Four Olympics blogs as the end of the longest Winter Games in history comes into view:
Twenty years ago, the United States defeated Canada, 3-1, for the first women’s ice hockey gold medal in Olympics history. The scene on the ice that day wasn’t quite Lake Placid in 1980, but it was special nonetheless.
Wednesday night at 11:10 EST (Thursday afternoon in South Korea), the U.S. and Canada will face off again for the gold medal in women’s hockey. This rivalry has become as intense as any in sport. The Canadians have won the last four Olympic gold medals, beating the Americans three times in the final. Canada and the U.S. are the only teams to play in the final of every International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship, a tournament that began in 1990. Canada won the first eight, the U.S. eight of the last 10.
These teams respect each other. They do not like each other.
The 1998 team, inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, had a strong Rhode Island connection. Goalkeeper Sarah DeCosta grew up in Warwick and starred at Toll Gate High and Providence College. Katie King and Tara Mounsey skated for Brown University. Cammie Granato, the captain, Chris Bailey, Laurie Baker, Lisa Brown-Miller and Vicki Movessian played for Providence College.
Canada even had a Rhode Island connection. Becky Kellar played for Brown.
But times have changed in the two decades since their first Olympic clash. Unlike 1998, not a single player on the U.S. roster attended PC or Brown. The current team comes from the University of Minnesota (6), Boston College (5), University of Wisconsin (4), Minnesota Duluth (2), University of North Dakota (2), Lindenwood University, University of New Hampshire, Northeastern, and the University of Vermont.
I am not a huge fan of figure skating because I can’t tell the difference between a double axel and a triple toe loop. But this year is different, thanks to NBC figure skating guru Johnny Weir’s outrageous wardrobe and his equally outrageous yet often insightful commentary.
Weir and broadcast partner Tara Lipinski, another former Olympian, are the best commentators covering the Games for NBC. They are chic, funny, irreverent and blunt. And they know their stuff. Weir, 33, competed for the U.S. in the 2006 Olympics in Torino and the 2010 Games in Vancouver and was a three-time national champion. Lipinski, 35, was the ladies gold medalist at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, when she was only 15. She was also the reigning world and U.S. champion at the time.
Weir and Lipinski were a hit at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, their first assignment together. Stars on the ice when they were kids, they are bigger stars off the ice now as adults.
For my money the downhill in Alpine skiing remains the most thrilling and scariest event of the Olympics. Racers plummet down an icy course faster than drivers on I-95. They fly off jumps and lean into nasty turns. A slight error can send them crashing into protective netting beside the course. The difference between finishing on the medal stand, or podium, and watching from fourth place, can be a ski length, or one-thousandth of a second. That’s 0.001.
NBC has done a good job capturing the scene at the top as racers sway slightly while visualizing the track and smile confidently before plunging through the starting wand. They are right there as racers come over the top of jumps, skis flexing as they land. And they are on the spot in the finish area.
Bode Miller, a former Olympic gold medalist and world champion, and one of the greatest all-around skiers in the sport’s history, has not matched the visuals with his commentary. He knows the downhill -- its dangers, challenges and thrills – so well that his discussion of them is routine, matter of fact. A little emotion or excitement in his voice would elevate his delivery.
Speaking of delivery, how about Lindsey Vonn, one of the greatest female ski racers of all time, and Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, American unknowns who made cross-counry skiing history Wednesday?
Vonn delivered a strong run in her final Olympic downhill on Wednesday but failed to catch her friend Sofia Goggia of Italy. You could tell Vonn was disappointed and why not? She races to win, not to finish second or third. You could also sense the excitement level in the NBC booth drop when the Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel started and finished strong and slipped ahead of Vonn for the silver medal.
To her credit, Vonn later told NBC that she had done her best, was proud of her performance, but Goggia was better. Good for her. At 33 Vonn is the oldest woman to win a medal in Alpine skiing. In her case, bronze only embellished her stature as an icon.
Randall, 35, a five-time Olympian , and a mom, and Diggins, 26 and a two-time member of Team USA, became instant icons when they won the women’s team sprint freestyle in as thrilling a finish as you will ever want to see. Diggins was third coming off the final hill on the 7.5km (4.6-mile) course. She Maiken Falla of Norway. Then, arms and legs pumping furiously, she went outside to her right, caught Stina Nilsson of Sweden and outstretched her at the finish, her margin of victory a mere 19-hundreths of a second.
Diggins raised her arms in triumph and collapsed to the snow. Randall rushed over, fell to her knees and embraced her teammate. Neither could believe what they had just accomplished. After years of racing far from their Minnesota and Alaska homes and far from any SportsCenter highlights, they were Olympic champions, the first Americans, male or female, to win Olympic gold in cross-country skiing, the first American women to win a medal of any kind in cross-country and the first American cross-country medalists since Bill Koch of Vermont in 1976.
Go online and watch the video. Turn up the volume for the exciting call. I guarantee it is an Olympic moment that will make you smile and perhaps even shed a tear of joy with two women who on Wednesday became Olympic heroes.