By Rob Ficiur
Week 2 of the Sochi Winter Olympics created new heroes. I watched events I never knew existed. Here are some of the stories that caught my attention in Week 2:
1. TJ Oshie starred in Sochi. The St. Louis Blues forward had six shootout attempts in the Americans overtime win over Russia. In the NHL teams must use different players for each round of the shootout.
In International hockey, once teams have used their first three shooters, they can send out whoever they want – how many times they want until the game is over. While the Russians alternated between two snipers in the extra rounds, the USA coach called on Oshie for all five extra rounds.
There is good reason to alternate shooters. Russians, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk gave the American goalie a different look as they alternating on the shoot out rounds. A rest between shoot out rounds was the right idea, so with each sudden death attempt, the shooter was mentally ready.
All the good logic aside, TJ Oshie (now called TJ Sochi) scored on four of his six shoot out attempts – including the winning goal for the USA. When the Americans left Sochi without a hockey medal, TJ Oschie’s heroics were destined to fade into the distant memories. Preliminary round heroics are only remembered if you win it all.
2. Snowboard Cross a new sport to me.
Snowboard cross was a snowboarding race down a very steep bumpy hill. The races were done in heats – with the two top players from each heat going on to the next round. In the preliminary rounds, it seemed like half of the athletes fell; meaning all you had to do was make it to the bottom upright to advance to the next round. The closer we got to the medal round the fewer racers fell.
Many of the Olympic sports are unforgiving. Hockey and curling fans feel like a sudden death playoff game is demanding, but in these events if you make a mistake (especially early) you have time to make up for it. In snowboard cross, one mistake and you have to wait four years, until the next Olympic Games to try again.
Canadian Dominique Maltais was a medal hopeful in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. At age 26, Maltais won a bronze medal in the 2006 Olympics Games in the snowboard cross event. Four years later, she hoped to medal in Vancouver. Falling in both of her qualifying rounds ended her medal hopes.
Four years later Dominique was still in the top of the World Cup rankings as the world turned its attention to the Sochi games. Instead of being a young rising star, as she was eight years ago, Maltais went into the 2014 Olympics at 33 years of age, knowing that four years from now, there might not be another Olympic opportunity for her.
In Sochi Week #2, Dominique Maltais came within inches of losing it all again. In the semifinal round, American Lindsey Jacobellis crashed on the final turn in front of Maltais, flipped over and nearly took the Canadian out with her board. As I watched the replay several times it was a matter of inches and pure luck that allowed Maltais to keep racing. Yes, she wanted Gold, but after what she had been in through in 2010 and almost again in 2014, she went home happy with Silver.
3. Patrick Chan apologized not once but twice to Canadians after he won a Silver Medal in the Men’s figure skating. Chan had come to win Gold. Chan has won the Canadian figure skating championship seven years in a row. Chan has won Gold in the World Figure Skating championship three years in a row. The line fine line between winning and losing is even more microscopic in a judged sport like figure skating.
Canadians responded emphatically to Chan’s apology. (Note how technology has changed in the last decade. Instantly after Chan apologized he heard what people had to say.) Canadians gave the silver medal praise for his hard work – sorry it was not gold, but silver looks pretty good too.
4. Curling Gold – In 1924 Canada did not win a medal in Olympic Curling. In these, the first Winter Olympics, only Britain, Sweden and France entered rinks in curling. (France entered two teams in that event.) After the 1924 Olympic Games, it would more than 70 years before curling was part of the Olympics again. By then Canada would be ready.
Starting at the 1998 Olympics the Canadian Men have two Silver and the last three Gold Medals in curling. The Canadian Women’s curling have two Gold, one Silver and two bronze. The 2014 Canadian Women set an Olympic record by winning all eleven matches they played. 2014 marks the first year that any country won both the Women and Men’s Gold the same year. (In history only Great Britain has won both a Men’s and Women’s Curling Gold Medal. The British men won in 1924 and the British Women in 2002.)
Canada has become the dominating country in curling. Gold medals are becoming expected in Curling; just like they are in that other ice sport.
Next week’s sports column will discuss the highs and lows of that other ice sport, hockey at the 2014 Sochi Games.