When the US women’s hockey team beat Canada to win gold, they did more than just get one over their old rivals – they helped rescue Team USA’s Olympics.
Up to that point, Pyeongchang was beginning to look like a bit of a bust for the United States.
Several big American names had fallen short of expectations, and the biggest team at the Games was headed for its least successful Winter Olympics in 20 years.
Skier Mikaela Shiffrin was attempting multiple gold medals, but she finished with one gold and one silver – and also yielded her 2014 slalom title, vomiting in the process.
Highly decorated fellow skier Lindsey Vonn, in her Olympic farewell, had to settle for bronze in the downhill and finished sixth in the super-G.
Speed skater Heather Bergsma, another American heavily fancied for gold, finished well outside the medal places in all three of her individual events.
By Wednesday morning South Korean time, with five days of competition to go, America were sixth on the medals table with five golds.
After the early excitement of the 17-year-old snowboarders Red Gerard and Chloe Kim each winning gold, American media were growing alarmed.
“The disappointments and close calls for the Americans have befallen the famous and the barely known,” said USA Today, listing Shiffrin, Vonn and 18-year-old figure skater Nathan Chen, who finished without a medal.
The US won nine gold in Sochi, where Russia topped the table. But Russia’s top athletes have been been banned from Pyeongchang over a major drug scandal, meaning more opportunities for other countries.
– ‘Women stepped up’ –
But at its darkest hour, Team USA struck gold. Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall pulled off a shock win in the women’s team sprint free, becoming the first Americans to win an Olympic cross-country event.
David Wise, after falling twice, produced a clutch final run to win the freestyle skiing halfpipe. And then the crowning moment, when the US women’s ice hockey team beat four-time defending champions and arch-rivals Canada 3-2 in a dramatic penalties shootout.
DETHRONED! After 20 years, @TeamUSA takes down 4-time champion #CAN, 3-2, in a thrilling penalty shootout in Women's #IceHockey at #PyeongChang2018!— Olympic Channel (@olympicchannel) February 22, 2018
More results here: https://t.co/Vne8j0RWRl pic.twitter.com/KbyNBrdEVZ
Team USA consequently jumped up to fourth in the medals table with eight golds – five of them won by women.
The US still look likely to fall slightly below the forecast of Games statistics-provider Gracenote, which predicted 11 golds.
But where just a few days earlier USA Today and others had been fretting, the newspaper was now celebrating the hockey triumph as “one of the most satisfying moments in US Olympic history”.
The New York Post said America’s female competitors – led by the hockey team – “are saving the Olympics for Team USA”.
“USA Olympics was being humiliated – then women stepped up,” the newspaper said, pointing out that eight of the last 10 US medals were won by female athletes.
And it could yet get better – late Thursday the US beat the Canadians again, this time in men’s curling, to set up a gold-medal showdown against Sweden on Saturday.
Team USA needs one more victory to reach nine gold medals and equal their tally from the last three Games – and avoid their lowest return since winning six at Nagano 1998.
Ryan Hayes, an American fan dressed as Uncle Sam at the figure skating competition, said there had been “hits and misses” for the US at the Olympics.
Hits: women’s ice hockey. Misses: speed skating, he said.
“People had high expectations and when you have the largest delegation of athletes (241), it’s understandable because it’s a sheer numbers game in that respect,” said Hayes.
Provided by AFP Sport
Teenage figure skater Alina Zagitova prevailed in her duel with Evgenia Medvedeva to claim Russia’s first gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Friday.
The 15-year-old took the women’s title for the Olympic Athletes from Russia by a slender margin of just 1.31 points from her friend, compatriot, training partner and arch rival.
Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond finished third.
“I can’t believe I’m the champion. It’ll take some time to sink in,” said Zagitova, who beat two-time world champion Medvedeva despite both scoring matching 156.65 points in the free-skating.
“I’m happy I handled my nerves well. My hands were shaking but my body did everything that I trained for,” she added.
Zagitova’s world record short programme score of 82.92 just 48 hours earlier made the difference, giving her a combined total of 239.57.
