What a dramatic and explosive Day 13 of the Sochi Olympics!
Without a doubt, the most exciting and thrilling event was the women's hockey game for gold between the US and Canada. The US had made it all the way to the final third period, leading 0-2 and looked solid for the win. But this is the Olympics. You don't count your chickens until they hatch, And with only 4 minutes left in the game, Canada pulls off an amazing 2 goals to tie the game! And for the first time in Olympics history, the women's gold medal hockey game goes into overtime! Then six minutes into overtime, Canada pulls off a stunning goal, winning the gold medal and successfully defend their Vancouver 2010 title!
Meanwhile in the women's bronze medal match, Switzerland comes from a 0-2 deficit to tie the score in the 3rd period against Sweden. Then the Swiss would get an intercept and score a third goal, followed by an empty net goal to take the lead 4-2. But Sweden scores one last goal in the final minute, to close the gap and end the game at 4:3. It is Switzerland's first medal in women's hockey.
The drama continues over in Women's Figure Skating, where 17 year old Adelina Sotnikova delivers an energetic and passionate performance in front of the home crowd to win Russia's first ever gold in the event. Defending Vancouver 2010 champion Kim Yuna of South Korea was awarded the silver after a serene and beautiful performance. And Italy wins its first ever medal in the women's figure skating with Carolina Kostner taking the bronze. It is a wonderful bronze and end to the career of Kostner, a world champion who's competed unsuccessfully in the Olympics since Torino 2006, to Vancouver 2010, and finally, make it on the podium at Sochi 2012. Caroline skated a fluid and fast program and executed 7 jumps perfectly. Of course, this being ladies figure skating, there is controversy as to whether or not the right person won the gold.
My personal thoughts are that Kim Yuna was significantly underscored in the short program. She performed the best--graceful, exquisite, and more importantly, flawless--no mistakes. She was also once again underscored in the free skate. She had no mistakes. Adelina Sotnikova, however, wasn't as flawless in her short program, and she stepped out of a landing in her jumps in the free skate. But the judges were very generous and awarded her a higher score. It could be because more than half the judging panel were former Russian block countries--Estonia, Russia, Ukraine, Slovaki; no American or South Korean judge; and Alla Shekhovtseva, the Russian judge, is the wife of the Russian skating federation president, Valentin Piseev. But most disturbing of all, is that the Ukrainian judge, Yuri Balkov, was the same judge who was suspended for the score fixing at Nagano 1998! Yet, somehow, the ISU let him come back and start judging again at Salt Lake 2002! The same Salt Lake 2002 where the infamous skating scandal in pairs figure skating occurred.
If you recall, the French judge revealed she was pressured to score the Russians higher, after an investigation into why the Russian pair, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze made a serious technical error and stumbled in their program, somehow scored way higher than the Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier who skated a flawless program! As a result, the Canadians were upgraded to gold; the Russians were allowed, embarrassingly enough, to keep their gold; and the ISU tossed out the old judging system and created the current one. The goal of the current system is to balance the technical (difficult elements, like jumps and spins) with the artistic elements (skating skills and choreography), to balance out the athletic and artistry in figure skating, as well as keep the judges individual scoring secret from the public to prevent undue pressure on the judges.
Right now, the International Olympics Committee is downplaying any scoring fixes at Sochi. But when the 9 member judging panel in the final program are made up of 4 Russian block countries (including the wife of the Russian skating federation president and the cheating Ukrainian judge from Nagano 1998), with no American or South Korean judge, there are bound to be serious questions and conflicts of interest. It doesn't matter if ISU believes that these judges would act impartially, it looks very questionable and very sketchy to see that kind of lopsided congregation of judges from countries that share historical and cultural ties and are known to have been involved in score fixing scandals. You don't put foxes in a hen house and expect no one to raise an eyebrow. If you want to avoid controversy and integrity inquisitions, then don't put together a judging panel that looks suspicious! Make an effort to at least appear fair and balanced in the judging panel.
Adelina Sotnikova does deserve recognition for her lively performance, especially given that she is a great skater in her own right. She did have 7 jumps compared to Kim's 6, but execution wise, Kim's were perfectly executed. Looking at the final standings off the podium, it doesn't seem fair to see skaters who fell somehow stand higher than the skaters who didn't fall. Seriously, it doesn't look right to see someone who falls somehow score higher. But the argument is, if they managed to incorporate and execute more difficult (higher scoring) elements in their program, then they should be rewarded. A fall is a fall, and I think there should be a bigger penalty for falling, because when you fall, you basically failed your element.
As a sport where the judging is subjective, there will always be controversy in ladies figure skating, especially since there is no accountability in judging, with the individual scoring by judges now kept secret, because the International Skating Union believes it protects the judges from undue pressure from the public or countries to vote a certain way. Yeah, right. I find that hard to believe, especially since certain judges who were caught in score fixing scandals, are now back to judging! The new scoring system needs to be retooled to balance out the judging panel. I say, at least in the old system, when you see an American judge give a low score to an East German skater or a Russian judge give a low score to an American one, you know it's because the skater just landed her jumps on the wrong side of the iron curtain.
Getting off my soapbox, let's get back to the skating. As wonderful and talented the top 3 finishers were, for me, the most beautiful and magnificent performance belonged to Mao Asada of Japan. The Vancouver 2010 silver medalist, former world champion, the only woman to successfully land the difficult triple axle in the Olympics, came to these games as her last farewell performance and make one final run for the gold. Alas, in a shocking short program on Wednesday, she suffered a devastating fall that took her out of medal contention and down to 16th! It was a stunning disaster for a skater so revered and admired for her grace and talent.
