If you are Stephen Colbert – or any American for that matter – now might be a good time to look at the Winter Olympic medal table.
Indeed, something happened Wednesday that had never before happened: The United States won six Winter Olympic medals in one day – one short of the now-defunct East Germany’s Winter Olympic record. For perspective, remember that in 1988 the United States won six medals during the entire Winter Olympic Games.
Yet something else also happened that is less definable, but far more impressive: On Wednesday, three United States athletes won gold medals with performances so dominating that the rest of the world could do nothing whatsoever about it.
Bear in mind, the world is pretty good at this Winter Olympic thing.
Between 1952 and 2002, the United States finished higher than fourth in the overall medal table only twice – both in Olympics it hosted. For the bulk of recent Winter Olympic history, America has been also-rans, picking up medals in a few specialty sports like speedskating and figure skating, but otherwise watching the Winter Olympics with a sort of bemused indifference.
Nordic combined: Ski jumping and cross-country. And that would be fun, how?
Sunday, it was a riot, with the US finishing second, fourth, and sixth.
And Wednesday, the Winter Olympics were like a Saints Super Bowl party, minus the beads.
Bum shin? Devilish course? All the pressure NBC can muster?
Her response: I’ll take all that and still beat every non-American in the field by 1-1/2 seconds – the skiing equivalent of the entire Pleistocene age.
Surely, Colbert will be wanting to sign her thigh next.
The question was less whether he would win the 1000 meters on ice teammate Chad Hedrick likened to “running uphill,” than whether he would acknowledge that a human being named Chad Hedrick exists.
What is this world coming to?
The only constant in a Winter Olympic world gone mad, perhaps, is the Flying Tomato (a.k.a. Shaun White, a.k.a. the Animal). Here is world domination that America can comprehend without flash cards or smelling salts. After all, we’ve always been good at this.
Or did we?
For those determined to see the stereotype in him, White makes it easy, speaking in dude-isms and spending a seemingly inordinate amount of time in the act of grooming.
But what about that last run Wednesday night – the one that he really didn’t need to make because his first run was already good enough for gold?
It was a tableau of the inner Animal, a testament to an athlete determined to reach perfection with every impeccable hand grab and pinwheeling trip out of the pipe.
Out of a perfect 50, White scored a 48.4 – the closest Olympic snowboarding has come to its Nadia Comaneci moment.
In the end, White had the best two runs of the final, meaning that he should appeal to the International Olympic Committee for the gold and the silver.
“What separates Shaun is his focus and his motivation,” said bronze medalist Scotty Lago after the event. “He is a perfectionist.”
After his only loss of the year, White canceled a trip home to visit his family and instead traveled to Park City, Utah, the next day, where he began to teach himself the signature trick no one else in the world can do, the double McTwist 1260 – two flips and 3-1/2 twists (all in the air, mind you).
In the end, his domination of the snowboarding circuit is so comprehensive that he didn’t need it. But in his second, “victory lap” run, he threw it in as his last trick, landing it despite not really having the speed he needed.
“That showed the power of his will to get that trick done,” said coach Bud Keene.
The power of a snowboarder’s will.
Before Shaun White, that might have seemed like a misprint. Kind of like the United States winning six Winter Olympic medals in one day.
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