Nobody inside the U.S. Olympic movement wants to take credit for the American athletes' unprecedented successes here at the 2010 Winter Games over the past two weeks, but some athletes and officials offered some reasons Saturday morning at the U.S. Olympic Committee's wrapup news conference.
New CEO Scott Blackmun looked back to "programs that we put into place after Nagano," reacting to the 1998 Winter Games in Japan when the U.S. came away with only 13 medals. Blackmun said the USOC began developing "customized partnerships" with each of the different sports, because all had different circumstances and needs.
Vail skier Lindsey Vonn talked about the momentum that built through the Olympics as Americans kept piling up medals, more than a few unexpected.
"Seeing all the success we were having, it was really inspirational," Vonn said. "It's just been so cool to watch the other events and see the U.S. flag go up (during medal ceremonies) so many times. And the fans here have been out in full force, cheering the whole world and not just their country. It didn't feel the same (four years ago) in Torino as it has here in Whistler."
Bill Demong of Steamboat Springs, the gold-medal winner in the Nordic combined final individual event, emphasized that the torrent of medals hasn't been just good luck.
"I know that, in my sport, we've put years of work into developing every step of the way," Demong said. "But I think that part of the windfall here has been that you have NGBs (national governing bodies) of all the sports taking advantage of the sports science and funding, and they've been making inroads. And seeing the level of professionalism among the athletes here has been a change from other Olympis in the past.
"In Nagano (Demong's first of four Olympics), it felt like we were a small country. It felt like we were outsiders. Now we're here as a large team with big expectations, and that should stay the same now regardless of where the Games are."
USA team leader Mike Plant, a former Colorado Springs resident who worked with several NGBs and now a vice president for baseball's Atlanta Braves, praised the USOC for "not just having four-year programs but a long-term strategy of funding, research and science."
Plant also said he was sorry to hear that Canada now plans to slash its "Own the Podium" program giving extra support for its athletes, saying the USOC invested $55 million in its winter-sports athletes for the Vancouver Games and would continue to provide support leading toward 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
With two more medals Friday night in short-track speedskating, the United States is poised to rewrite national and global records this weekend at the close of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The official U.S. total is now at 34 medals (eight gold, 13 silver, 13 bronze), with Germany at 27 and Canada now at 21, ahead of Norway's 20. Canada has taken the lead in gold medals with 10, to nine for Germany and eight for the U.S. and Norway.
But they almost certainly won't catch the Americans in total medals, after the U.S. athletes guaranteed themselves Friday of two more medals by making the finals, and assuring themselves of at least silver, in men's hockey and the men's team pursuit in long-track speedskating.
Those two medals mean at least 36 for the United States, beating the previous U.S. best at any Winter Games of 34 in 2002 at Salt Lake City. The 36 also ties for the most medals by any nation at a Winter Games, matching Germany's 36, also in 2002.
And the American total still could rise, with the U.S. leading halfway through the four-man bobsled, in the semifinals of women's team pursuit of long-track speedskating, and with Bode Miller going in the men's slalom race today to end the Alpine skiing.
The last and only time America won the Winter Games medal race was in 1932 at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Hey, Colorado Springs, perhaps it's time to become known a bobsled mecca. You have to wonder about the possibilities after the USA 1 sled piloted by Steven Holcomb of Colorado Springs and the Olympic Training Center has taken the lead after the two runs of four-man bobsled Friday afternoon at Whistler Sliding Center.
Holcomb, whose team also includes Curt Tomasevicz of Colorado Springs, drove the top U.S. sled to a track-record time of 50.89 seconds, taking the lead over Canada 1 and three German entries, all within three-10ths of a second of USA 1 after the first of four runs. Then USA 1 came back to out-do itself with a 50.86 run in the second heat, upping their lead to .40 of a second over the Canadians with the Germans slightly further back.
The other two U.S. teams are 12th and 17th, with the final two runs on Saturday, starting at 2 p.m. Mountain time.
"We're right where we want to be," Holcomb said, adding that the difference Friday was that "we figured out some stuff about the bottom of the track."