As horrible as it was to witness Mao Asada take that terrible tumble, it really pissed me off to hear the chairman of Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, criticized Mao and attacking her when she is at her lowest. That woman is a two time world champion and Olympics silver medalist! She has performed gracefully under so much pressure over so many years, her mother passed away in 2011 and though she pulled out of Grand Prix Finale to rush home, her mother had passed while Mao was still on the plane on her way there. The fact that she hasn't had a mental breakdown from the intense scrutiny the Japanese media heap upon her at such a young age is a testament to her courage and her grace. I'd like to see Yoshiro Mori's raggedly, rude, non talented ass try to squeeze in a sequined tutu and do a triple axle jump in front of the world audience on the Olympics stage! Stick to politics with the rest of the windbags and leave figure skating to the professionals you pompous, classless, jack ass! And if you think attacking your own athletes is the way to get the Olympics in Tokyo 2020, think again! The Olympics is about a celebration of athletes and the human spirit's ability to be better and rise up to overcome the challenges; it's not the time to attack people when they are at their lowest! Mao doesn't need you or your stupidity to define her career. Her amazing body of work is a testament to the amazing legacy she created, a legacy of beauty, strength, and talent. So suck it, you bastard!
But enough of my rant, back to Mao. Mao Asada's free skate was the most exquisite and ethereal of the night. She landed that triple axle and became the first woman to successfully do so at two Olympics. It was a very moving and marvelous performance, and, if it is her final performance, a wonderful and magical way to say goodbye. I hold out hope that Mao will be around and hopefully compete at PyeongChang 2018, South Korea. I also hope that since it's in South Korea, it might be enough to lure Kim Yuna, who has all ready said Sochi was to be her final performance also, comes out to compete on her home turf in PyeongChang 2018. I will miss Carolina Kostner, who stated she does end her long career here. There's something about the way these three women skate that cannot be taught or replicated by new skaters. The grace and joy these women exude is a trait that is acquired and blossoms from years skating and maturity, from being on the ice for so long, just for the pure love of the sport. I wish them all well.
Back to the other exciting events that occurred Thursday:
The Canadian women are golden today. In addition to hockey, the women also avenged their Vancouver 2010 loss by beating out Sweden for gold in curling. Defending Vancouver 2010 champions Sweden settle for gold. And Great Britain comes from behind and overcomes a two point deficit to beat out Switzerland and earn the bronze, making it the third medal the Brits have won at Sochi. With men's curling today, Friday 21 Feb 2014, the Brits are guaranteed one more medal in the games as the men face Canada for the gold.
In the debut of women's freestyle skiing halfpipe, the women ski up and down the sides of a halfpipe to make high jumps and twists and turns to score points. Best of two runs wins. American Maddie Bowman put on a stellar show in two amazing runs to land the first ever gold in the event. Her first run put her in 1st with 85.80; the second explosive run earned her a 89.00. Marie Martinod of France also put in two fantastic runs and soared to silver, with a 84.80, and a 85.80. Ayana Onozuka of Japan took the bronze medal.
Over in the exciting Nordic combined large hill 4x5km country team event, teams of 4 people compete. First, they all jump the large hill; then their combined scores determine the start order for the second part, the 4x5km cross country relay; each skier races the distance of 5km in the relay race. The winner the is team who's final skier is the first to cross the finish line. And it was a glorious battle!
The Norwegians had taken the 1st and 2st place in the individual nordic combined large hill events earlier in the week on Tuesday. Joergen Graabak won gold in the large hill 10-kilometer race, Magnus Hovdal Moan took silver behind Graabak. Magnus Krog won the bronze in the normal hill 10-kilometer event. Haavard Klemetsen was the 4th member of the team.
The Germans had Eric Frenzel, who won the gold medal in the normal hill 10-kilometer race, and Fabian Riessle, who took bronze in the large hill 10-kilometer. Bjoern Kircheisen was 4th in the large hill 10-kilometer race and Johannes Rydzek was the fourth team member.
Defending Vancouver 2010 champions Austria had Christoph Bieler, Bernhard Gruber, Lukas Klapfer, and Mario Stecher on their team.
After the ski jump, the Germans were the only team to jump over an incredible 125m, earning them a 7 second lead over Austria and a huge 25 second lead over Norway. Germany's Eric Frenzel was the lead skier, followed on his heels by Lukas Klapfer of Austria; but it was Norway's Magnus Moan who made up the 25 seconds deficit and caught up with Frenzel and Klapfer at the end of the first leg. And Germany, Austria, and Norway would stay the lead pack all through the race. But in the final 100m, Norway's Graabak kicked it into high gear and outsprinted German rival Fabian Riessle to a photo finish, winning the Norwegian team gold by 0.03 seconds (47:13.5)!
It was an exciting race where the skiers thrash and crash as they sped and jumped down the curves and hills of the winding course. Jean Frederic Chapuis led a French sweep in Olympics skicross, taking gold while Arnaud Bovolenta, the silver, and Jonathan Midol, the bronze. A fourth finalist, Canada's Brady Lehman, briefly moved into the third position but wiped out two-thirds of the way down the mountain.
In more serious news, Bogdana Matsotska of the Ukraine withdrew from the women's slalom in response to the death of anti-government protesters. She said, "I don’t want to participate when in my country people die," and wants to leave immediately to join the protesters camp known as Maidan in Kiev's Independence Square. Fighting for an Olympics medal is a great and honorable pursuit. Fighting for freedom, even more so. Sometimes, it's more important to stand up for freedom than it is to stand up on a podium. Whatever happens, I wish her and the protesters well, and I hope no more people die in the government violence.