In halfpipe, Kaitlyn Farrington rescues USA from dismal run of medal failures

The medal table looks much better for Team USA after a gold and bronze from Kaitlyn Farrington and Kelly Clark in the halfpipe. But that can't mask a run of disappointing results.

Mike Blake/Reuters
Second placed Australia's Torah Bright (l.), winner Kaitlyn Farrington (c.) of the US, and third placed Kelly Clark of the US celebrate on the podium after the women's snowboard halfpipe finals at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor, Russia, Wednesday.

Somewhere deep within the nuclear bunker beneath the White House, President Obama hit the Olympic panic button.

After speedskater Shani Davis, the prohibitive favorite in the 1,000 meters, finished eighth. After the women's hockey team got blitzed in the third period to lose to the Great Red Maple Leaf, 3-2. After Shaun White had ceded his flying mophead crown to a Swiss iPod. After cross-country sprinter Kikkan Randall had failed to get out of her quarterfinal race. After Bode Miller had torched the field in the men's downhill practice runs only to finish eighth in the real thing. 

Enough was enough.

And out went the women's halfpipe team, released into the Caucasus night like Valkyries with earbuds and sick tricks to bring justice back to the Olympics, American-style. God bless mom, apple pie, and double corks.

By the new Winter Olympic order ushered in by Salt Lake City, this had been a harrowing American start to an Olympic Games. Remember the days when America routinely sat several rungs down the medal ladder in the Winter Olympics and was just fine with that? I didn't think so.

The fact is, we have higher expectations of our Winter Olympic athletes than ever because they are more successful than ever. This is no "miracle on ice." This is "taking care of business," and so far, the Americans have done precious little of it. Today, a third of the way through the Olympics, America still has not won a non-snowboard gold medal.

And some of the misses have been downright head-scratchers. Shani Davis finishing eighth in the 1,000 meters? He rolls out of the bed in seventh place, it seems. By the time he puts on skates, he's in bronze medal position. In the Winter Olympics, where conditions and pairings and courses can have a significant influence on who wins, it's always hard to predict who will medal. But Davis seemed as close as a stone-cold lock to medal as there could be.

Sochi might not be his favorite place to race – he finished third in the 1,000 in the World Championships here last year – but it was still third. Eighth is like Vladimir Putin saying he's set up a "ring of dental floss" around Sochi. It just doesn't compute.

And we admit, the Shaun White thing might have been a little overblown. After finishing fourth, he said he was going to take some time off to play with his band. So maybe he wasn't entirely dialed in here. Even his teammates seemed to be a little tired of the all-Shaun-all-the-time talk.

"You know it's good for snowboarding, man," American teammate Danny Davis said of White's finish in fourth behind winner Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland, according to Yahoo. "The world knows now that there are other snowboarders besides Shaun. It's great, man, because there are a bunch of good riders in our sport and they deserve some credit, too."

Yes, but in the past, it was American men who rose up to take medals from their teammates, man. In three of the four Olympic halfpipe competitions before Sochi, the USA had at least two men on the podium. Once it had all three (2002), and in the other it had one (1998). Add it all up, and before Tuesday, when the men drew their first blank, the USA had more men's halfpipe medals than every other country on the planet combined.

Now, thanks to the ladies, we can breathe a little sigh of relief.

Farrington topped Australian Torah Bright for gold by 0.25 (91.75 to 91.50), with American Kelly Clark winning her third Olympic medal (one gold, two bronze), coming in with 90.75. Teammate Hannah Teter missed the podium by 0.25 with a score of 90.50.

That keeps the women's run of medaling in every Olympic halfpipe alive. Wednesday was the third time in five tries that they've put two women on the Olympic podium, though they've never had a medal sweep.

It also keeps the USA on pace to match what it did in Turin. OK, so that would be a letdown after winning 34 and 37 medals in Salt Lake and Vancouver, respectively. But teams always do better in home Olympics, and Vancouver was essentially a home Olympics. Sochi, decidedly, is not.

With a third of the Olympic calendar finished, the US has nine medals and three gold, which would average out to about 27 and nine over the whole Games. Team USA had 25 and nine in Turin. 

Considering reasonable pre-Olympics expectations, the USA would hope to do better than that. But at this point, who knows what to expect?

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