15 Feb 2010, Mon. It's a golden day for the Swiss! Switzerland won 2 gold medals today. In 2009, Dario Colunga came out of nowhere to win the World Cup, stunning the skiing world. Dario Cologna continues his meteoric rise in the 15km Cross Country skiing by winning Switzerland's first ever cross country gold. Italy's Pietro Piller Cottre wins silver; Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic, the bronze. And former cross country skiing powerhouse Norway fails to win any medals, continuing their slump from the Torino Olympics.
In Men's Downhill Skiing, Swiss Didier Defago pulls off an amazing gold medal win, beating out pre race faves. Defago is the father of two and at 32, is the oldest athlete to win the event. Known as the boring skier in a field full of characters and over sized egos, no one expected him to even medal. He had to qualify last week for a spot to compete. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway wins the silver. And another surprise, Bode Miller of the US wins the bronze, a great comeback from a dismal showing at the Torino Olympics. Older, wiser, and more humble, Bode Miller is happy with his bronze, as evidenced by his pants.
Sweden's Charlotte Kalla wins gold in the womens 10km cross country; Kristin Smigun-Vaehi of Estonia, silver; Norway's Marit Bjoergen, bronze.
Mo Tae-bum of South Korea has the best birthday ever! Why? Because on the day he turns 21, he wins the gold in the 500m speed skating, the first ever for South Korea in distance speed skating. Japan's Keiichiro Nagashima and Joji Kato win silver and bronze respectively. No medals were awarded for their fashion sense however.
Lady Gaga at the Olympics
The most exciting event of day was the Snowboard Cross. In the qualifying heats, many top athletes raced against each other for spots in the final race. And after all the crashes and slips and misses, the final four were defending Torino gold medalist Seth Wescott US, X Games champion Nate Holland US, Tony Ramoin FRA, and Mike Robertson CAN. Seth Wescott had a terrible qualifying heat, almost failing to land a final spot. And when the final race started, he was last, as Canadian Mike Robertson skillfully takes the lead down the course. Tony Ramoin falters and slips, giving Seth Wescott an opening.
Nate Holland challenged Mike Robertson for the lead with some body checks, but Robertson held out and pulls ahead. Then Nate Holland slipped! Seth Wescott seizes the opportunity and guns after Mike Robertson who had an incredible lead so far ahead! And in the last part of the course, Seth Wescott overtakes Mike Robertson in the air,
pulling ahead and crossing the finish line! An incredible race to the very end!
Mike Robertson gets the silver and Tony Ramoin recovered in the race to grab the bronze!
But my favorite event of the night has to be in pairs figure skating. Pairs figure skating consists of two parts--a short program and a long program, each with elements required of the skaters. For 12 winter Olympics, the Russians have always won the event--50 years of dominance, with only one gold win shared with Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. And what would it take the break the Russian dominance and win a medal?
One, you must have the skills--both technical and artistic. Two, you must skate as one, always in sync with your partner. Three, do not fall!
And there were so many spectacular falls!
Jazz hands will not win you an Olympic medal!
Doing the Worm won't win a medal either.
Caution! Slippery when wet!
The Russians put up strong teams. But they, too, fell and made mistakes.
Trust me, you're not going to fall down.
Whoops! My bad!
Why it's a bad idea to let someone named Smirnov talk you into doing something crazy:
Is that alcohol I smell on your breath?
And all their points grabbing tricks failed to win the night. World champions Robin Szolkowy and Aliona Savchenko of Germany also had a fall. But they were second in the short program, and the excellent quality of their free skate performance was enough to land the bronze medal.
The most perfect performance of the night belonged to Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China. Four years ago at the Torino Olympics, they placed 4th, and had to endure watching their country celebrate their teammates silver and bronze medals. They were fourth in the short program, but their flawless free skate--the most perfect of the evening--won them the long program and secured them the silver!
But the most heartfelt performance of the night belonged to Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China. For 18 years, these two have skated together. They started out in last place, 15th at the World Championships in 1995. But they went on to win 3 World Championships, two Olympic bronzes, and multiple international skating championships. Along the way, they overcame injuries that kept them from winning Olympic gold and one World Championship. And after winning their third World Championship in 2007, they got married and retired.
But two years later, they decided to come back into competition to pursue their dream of Olympic gold--the only thing that eluded them in their long and illustrious career. And in 2009, they returned to compete and won every skating competition they were in, earning them a spot to compete at the Vancouver Olympics. They were biggest threat to the Russians, bigger than the World Champions, Germany's Robin Szolkowy and Aliona Savchenko. And after winning the short program with a flawless performance, people from all over the world were rooting for them, because this was the dream team, an actual couple who skated so beautifully on the ice and embodied what pairs figure skating is all about. They had amazing skills and true passion. This was a love story on ice.
I have to be honest. This was the team that I wanted to win. Because I think they are such a beautiful and great story! They made so many sacrifices in their quest. They returned to living in the training center dorms, in separate rooms, all for the hope of finally getting their Olympic gold. It would be such a wonderful win for such a deserving couple who won everything else but this. And they won! Finally, after all these years, they finally get that Olympic gold!
And in the process, they ended Russia's dynastic dominance over the sport! But perhaps the biggest winner of all has to be Chinese figure skating coach Yao Bin. In 1980, Yao Bin and his partner were sent to represent China at the World Championships in Germany. Back then, China was a closed society, and Yao Bin and his partner Luan Bo only had photographs from which to learn their skating moves. They had a terrible experience at the 1980 World Championship. The audience and the competition laughed at them, because of their poor and awkward performance. They came in last. And for the next four years, they finished in last place at every international competition, ridiculed by skating community.
Yao Bin never forgot that embarrassment and the poor reception he received from the audience and the figure skating world. He was determined to create a world class figure skating program in China. And over the long years, he single handedly put together the Chinese figure skating program. He made many sacrifices, often traveling abroad with his team to train for long periods. He missed the birth of his son, whose Chinese name means 'far away', a reference to his absence from his family. But he persevered. And in 1998, his handpicked pair team of Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo placed an impressive 5th at the Nagano Olympics. The next year, they won silver at the World Championships. His teams went on to win many more championships and medals.
And in 2004, Yao Bin came full circle in his figure skating journey. At the 2004 World Championships in Dortmund, Germany, his teams placed 2nd, 3rd, and 5th. It was the same place that laughed and ridiculed him when he first skated there back in 1980. No one was laughing now. That year, he was recognized as the International Figure Skating Magazine's Coach of the Year. And Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo's Olympic gold win is perhaps the best vindication and reward for Yao Bin, who gave up so much and toiled so long to see China succeed in figure skating. I would think that this Olympic win in gold and silver is a testament that he has indeed achieved his life long dream. And what a truly magnificent ending to an Olympic story that began so long ago.