Just as the curtain was falling on one skating controversy at the Winter Olympics, another rose to take its place ? and this one hit closer to home.
One day after it was announced that Canadian figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier would receive gold medals of their own, U.S. short track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno got short end of another questionable result.
Ohno was leading the 1,000-meter race with about 20 meters left when China’s Jiajun Lu tried to forcefully pass him on the outside. Ohno held on, but Lu did not and fell down. A split-second later, Korea’s Hyun-Soo Ahn attempted to pass Ohno on the inside. Unfortunately, there was not enough room and Ahn slipped, taking Ohno and Canada’s Mathieu Turcotte with him.
Australia’s Steven Bradbury, who had been in fifth and last place, was unaffected by the crash and coasted to the gold medal. Ohno smartly jumped up as fast as he could and slid across the line just ahead of Turcotte to take the silver.
The judges decided to disqualify Lu, but they let the final results stand.
Controversy with class
The only difference between the two controversies is that everybody involved in the short track debacle handled it with grace. Ohno is actually good friends with Bradbury and said that he was happy with the silver medal. Bradbury revealed that waiting back for a crash was part of his strategy and he accepted his gold for the 10 years he has devoted to short track.
There may be a reason for the difference. In figure skating, everybody expects controversy and in short track, everybody expects crashes.
Well, we got both and I’m just glad the latter was able to cleanse the games, at least partially, of the former.
Reversal of fortune
Ohno finally got his gold, under similarly dramatic circumstances, in the 1,500-meter race. With two laps left, Ohno made a sensational pass to move from fifth to second. He then tried to get past the leader, South Korea’s Kim Dong-Sung, but was unable to and crossed the finish line second.
However, Dong-Sung was disqualified after the race for blocking Ohno and the 19-year-old from Seattle had his gold.
Reasons to celebrate
Ohno’s gold capped an amazing medal haul by the United States on Wednesday. U.S. athletes won five medals ? three golds, one silver and one bronze.
The event of the day was the skeleton, which was back at the Olympics for just the third time.
Third-generation Olympian Jim Shea won gold in the men’s race for the United States, while Tristan Gale and Lea Ann Parsley took gold and silver, respectively, in the women’s race.
Twelve skeleton medals have been awarded in Olympic history, and the United States has won six of them.
At the end of last week, the U.S. athletes proved that they could go down the ice track on their backs as well.
It was not surprising that Brian Martin and Mark Grimmette won the silver medal in the men’s doubles luge, but not many people expected the newly-formed team of Chris Thorpe and Clay Ives to win the bronze.
In the men’s figure skating competition, Timothy Goebel showed off his dazzling array of jumps to earn a surprise bronze medal for the United States. His routines are as technically sound as anybody’s in the world and he could be a gold-medal contender in 2006 if he improves his artistry.
U.S. snowboarder Chris Klug, who was happy to just be alive after a successful liver transplant 18 months ago, won bronze in the parallel giant slalom. The United States continued to impress in the newer “Generation X” events when hometown hero Joe Pack took the silver in the men’s aerials.
Everybody expected the United States to finally end its 46-year medal drought in bobsled, but nobody could have predicted how it would happen.
After Todd Hays and Garrett Hines finished in fourth place by .03 seconds in the two-man and Gea Johnson ? U.S. favorite Jean Racine’s controversial new partner ? was forced to compete with a severely pulled hamstring, the unknown pair of Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers raced to the first two-woman bobsled gold medal ever.
Flowers, a former track star, also became the first African-American to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
However, the biggest star of the Olympics ? at least until Ohno finishes making his mark ? might also be the smallest. Five foot, four inch Derek Parra became the first U.S. athlete to win two medals when he set a world record, winning the gold in the 1,500-meter long track speedskating race.
While his silver in the 5,000-meter race was more surprising, the gold was more fulfilling because his entire family was there to enjoy it with him.
Long track success
Parra’s gold continued the United States’ surprising dominance in speedskating this year. Just two days earlier, Chris Witty set a world record while winning gold in the 1,000-meter women’s race. Teammate Jennifer Rodriguez, one of many former inline skaters on the U.S. team, also took the bronze in that race.
Witty had cut her training before the Olympics due to a bout with mono and she was not expected to be much of a factor at the games. Rodriguez added a second bronze in the 1,500-meter race on Wednesday.
While there have been many surprises at the Olympics, the matchup for the women’s hockey gold-medal game is not one of them.
The United States cruised through its first four games to set up a rematch with Canada, which turned on the offense after trailing Finland 3-2 in the third period of a semifinal game.
The U.S. women defeated Canada 3-1 to win the gold medal in 1998 and they are favored to win again this year. They have won 35 straight games and have allowed fewer than 30 goals in that span, which includes eight straight wins over Canada.
Everybody expected the U.S. women to dominate, but not many people thought the U.S. men would follow suit, especially after an embarrassing showing in Nagano in 1998.
However, when Brett Hull scored the tying goal against Russia, the United States team sent a message that it was here to win. The United States followed the tie with Russia, which has been the best game of the tournament thus far, with easy wins over Belarus and Germany.
U.S. men’s hockey teams have not lost an Olympic game on home soil since 1932, a span of 23 games in which they are 20-0-3 and have won two gold medals.
That streak will be tested on Friday, when the United States faces Russia in the semifinals exactly 22 years after “The Miracle on Ice.”
Ironically, both the United States and Russia could benefit from what may be the biggest upset in Olympic hockey history. Belarus, a 10-million-to-one shot to win the gold medal, defeated Sweden, the only team in the tournament that won all three seeding games, 4-3 in a quarterfinal game that shocked the world. Vladimir Kopat scored on a 70-foot shot that bounced wildly off goalie Tommy Salo’s head with only 2:24 remaining to lead Belarus to the semifinals.
Name one other place where you can get such a big dose of upsets, controversy and international rivalry.
I love the Olympics.
Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.