I remember how, four years ago, when we spoke of Sochi, we discussed unjust gay propaganda laws, protests, and oh yes, that doping scandal.
What I do not remember, however, is how Jamie Anderson won the snowboarding slopestyle gold, USA Women’s Hockey won the silver, igniting a new rivalry with Team Canada, and how and Mikaela Shiffrin won the gold for women’s slalom skiing.
Four years later, we have our Vice President Mike Pence not only feuding with the first openly gay figure skater, Adam Rippon, but also refusing to acknowledge North Korean officials during the opening ceremonies. Russia is technically banned from this Olympics, but of course there’s a caveat.
Four years later, I say to myself, shame on me.
Why don’t I remember the actual competition and the athletes rather than the scandals and political undertones? The only athletes of any Winter Olympics who I could name were short speed skater Apollo Ohno, snowboarder Shaun “The Flying Tomato” White and champion skier Lindsay Vonn, who didn’t even compete in 2014. She was still recovering from an ACL injury.
Isn’t that pathetic? What’s also pathetic is on day three in Pyeongchang, you will not find one Winter Olympics headline featured on the websites ESPN, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, or Sports Illustrated. I tip my hat to SB Nation and Bleacher Report, who prioritized at least one top story about the Winter Games. NBC, if it wasn’t broadcasting the event, it would most likely follow in its peer networks’ footsteps.
Do you know what these networks deem pertinent? Who the next coach of the Colts is and the “Cleveland Cavaliers’ New Era.” Those headlines are apparently more pertinent than an international sporting event held once every four years.
The only headline from ESPN that involves women in any sort of capacity of course concerned sexual abuse claims against amateur volleyball coach Rick Butler.
On the other hand, sister site ESPNW is having a field day. Its content is erupting with stories about women we’ve never heard of: snowboarder Chloe Kim, figure skater Mirai Nagasu, and 18-year-old short-track speed-skater Maame Biney, who, by the way, is the the first black woman in U.S. Olympic history to qualify for her event.
Here’s the message, here’s something that can distract us from political themes erupting onto our world’s biggest winter stage. Stories of female power and resilience. Tales of newcomers and firsts. That all should be memorable.
One reason of many why I’m so fascinated by the world of sports is because I’m a sucker for a great comeback story, a narrative about defeating all odds, a story about triumph. Trust me, these female narratives aren’t short of exciting. But let’s try to remember them, shall we?
So while you may have heard that Lindsay Vonn was delayed arriving in Pyeongchang, this past fall, she lost her grandfather, a family member very instrumental in her career. This will be her last Olympics, and Vonn plans to “win for him.”
Newcomer Chloe Kim who is currently 17 and holds the record as the youngest Winter X Games medalist, comes to the 2018 games with Korean born parents, and will be grappling with her identity as a Korean American and her newfound fame.
Hilary Knight and USA Women’s Hockey arrived at the Winter Games with a giant chip on their shoulders. Last year the team boycotted USA Hockey before the IIHF Women’s World Championships in pursuit of more financial support for the national team and for development programs for girls.
They have something to prove, or do they? While the women won the silver in 2014, the men’s team finished in fifth. Now I’ll ask the question again: Do they really have something to prove?
Now speaking of male counterparts and comparisons, the media has been comparing 22-year-old skier Mikaela Shiffrin to Michael Phelps. While Shiffrin laughed off the question, she was right to call it an “apples and oranges” comparison.
Why does her excellence have to be compared to Phelps? Why can’t her excellence stand alone, be impressive on its own?
This situation reminds me of the famous “she swims like a guy” comment from Ryan Lochte in Rio. I’m hoping and praying that we’ve learned from this, and now understand why it’s not okay to say that Katie Ledecky swims like a guy rather than herself.
And speaking of Rio, this idea that we should pay attention to sports — such as gymnastics — more than once every four years is fair game in Pyeongchang. As sports fans, we have a duty to learn and engage with athletic events that fall outside the four major sports.
With so many fascinating women’s narratives, the coverage in the next few weeks will determine the legacy of these young women. Will we remember them? I know I will.
“Everybody Talks” is a radio show on WRUR’s the Sting that highlights women’s involvement in sports and the social issues that surround athletics. You can listen to it every Friday from 1–2 p.m. on thesting.wrur.org.