No U.S. team has won four-man bobsled gold since 1948.
Another Springs-based pair of bobsledders, Bree Schaaf and Emily Azevedo, placed an impressive fifth earlier in women's bobsled.
The rematch is set, only this time it's for the gold.
Canada will face the United States in the men's hockey final, the last competitive event of the 2010 Winter Olympics, on Sunday afternoon. But it wasn't that easy for the host nation, as Team Canada built a 3-0 lead before holding on at the end for a 3-2 semifinal victory against Slovakia.
Earlier, swarming and attacking as much as at any time during the Winter Olympics men's hockey tournament, Team USA struck for an amazing six goals in the first 12:46 of play and cruised thereafter en route to a stunningly easy 6-1 victory against Finland in the first semifinal at Canada Hockey Place.
Ryan Malone began the assault on Finn goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff just 2:04 into the game that almost every hockey observer expected to be low-scoring. Zach Parise struck next with a power-play goal at 6:23, then Erik Johnson's rebound goal at 8:36 clearly shocked Kiprusoff, who plays for the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League.
Patrick Kane fired in the next two goals, one at 10:08 that sent Kiprusoff to the bench, then another at 12:31. Just 15 seconds after that, Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche scored from the slot to make it 6-0.
At that point, the Americans had an 11-2 lead in shots on goal, nothing like what was expected from the aggressive Finns after their upset of Sweden in the quarterfinals.
The shutout lasted until the final six minutes, when the Finns scored after the U.S. had replaced starting goaltender Ryan Miller with backup Tim Thomas.
Last Sunday, the U.S. knocked off Canada, 5-3, in what was considered a major upset to wrap up pool play. Now the Americans are 5-0 at the Olympics and never have trailed in a game.
Apolo Anton Ohno lost one silver medal to a controversial ruling, but he and the U.S. men's 5,000-meter short-track speedskating relay team made it to the podium Friday night in likely the final Winter Olympics of Ohno's historic career.
Meanwhile, Katherine Reutter partially made up for Ohno's fate by grabbing the silver medal in the women's short-track 1,000 meters, surviving a tough final race against the world's best and barely losing the gold to China's Wang Meng.
Ohno, the former longtime resident of the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, did come away with a bronze medal in the relay, raising his career total to eight. He already was the most-decorated U.S. winter-sport athlete with seven.
That one also was dramatic, with U.S. anchor J.R. Celski slipping from third to fourth on the final lap, only to make it back to third when China faltered on the last turn. But this time there was no disqualifications: Canada took the gold in 6:44.224, South Korea the silver in 6:44.446 and America the bronze in 6:44.498.
But it could have been nine medals for Ohno, except for the disputed outcome in the men's 500-meter final. Ohno was last in that four-man race for most of the way, until making his usual move on the final turn and sending Canada's Francois-Louis Tremblaysprawling. Then South Korea's Sung Si-Bak fell, and Ohno came across the line for an apparent silver medal.
However, judges ruled Ohno had impeded Tremblay and disqualified the American. Ohno argued his case, but apparently to no avail.
Lindsey Vonn of Vail straddled a gate midway through her first run of the Olympic ladies slalom and skied off the course to end her quest for a third medal at the 2010 Winter Games on Whistler Mountain.
Vonn was about 0.33 of a second off the pace of leader Maria Riesch of Germany when the American took off in worsening conditions of snow and fog. Vonn suffered a broken right pinkie two days earlier in the giant slalom, and apparently had told coaches that if she didn't feel good during her run, she might not finish.
The top American after the first slalom run is Sara Schleper in ninth place.
Vonn still comes away from the Olympics with a gold and bronze, part of the U.S. Alpine team's record eight medals.
“I came out of the starting gate charging. But I haven't been skiing a lot of slalom and hit some mashed potato snow and it was over before I knew it,” Vonn said afterward. “Even though today and the GS wasn't a success, I'm happy with the way my Olympics has gone. I have a gold in the downhill and bronze in the super-G and I couldn't ask for any more.
