Red, white and bruised, US struggles to win medals
By Tim Dahlberg
AP Sports Columnist
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — It was, perhaps, the defining moment for the U.S. team at this Olympics.
Not Shaun White blitzing the halfpipe in a final run to win gold, a win that came with some baggage by itself. Or Chloe Kim delighting fans from two countries when she won her halfpipe, either.
No, it came on Friday (Feb. 16) when — within 20 seconds of each other — Nathan Chen skated his way out of medal contention and Mikaela Shiffrin faltered in the slalom she had been expected to ski away with.
And with it went any chance the U.S. had of redeeming itself in what is shaping up as a frustrating Olympics for an American team that had hopes of ending up near the top of the medal table.
The biggest team in the Olympics — 241 athletes — has been a flop so far, winning so few medals that you can count them on both hands. Take away the new wave of snowboarding events, and you can them with one hand.
But if those waving the red, white and blue want a statistic that really stuns, consider this one:
Norway, a nation of 5.3 million people is leading with 25 medals so far, or one for every 212,000 Norwegians.
The U.S., a nation of some 320 million people, has 10 medals or one for every 32 million Americans.
It could be worse. Russia — which won the medal count in Sochi four years ago — is still waiting for its first gold medal. But at least the Russians — who are not an official team here — have an excuse because some of its best dopers from Sochi were banned from these games. Even the partial Russian team has 10 medals overall, same as the U.S.
The U.S. runs an extensive winter training program with millions of dollars spent every year to train top athletes just for this occasion. The U.S. Olympic Committee took in more than $300 million in 2016 alone, with a big chunk of that used to train elite athletes.
That’s a lot of money with very little to show for it. Through Sunday (Feb. 18) American athletes are fifth on the medal list.
Take away the new sports added to the Olympics since 1992, and the U.S. would have a grand total of two medals.
The Associated Press had projected the U.S. to have 20 medals at this point, and Team USA has averaged 30 medals total over the last three Winter Olympics.
With the dismal performance have come dismal ratings for NBC, which paid $963 million for the games, up from $775 million for Sochi. While the Olympics still win the prime-time battle in the U.S., the total audience tuning in was down 16 percent Thursday night (Feb. 15), with the viewership on NBC alone down 29 percent.
What should be more concerning to the network — and U.S. officials — is the lack of star power emerging in South Korea.
Shiffrin delivered gold in her first race, but stumbled in the giant slalom and will have to rebound in the combined and downhill if she is going to become a multi-medalist in these games. White, meanwhile, may be in his last Olympics and was tarnished by reports of a civil sexual harassment suit against him.
U.S. teenagers have a lot of potential. Kim dominated in the halfpipe and could be a favorite in future Olympics, and fellow 17-year-old Red Gerard, who won gold in men’s snowboard slopestyle. The teen figure skaters Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou finished fifth and sixth, but they were the biggest jumpers in the competition and could be back with more experience.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, former gold medalists Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety have so far failed to deliver.
Add in the lackluster performance of the U.S. hockey team — which lost 4-0 to Russia on Saturday — and the absence of any medals in (non-short track) speed skating and there’s not a lot to cheer about.
The games could still be salvaged somewhat by some of the stars with more events left. Shiffrin has an outside shot at two golds in the combined and downhill and Vonn is one of the favorites in the women’s downhill. There’s a new Big Air event where Americans are competitive, and there may be a medal or two left in some of the outlying sports.
But the days when Eric Heiden could win five speed skating golds or American figure skaters could dominate appear over. Hard to believe, but the last medal for a U.S. woman figure skater was the silver Sasha Cohen won in Turin 12 years ago.
The rest of the world has caught up, yes.
That’s little excuse, though, for what has been so far a flop of Olympic proportions.
Gay US Olympians dig in on feud with vice president: ‘Eat your heart out, Pence’
By Avery Anapol – 02/09/18 05:10 PM EST
The first two openly gay male U.S. winter Olympians are doubling down on their feud with Vice President Pence over his record on LGBTQ rights.
Freeskier Gus Kenworthy posted a photo on Instagram of himself and figure skater Adam Rippon with a caption that calls out Pence, who is leading the U.S. delegation to the 2018 Olympics, by name. Rippon was named to the U.S. Olympic team first, making history as the first openly gay man to represent the country in the Winter Olympics. Kenworthy was named to the team a few weeks later.
“The Opening Ceremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way!” Kenworthy wrote. “I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I’m so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence.”
He also used the hashtag “TeamUSGay,” adding American flag and Pride flag emojis.
Kenworthy earlier in February called Pence a “strange choice” and a “bad fit” to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics.
“To have somebody leading the delegation that’s directly attacked the LGBTQ community, and a Cabinet in general that just sort of stands against us and has tried to do things to set us back, it just seems like a bad fit,” Kenworthy said.
Rippon has been outspoken about his views on Pence and President Trump, saying in an interview earlier this year that he would decline an invitation to the White House because he doesn’t think he would be “welcome” as a gay athlete.
“I don’t think the current administration represents the values that I was taught growing up,” Rippon said. “Mike Pence doesn’t really stand for anything that I believe in.”
As the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang began, it was reported that Rippon declined a meeting with Pence, which the vice president’s office, Rippon and Rippon’s mother all denied.
Pence tweeted that the report was “fake news” and that he supports all U.S. athletes at the Olympics.
Pence’s record on LGBTQ rights, including signing a religious freedom law as Indiana governor that many said would have legalized anti-gay discrimination, has made him a top adversary of the gay community.
Pence’s bid to isolate North Korea at Olympics falls flat
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — For all of Vice President Mike Pence’s efforts to keep North Korea from stealing the show at the Winter Olympics, the images of the two Koreas marching together — and their officials shaking hands — at a time of heightened tensions on the peninsula proved impossible to counteract.
Current and former Big Ten Winter Olympians have earned at least 29 Academic All-Big Ten selections including three-time honoree Natalie Spooner of Ohio State University Women’s Hockey.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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