Looking at the First Week of Winter Olympic Action
The 2022 Winter Olympics kicked off last week as the best athletes from around the world gathered in Beijing to compete in the highest level of their sports. From snowboarding, to figure skating, skiing to ice hockey, luge to bobsled, the Winter Olympics are always filled with excitement and amazing stories; and nothing is different for the start of this year in Beijing.
Beginning before even the opening ceremony, women’s hockey has finished their preliminary round and the knockout rounds will be starting on Thursday, February 10th, continuing until the gold medal match on February 16 at 11:10 pm ET. The bronze medal match will occur on the 16th as well at 6:30 am ET. Team Canada and Team USA are the two favorites of the tournament with the rivalry being as heightened as ever with Team USA trying to defend their 2018 Sochi gold medal after years of taking the silver behind Canada. Team Canada’s depth is their best strength though, with any line able to be efficient and find goals for them. They also have one of, if not the best, goaltender in women’s hockey in Ann-Reneé Desbiens. For Team USA, they will need to find strength in their depth and power-play units with forward, and key player, Brianna Decker being out for the remainder of the tournament after a nasty leg injury in the opening ten minutes of the first game. The two teams faced each other in the final game of the prelims, with Team Canada topping the Americans by a score of 4-2. Desbiens made 51 saves for Team Canada after making only 42 saves in her two previous games played. Team Canada dominated the group stage winning their first three games with ease scoring an impressive 29 goals between the three, while only conceding three. Team USA will play the Czech Republic in their first playoff game while Team Canada plays Sweden on February 11nd.
History is made every year at the Olympics but this history may not be replicated for years to come as fifteen-year-old Kamila Valieva was the first female figure skater to land a quad jump at the Olympics. She performed this skill twice during her free skate on Monday, February 7th. The fifteen-year-old also became the fourth female to land a triple axel at the Winter Olympics, as she performed it in the women’s short program on Saturday, February 5th. Valieva helped secure gold for the ROC in the figure skating team event although this may be in jeopardy as one of the skaters reportedly failed a drug test after the event finished.
In the slopestyle snowboarding event, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott won New Zealand’s first-ever Winter Olympics gold medal by recording a score of 92.88 in her third and final run. The USA’s Julia Marino won silver with a score of 87.68. Marino was the first American to medal at the Winter Olympics in any sport. Rounding out the podium, Tess Coady of Australia earned bronze with her score of 84.15 in her third run.
Chloe Kim stays golden as she becomes the first woman to win back-to-back gold medals in the women’s halfpipe event at the Winter Olympics. She threw down a very impressive 94.00 on her first run, shooting her up to first. Her first run score was high enough above the next competitors that Kim tried a historic 1260, a trick that has never been landed at the Winter Olympics in her second run. She was close but ultimately unable to land it. By the time, Kim was up to race again for her third run, the gold medal was already her’s and now it was just about making history with 1260. Although she again fell, Chloe Kim leaves the Olympics after an extremely impressive run and a gold medal.
Natalie Geisenberger also stays golden after retaining her third gold medal in the women’s luge event. She finished with a time of 3:53.454 just .493 in front of Team Germany teammate Anna Berreiter. Geisenberger became the first woman to win three straight gold medals in the women’s luge competition. ROC competitor, Tatyana Ivanova rounded out the top three, taking the bronze medal.
Eileen Gu, an American-born Chinese-American who decided to compete for China in the Winter Olympics has taken the world by a storm by winning the Olympics’ first-ever big air freestyle ski event. Gu took home the gold medal with three very impressive scores overall, although in this event they only take the athlete’s top two scores. Gu scored an impressive 188.25 to secure the gold. Gu was followed by France’s Tess Leduex in the silver position with 187.50 and Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud in the bronze position with 182.50 on the podium.
Lindsey Jacobellis finally got her medal as she won the first gold medal of the Olympics for Team USA on Wednesday, February 9th. Jacobellis is 36 years old making her one of the oldest Winter Olympic athletes and the oldest athlete in her event. This was Jacobellis’ fifth Olympics yet she has never walked away with a medal. Before this year, she was most widely known for her blunder at the end of the race in Torino in 2006. She finally got redemption and finally added an Olympic medal to her trophy cabinet. She did not need this gold medal to prove that she’s the most dominant snowboard cross athlete, but it’s certainly a sweet cherry on top. Jacobellis led for the whole of the race and finished 0.21 in front in the big final. She was joined on the podium by Chloe Trespeuch of France and Meryeta Odine of Canada, finishing second and third respectively.
Jessie Diggins made Team USA history on Tuesday as she became the first US athlete to medal in the individual sprint in cross country skiing. Diggins is known for her gold medal in 2018 in the team sprint free as she teamed with Kikkan Randall. They became the first US women to win a medal in cross country skiing. Diggins placed third this year for the US with a time of 3:12.84. With her on the podium was Sweden’s Jonna Sundling with a 3:09.68 and Maja Dahlqvist with a 3:12.56.
Making some of the biggest headlines this Olympics is Mikaela Shiffrin, but not for the reasons she would want to be making the headlines. Shiffrin lost her father in 2020 and struggled greatly with the loss. He was always at her races, camera in hand, cheering her on all the way. When you lose someone that is pivotal to you, it may affect you in other aspects. For Shiffrin, her father was a part of racing so losing him meant losing a part of racing. Shiffrin came into this Olympics ready to compete, but between the media pressure and the reported bad conditions of the slopes, Shiffrin has failed to finish any of her races so far. Shiffrin first fell on the giant slalom, her best event, taking her out of contention. Shiffrin fell again on the slalom just two nights later. She said after her crash on the slalom, that her performance “makes me second-guess the last 15 years. ... Just processing a lot for sure, and I feel really bad.” The media is brutal in the sporting world, putting excessive pressure on top athletes to remain at the top of their game. It can become too much, very quick. We saw this, this past summer, with Simone Biles when she had to withdraw from the team event after picking up a case of the “twisties”. Simone spoke about how she feels sometimes, she has the weight of the world on her shoulders, further proving that the media adds even more pressure to these athletes that already put pressure on themselves to be perfect and successful. Some people are comparing the performances of Mikaela Shiffrin to that of what occurred with Biles this summer. And yes, they are similar which means that despite what we learned with Simone, we, as a society, have not changed in the ways we address mental health. More athletes are speaking up about mental health and yet, we are not seeing significant change across the board. For someone like Mikaela, two falls don’t define her. She is one of the greatest alpine skiers of all time. She still has three events to go in Beijing and let’s hope she is able to relax, have fun, and just ski because we are all rooting for her.