Judging by the headline, you’d guess this is about the partying, romancing, and most importantly, Tindering at the Olympics. Jamie Anderson’s proclamation of Tinder’s addictiveness had everyone back home fantasizing about all the action taking place in the Olympic Village to the point where horny teenagers were suddenly taking up figure skating.
The real point is that through the first week and a half, it’s hard to ignore how successful the Americans have been in events requiring a certain level of recklessness and pizzazz. Put another way, thank goodness the IOC has added all these slopestyle and halfpipe events.
There’s not necessarily a social or cultural conclusion to be drawn, but it is fascinating if not a bit curious to see how gifted the American athletes are when it comes to flipping, twisting, and sliding. Consider some of the medals that Americans took home during the first week or so of competition:
–Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson won the men’s and women’s slopestyle snowboarding gold medals. Slopestyle takes the rails and jumps you’d see in a skate park and amplifies them up on a mountain. It’s all about riding the rails and performing outlandish jumps hundreds of feet in the air.
–Kaitlyn Farrington and Kelly Clark won gold and bronze, respectively, in the women’s snowboarding halfpipe. A sport typically dominated by the U.S., it was shocking to see Shaun White, the dean of American halfpipe, miss out on the medals.
–At the sliding center, Americans won three medals: Erin Hamlin took bronze in women’s luge, Matthew Antoine won bronze in men’s skeleton, and Noelle Pikus-Pace nabbed silver in women’s skeleton. For the uninitiated, these events require hurling oneself down a narrow sheet of ice at over 80 miles per hour on a sled fit for a kindergartner.
–Hannah Kearney took bronze in women’s ski moguls, while Devin Logan won the silver in women’s slopestyle skiing. Americans Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy, and Nicholas Goepper formed an impenetrable triumvirate by sweeping the podium in men’s slopestyle skiing. While moguls involves jumping and flipping amidst snow dunes, slopestyle skiing is akin to its snowboarding brethren and sees the skiers pull tricks out of their bags using the rails and massive jumps on the mountain.
–As I write this, American David Wise has won the inaugural men’s ski halfpipe. It’s only fitting for an American to become the original champion in such an event.
Success has certainly shined upon America in the daredevil department, but that’s not the case in events requiring more discipline and endurance. The United States has had virtually zero contenders in long track speedskating, biathlon, cross country skiing, and Nordic combined events. It’s harmless conjecture, but maybe we’ve learned that Americans like short events. Get in, bust a few moves for 30 seconds, and get out. We don’t like skating laps around a big oval for 10 minutes or skiing the same course over and over again.
It could be tied to the country’s obsession with attention deficit issues, but it’s probably just a coincidence, as these things are cyclical. Look at Shani Davis, whose failure to medal is considered a disappointment. The truth is that Davis is 31, medaled twice in both Torino and Vancouver, and just can’t keep up with younger skaters at this point in his career. American dominance in certain sports comes and goes, and these Olympics just happen to be one where the Yanks like to pull pranks.
More importantly, just because the American-centric events don’t last long doesn’t mean they don’t require stalactite icicle-sharp focus. In fact, while the biathlon is a grueling event requiring high levels of endurance, the chance of major injury is far less than it is in, say, slopestyle snowboarding. Weird because the biathlon involves shooting guns, but as Cosmo Kramer (no relation to Sven) once said, “It’s all supervised!” Seriously, though, the attention to detail and degree of difficulty is through the roof in the events we’re talking about.
It’s appropriate, however, that so far in these Olympic Games, the most memorable event involved an American doing what Americans do best. Barring a nail biting gold medal game finish (a la 2010), the signature moment of the entire Olympics will end up being an American screwing around, performing trick shots like he was playing pond hockey with his buddies back in Minnesota rather than on the world’s biggest stage.
TJ Oshie’s shootout spectacle served as a rallying cry back home and reminded everyone what a magical sport hockey can be, even in a preliminary round game that has only a moderate impact on the podium pursuit. Viewers were glued to the screen, incredulous, enrapt, living and dying with each stride of Oshie’s considerable gait; his wide, swooping motions leaving the audience in awe. It was thrilling, captivating, and made for incredible theater. Of course, it’s only fitting that the shootout itself lasted all of ten minutes and while requiring tremendous focus, creativity, and execution, it wasn’t exactly the most physically taxing thing Oshie’s ever had to do.
Indeed, as newly minted American icons like Kotsenburg, Farrington, Pikus-Pace, and Oshie have taught us, once the competition devolves into a game of stylistic, reckless one-upmanship, the United States becomes the heavy favorite.