PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The 2018 Olympics have not offered what most U.S. athletes, coaches or fans expected.
In the last two weeks, a lot of athletes have tried to reconcile what they wanted with what a clock or a judge said they earned. In most cases, that was a difficult, unpleasant, even heartbreaking reality.
For some, it looks like the Americans, and especially the Utah athletes, will have to define their 2018 Olympic experience by how close they came to winning medals.
The largest contingent of American athletes ever to compete at a Winter Games (241) has far fewer medals than were projected by any source.
The most modest estimate was 15 medals through 49 of the 102 events, and after 50 events, the U.S. has 10 medals.
In 2014, Utah athletes accounted for 10 U.S. medals. In this Olympics, however, Utah athletes accounted for none of American medals.
It may be more salt in the wound than consolation, but it’s worth considering some other numbers.
In addition to the medals, the U.S. team has had eight fourth-place finishes, 11 fifth-place finishes and seven sixth-place finishes with one week of competition remaining.
Disappointment has been tempered with the reality that failing on one day doesn’t necessarily mean failure.
As U.S. snowboardcross Olympian Faye Gulini put it, “There are a lot of athletes who their results don’t measure up to who they are.”
There are always multiple frameworks for viewing accomplishments, and many ways to measure success. Counting medals is simply one of those.
The first two weeks of competition featured some interesting and uplifting moments. These are a few:
• Chris Mazdzer winning the first individual men’s luge Olympic medal (silver) on Feb. 11. He was fourth after two runs on Saturday, and then he returned to the Alspensia Sliding Center with a deeper conviction in what he could accomplish. He laid down the fastest time on the track during the luge competition in his third run, and then held on for second-place in one of the most thrilling finishes in Olympic luge history. Winning the gold in that competition was David Gleirscher, who’d never earned a spot on a World Cup podium.
• Red Gerard and Chloe Kim with their unusual and endearing gold-medal moments. Gerard, the slopestyle snowboarder who woke up late and had to borrow a coat, charmed everyone with his honest disbelief at his own success. Chloe Kim, who became the youngest woman to win gold in snowboard halfpipe, has similarly entertained fans as she ruminated for ice cream, and lamented not finishing breakfast on social media as she competed for Olympic gold.
Their families were as entertaining and endearing as they were, and their ‘Hey, is this really happening?” style made it easy to cheer for them.
• Men’s figure skating featured more quad jumps in just the short program (17) than the entire two-day event in Sochi four years ago. Gold medalist Yuruzu Hanyu nearly broke his own record with a short program score of 111.68, but Javier Fernandez, Spain; Shoma Uno, Japan; and Boyang Jin, China, all offered high-stakes, jaw-dropping performances in both the short and free skates.
• Nathan Chen offered a lesson in resilience when, the day after his disastrous short program left him in 17th place, set an Olympic record by attempting six quads (landing five cleanly and putting his hand down on the sixth) and earned the highest score of the free skate (215.08), which allowed him to not only finish in fifth place but prove he is the phenom that everyone thought he was.
• Adam Rippon and Patrick Chan didn’t have the jumping ability of their younger counterparts, but the figure skating icons — Chan helped pioneer the quad revolution and Rippon proved artistry and is the centerpiece of figure skating for a reason — enjoyed flawlessly entertaining Olympic finales.
• Women’s Alpine featured a couple of great moments. First Mikayla Shiffrin earned gold in the giant slalom, which sparked talk of how many medals she might end up winning in Pyeongchang, and then Ester Ledecka, a Czech snowboarder turned alpine athlete who was racing on borrowed skis, won the Super G.
Moments that marred the games:
• The women’s slopestyle snowboard finals were battered by high winds that mean 41 of 50 competitors failed to finish even a single clean run. It was unfortunate that female snowboarders were unable to highlight what they’re capable of on a course that was both creative and challenging.
Jamie Anderson ended up repeating as Olympic champion, but the competition was decided by some of the lowest scores in recent competition as the women opted for easier tricks to avoid the danger.
• Lindsey Vonn made the mistake of answer a reporter’s question about politics and it made her the target of Twitter trolls, who celebrated her disappointing Super G result (6th place). Other athletes came to her defense and called it "un-American" to cheer against a U.S. athlete. But she seemed to take it in stride, saying she was focused on her next race, which is Wednesday.
• Canadian short track speedskater Kim Boutin was the target of messages so hateful, including death threats, that she had to shut down her social media, after officials awarded her third place by disqualifying South Korea’s Minjeong Choi for interfering with Boutin.
• Shaun White’s record-breaking third gold medal in snowboard halfpipe should have been a simple, glorious moment for U.S. fans. But the way he handled questions about a sexual harassment suit brought by a former friend and member of his band marred the moment. He did offer an apology not only for the behavior that brought the suit, but for being flippant in responding to questions.
With a week left, and plenty of champions yet to be crowned, there will be more moments that inspire and likely more moments that will reveal the dark side of competition.
Among those moments with the potential to inspire are:
• The debut of big air with finals on Feb. 23 (women's) and 24 (men's).
• The women's downhill on Feb. 21.
• The men's 500 and women's 1000 short track races on Feb. 22.
• The medal rounds of hockey.
• Four-man bobsled races, on Feb. 23 and 24.