Medvedeva, skating last, was not at her best, and crumpled into the arms of her coach in tears after her routine to Anna Karenina gave her a combined score of 238.26.
Medvedeva, who broke her foot and was sidelined for two months from October, was so distraught she was unable to finish a television interview.
An Olympic official followed her round with a box of tissues.
“I didn’t think and I don’t want to think about my injury,” she said.
“I don’t want to look back. I did great work today and did my best.”
The duo were among the 168 athletes from Russia who passed rigorous testing to compete as neutrals under the OAR banner in South Korea after Russia were banned over state-sponsored doping.
The winter sports’ powerhouse may have had to wait until the three days from the end of the Games but their title famine was finally ended by the starlet from the Western Urals.
The girl in a red ballerina’s costume has enjoyed a sensational debut season on the senior circuit.
Zagitova had got the better of Medvedeva in last month’s European Championships, and came out on top again to become the second youngest Olympic ladies champion after American Tara Lipinski in 1998.
And displaying the composure of someone far beyond her years she produced a flawless four minutes free dance set to Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus’s score to the ballet Don Quixote, about the fictional Spanish nobleman.
Despite falling short of the personal best free dance from the opening week’s team event in which the OAR took silver she did enough to take the title.
They’re dubbed the “Garlic Girls” but go by the names Pancake, Yogurt, Steak, Cookie and Sunny – meet the South Korean curlers who are whipping up a recipe for success at the Olympics.
The Koreans, ranked eighth in the world, have emerged medal contenders at the Pyeongchang Games.
After stunning top teams like Canada, Switzerland and Sweden, they were the first to advance to Friday’s semi-finals.
Their giant-killing feats on the ice have drawn big crowds in a country where curling is little known.
Their skills have wooed fans while their affectionate nicknames have added a light-hearted twist to their feats on the ice.
“I think the names are so fun,” said Oh Ja-young, a spectator from Bundang. “But if they weren’t doing so well, I wouldn’t pay attention to their names.”
All of them have “KIM” written on the back of their uniforms, the most common Korean surname that they share.
To minimize confusion, Kim Eun-jung, Kim Seon-yeong, Kim Kyeong-ae, Kim Yeong-mi and alternate Kim Cho-hi decided to adopt nicknames – and a brainstorming session took place at the breakfast table.
But in contrast to their fun nicknames, the curlers mean business on ice.
“They play with a lot of passion, very technically sound,” Rick Patzke, chief executive officer of the US Curling Association, told AFP.
“It’s great to see the home crowd getting behind them here.”
The curlers were apparently unprepared for the fervent flag-waving home crowd that packs the stadium each time they play.
They entered the tournament as outsiders and saw the crowds build up as they went from win to win.
“We are surprised that curling can be so welcomed in Korea,” said the team’s coach Kim Min-jung. South Korea sent its first curling team to the Olympics in 2014.
“We’ve always wanted to make curling a more popular and common recreational sport in Korea and we’re happy we are getting there,” Kim added.
Only last month, curling was considered an obscure sport in South Korea.
Now, memes of the South Korean curlers have gone viral online and several fans are posting good-humoured clips mimicking the sport with cleaning supplies.
Despite the sudden spike in the team’s popularity, they are no flash in the pan – they have been in the sport for more than a decade.
Their hometown of Uiseong – a rural town of around 54,000 people famous for garlic farming – built a curling centre in 2006 with funding from the local government.
As a result, many students at Uiseong joined the curling team, including the Olympians.
They struggled with funding for training and struggled to attract fans in the past, but not any more.
“We always thought we could come this far,” said the team coach. “Now I’m careful to say this, but we thought of doing even better.”
But the curlers had no idea they have emerged as Korean celebrities — they switched their mobile phones off at the start of the competition to avoid any distraction.
“They can just tell that they are receiving a lot of attention by the number of fans that come to the stadium,” coach Kim said.
However, Kim added the curlers are aware they are being called the “Garlic Girls” after the hometown’s main product.
“We don’t like garlic,” she said. “We would just like to be called ‘Team Kim’.”