If you’re multi-tasking, click here for an audio version:
Let’s face it. Until these Pyeongchang Olympics, most people thought curling was just something that women did with their hair. Or an opportunity to make fun of docile Canadians.
But no more. While curling was seen as mostly a Canadian thing – after all, they had won the last three men’s gold medals in the sport – it is likely to become as American as apple pie after the heroic, back-from-the-dead performance of the U.S. men’s curling squad. After losing four of their first six matches, the Americans stormed back, beat the vaunted Canadians not once but twice, and defeated Sweden to capture the gold, thus writing the headline which will stand as an enduring legacy of these 23rd Winter Olympics.
And the Spin…
Perhaps just as unlikely was that a world steeled against the growing nuclear threat of the world’s most totalitarian regime would be told that the sister of the megalomaniac heading North Korea was a rock star. Indeed, the PRK’s Director of the Propaganda and Agitation (her actual title) showed up and was hailed by the American media as everything from “the North Korean Ivanka Trump” (included in an actual Washington Post headline) to the putative bridge to Korean unification.
Of course, the media has long since proven they don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to kneecap President Trump, but their delight at Kim Jung-Un’s sister snubbing Vice President Pence was entirely transparent. It seemed the embodiment of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
In fact, the women who should be celebrated by Americans are neither propagandists nor agitators, but rather hockey players. The American women vanquishing the Canadians in the gold medal game – in a shootout no less – represented another of the most memorable moments in Pyeongchang.
And then there was the breathtaking performance of the American women’s cross-country ski team, with Jessie Diggins battling extreme fatigue and coming from behind at the very end to cross the finish line first by inches and win the gold. And let’s not forget Shaun White winning his third gold medal in the halfpipe, beating out the kids at the ripe old age of 31.
An International Games
But while we all – or most of us anyway – root for Americans to win, there were as always memorable performances from other nations that will undoubtedly stick with us. Consider the story of one Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic, a snowboarder who decided to also compete in the Alpine super-G skiing competition. Not even on the radar with a ranking of 43rd in the super-G, Ledecka came out of nowhere to shock the world – and herself – with a gold medal. Ledecka just stared at the scoreboard when she finished, slack-jawed, hardly believing that she had pulled off arguably the biggest upset in Winter Olympic history. And oh yeah, Ledecka won her snowboarding event as well, becoming the first woman ever to capture gold in two different sports at the same Olympics.
Then there was the grace and beauty of Virtue and Moir, the Canadian pair that won gold in ice dancing. And the two remarkable teenaged Russian figure skaters (actually representing “OAR” or “Organized Russian Athletes” since Russia as a nation was banned because of a doping scandal), with 15-year-old Alina Zagitova edging out 18-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva for the gold. And how about Canada and Germany finishing with identical times and splitting the gold medal in the men’s two-man bobsled. And Mexican German Madrazo, who had never put on a pair of skis until last year, just making it to the finish line in the 15 km cross-country race. With Nigerians and Jamaicans (again) competing in the bobsled, Mexico became the third tropical country to send competitors to the Winter Games.
A Grander Meaning
Of course, much was made of the “unified” Koreans, marching under one hybrid flag joining the free south with the communist north. And while we rightly dismiss this as little more than a stunt designed to put a human face on the inhuman police state in the north, there is no understating what it meant to South Koreans who have for over six decades lived under the threat posed by the barbarians just over the border. After the last game played by the unified Korean women’s hockey team, the fans waved unification banners while players wept openly on the ice. It is hard to believe any of this will alter the murderous behavior of Kim Jung-Un, but we can always hope, or pray.
Those of us who savor the Olympics – and feel a bit of sadness when they end – can again be glad about the decision made almost thirty years ago to separate the Summer and Winter games by two years, so we never have to wait four years for the next Olympics. We say a fond farewell and a job well done to South Korea, and relish the prospect of the Summer Games in Tokyo in 2020.