 2022]."
Winner: Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall, United States
It had been more than four decades since the United States earned an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing, but Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall won gold in the women's team sprint in exhilarating fashion.
They were in a fierce three-way battle with Sweden and Norway.
As previously mentioned, this event marked one of four medals won this year by Norway's Marit Bjoergen. She and teammate Maiken Caspersen Falla were in first or second place for virtually the entire seven kilometers.
Sweden's duo was even more well-decorated in Pyeongchang. Charlotte Kalla was the first gold medalist of the Games, winning the 15-kilometer skiathlon. She also took silver in the 10-kilometer freestyle and was part of the 4x5-kilometer relay team that won silver. Also on that team was Stina Nilsson, who won gold in the women's sprint Feb. 13.
Needless to say, the competition was strong.
But Diggins' will to win was even stronger. Heading into the final sprint, she was several meters behind Nilsson and only a few meters ahead of Falla. But she overcame that gap just in time.
It's impossible for words to do justice to how incredible the moment was, but the clip of the NBC announcers' call captures it beautifully. If you haven't already watched it 100 times, take 46 seconds and do so now. Even famous bundle of excitement Gus Johnson has never gotten that amped up while calling a game.
Loser: Men's Hockey Tournament
Normally, the men's hockey tournament is the crown jewel of the Winter Olympics. Canada's overtime win over the United States in 2010 was one of the highest-rated games in hockey history. The 1-0 rematch in the semifinals four years later was also must-see television. And, of course, who can forget the Miracle on Ice in 1980?
But, be honest, did you intentionally watch a single game of the men's tournament this year?
The timing didn't help matters. For East Coast folks, the vast majority of games started at 10:10 p.m., 2:40 a.m. or 7:10 a.m. Even the gold-medal match wasn't scheduled to end until most of America was asleep.
But that wasn't the biggest problem.
With the NHL refusing to allow its players to compete—even AHL players on two-way contracts were banned from participation, just in case they needed to be called up—star power was beyond lacking. I was a pretty big NHL fan until about eight years ago, and there were only a handful of players on any roster that I had heard of before this week. Most of them played for the Olympic Athletes from Russia, which explains why it was the favorite for gold.
Without the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, it was hard to get invested. And if you did watch any of the games, chances are you weren't impressed by the quality of play. (There's a reason these guys aren't in the NHL, after all.)
The tournament was particularly painful to watch in the first round-robin session. Even OAR had a disastrous debut, losing to Slovakia before starting to look the part of favorite.
Here's hoping the NHL lets its players compete in 2022. Unless you count events from the Winter X Games as mainstream sports, hockey is the only one that is part of the Winter Olympics. Having a bunch of amateurs and retirees play is no way to drive interest.
Winner: Netherlands Speedskating
Four years ago in Sochi, the Netherlands speedskating team had just about the most dominant performance imaginable. The Dutch took eight of 12 possible gold medals and nabbed 23 overall. No other country won more than three.
Another blowout that ridiculous in Pyeongchang was virtually impossible, but the Netherlands was still best by a wide margin, winning 16 medals, including seven of 14 golds.
As was the case in 2014, the most incredible part was the diversity of gold medalists.
This isn't a case of, say, United States swimming looking incredible because Michael Phelps wins an absurd number of golds to carry the team. Six different Dutch skaters—Sven Kramer, Jorien ter Mors, Ireen Wust, Esmee Visser, Carlijn Achtereekte and Kjeld Nuis (two)—won individual gold medals. Wust, Marrit Leenstra, Antoinette de Jong, Jorrit Bergsma, Patrick Roest, Irene Schouten and Koen Verweij also won either silver or bronze in individual events.
Basically, 50 percent of the 20 best speedskaters in the world are from the Netherlands. The Dutch are to speedskating in the 2010s what Americans were to Olympic men's basketball in the 1990s, and there are substantially more medals to be won in speedskating.
Loser: (Olympic Athletes From) Russia
Russia was a big loser of the 2018 Winter Olympics long before the Games even began. Because of state-sponsored doping in the build-up and through Sochi 2014, Russia was barred from being represented in Pyeongchang.
Instead of competing under the Russian flag, the country's competitors became the "Olympic Athletes from Russia," and all their medals would not count in the history books as Russian medals.
Worse yet, two members of the OAR team were disqualified for doping during the Games.
Alexander Krushelnitsky of the mixed doubles curling team tested positive for meldonium. (If your response to that story is "Why would a curler need PEDs?!" I would encourage you to find a local curling club and discover for yourself how exhausting sweeping can be.) OAR originally won the bronze medal, but it was instead awarded to Norway. Bobsled pilot Nadezhda Sergeeva then tested positive for trimetazidine and admitted to doping.
The Russian athletes who were allowed to compete didn't have a great trip to South Korea, either.
Prior to losing some medals because of the doping disqualifications, Russia had won 33 in Sochi four years ago, including 13 golds. In both categories, the Russians finished ahead of every other country in 2014.
This year, they're sixth in total medals with just 17, and they only won two gold. (Alina Zagitova won in ladies' singles figure skating; men's ice hockey also won.)
Winner: Ester Ledecka, Czech Republic
The last time an athlete won medals in two different sports in the same Winter Olympics was 1952. Finland's Heikki Hasu won gold in the 4x10-kilometer cross-country skiing relay as well as silver in the Nordic combined in Oslo more than six decades ago.
Jorien Ter Mors pulled off the feat earlier this week, winning gold in the 1,000 meters in speedskating and bronze in the 3,000-meter relay in short-track speedskating. But, without question, what Ester Ledecka accomplished was even more impressive, considering the difference between speedskating and short-track speedskating is nothing compared to the difference between skiing and snowboarding.
The Czech Republic won only two gold medals in Pyeongchang. They were in different sports, but they were both courtesy of Ledecka.
First, she won the super-G in Alpine skiing. In an event in which the gap between first place and 11th place was just 0.54 seconds, Ledecka edged Austria's Anna Veith by one hundredth of a second. She also finished ahead of Team USA's Lindsey Vonn—and 40 other racers.
The funny thing is she was such an unlikely winner that NBC had stopped airing the event. The top 10 medal contenders are the 11th through 20th ones down the mountain, after which the podium is typically set. But Ledecka shocked everyone by winning as the 26th racer.
One week later, she took care of business in the snowboarding parallel giant slalom. And she dominated from start to finish. Ledecka had the fastest qualifying time by a margin of more than a full second. It wasn't until the finals that a competitor came within 0.7 seconds of her, but even her 0.46-second margin over Selina Joerg was enough that the result was never in doubt.
Loser: Everyone Who Didn't Stay Awake for Gold Match in Men's Curling
Every four years, curling is the one sport at the Winter Olympics that Americans fall hopelessly in love with.
Snowboarding and ski jumping are exciting. Luge and skeleton are death-defying. Figure skating is artistic. Hockey is familiar. But there's just something about curling that gets everyone excited. If you don't believe me, go check out what Twitter looked like from 1:30 to 4:30 a.m. ET, as thousands of us happily sacrificed hours of sleep to watch John Shuster and Co. chase glory.
In the last two Games, the obsession led to disappointment for the United States. Shuster repeatedly choked under the pressure. And early on in the round-robin sessions, he was up to his old tricks. In particular, he struggled against Japan and Norway, resulting in a pair of close losses that all but eliminated any hope of reaching the semifinals. The United States was 2-4 and could not afford another loss.
Out of nowhere, Shuster became the definition of clutch, leading the Americans all the way to the gold-medal match against Sweden.
After seven riveting ends, it was 5-5 in the eighth end with the U.S. in possession of the hammer. Redemption for Shuster was one throw away, and goodness gracious did he get it. A double takeout gave the Americans a five-point end, which effectively ended the match. Sweden got two points in the ninth and threw seven stones in the final end before acknowledging defeat and shaking hands for a 10-7 final.
When that five-point stone found its mark, you could almost see the monkey leap off Shuster's back. Witnessing that combination of relief and joy in real time was worth being a little tired for the next day or two. And if we're in this position again in four years in Beijing, make sure you stay up for the chance to watch history.
Winner: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Canada
As far as figure skating goes, we could go any number of ways with the winners and losers. Germany's Aljano Savchenko was a big winner for her gold in pairs skating in her fifth trip to the Olympics. The United States' Nathan Chen was a loser early, but he had a masterful final performance, though it was too little too late. And, oddly enough, Winnie the Pooh was a big winner, thanks to Yuzuru Hanyu.
But we're going with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who have been skating together since 1997.
The pair has racked up quite the collection of medals. In addition to a bunch of golds and silvers at the World and Canadian Championships in the past decade-plus, Virtue and Moir won Olympic gold in ice dancing in 2010 and won silver in both ice dancing and the team event in 2014.
This year, they took gold in both, dancing to the music of Moulin Rouge.
"It definitely feels like we are close to the end of our career, and we are very proud of this," Moir told reporters. "We came back to win the second gold medal; that was the goal. This was a very intense competition, and we're happy the way things turned out for us."