“I know I could have had more medals like in the super-combined where I went out. But you have to attack and you have to take risks.”
Despite snow and fog up at Whistler Mountain, Canadian TV is reporting that the Olympic ladies slalom, the final Alpine skiing event for women, will go off as scheduled today.
The first run, with U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn competing despite a broken right pinkie finger in the giant slalom, will start at 11 a.m. Mountain time. After the field of 87 skiers finishes, there will be a break followed by the final run this afternoon.
The men's slalom is scheduled for Saturday, and the weather forecast is better for that.
Rachael Flatt skated off the Pacific Coliseum ice, hands to her head, exhilarated at having delivered yet another clean and strong program to end the ladies figure skating at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Or so she thought.
Then came Flatt's scores, and they were far lower than she and her coach Tom Zakrajsek were expecting. So instead of the Colorado Springs skater challenging for a medal, she wound up slipping from fifth to seventh after being inexplicably marked down for two of her seven triple jumps, all of which had appeared to be done perfectly.
So while South Korea's Kim Yu-Na, Japan's Mao Asada and Canada's Joannie Rochette took the medals, and American Mirai Nagasu moved up to fourth, Flatt was left disappointed and wondering.
"Honestly, I thought all the jumps were fine," Flatt said. "I thought I had given it all I had, and it was a great feeling at the end knowing I had done two incredibly solid performances at the Olympics. At that point I was excited.
"So, yeah, the marks were a little surprising. I've never been downgraded on those jumps before. I wish I could have had a better score."
Flatt said she felt she skated "better than at Nationals" last month in Spokane, Wash., when she won the U.S. ladies title.
Zakrajsek said he expected Flatt's score to be somewhere around 125 points or higher for the long program, not the 117.85 she received. But he said the technical panel of judges would not be providing any explanation beyond the marks. In the end, he felt Flatt had lost 10-12 points without really knowing why.
That would have moved her up to fourth, but not third. Rochette secured the bronze medal despite some errors, but the judges might have given her some credit for the mental strength to skate through the competition after her mother died here Sunday of a massive heart attack.
Fourth with higher marks would have been easier for Flatt to take, her coach admitted.
"Rachael's not mad, but she's upset obviously," Zakrajsek said. "She was shocked. One thing I can say is that her speed was a little slower, and that might have affected her rotation. But I didn't think anything was wrong. She got full credit for a triple jump in the short program that wasn't so sure, and I thought the two (in question) tonight were done much better."
Flatt says she'll go back, analyze the video and correct the issues before the world championships next month in Torino, Italy.
She also says she wants to continue skating while in college and push toward the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
The latest came on Cypress Mountain, where Jeret Peterson landed his unique Hurricane jump and earned the night's highest marks, giving him a silver in the prime-time men's aerials finals. Because the medals are determined by adding the total marks on two jumps, Peterson narrowly lost to gold-medalist Alexei Grishin of Belarus, 248.41 to 247.21.
America just missed out on a second aerials medal, as Ryan St. Onge of Winter Park finished fourth.
It was the day's third silver for the U.S., along with the gold in Nordic combined, raising the total to 32 medals (8 gold, 12 silver, 12 bronze) with Germany still at 26. Norway has 19 and Russia 16.
If you had told U.S. hockey people the Olympic women's gold-medal game would be a battle of goaltenders, they would have felt good about America's chances with Jessie Vetter in the nets.
But Canada goaltender Shannon Szabados ruled Thursday afternoon, making 28 saves as the Canadians won their third straight women's hockey gold with a 2-0 victory over the United States.
Marie-Philip Poulin scored two goals late in the first period, and Szabados thwarted the Americans on two 5-on-3 advantages, to make the difference through two periods.
The U.S. simple never was able to get rebounds for second chances at Svabados, despite numerous blistering shots from Monique Lamoureux, Angela Ruggiero and others. Vetter was just as invincible in the last two periods, but not in the first.
Poulin scored after 13:55 of play, beating Vetter from the left circle inside the right post, to put the host nation on top, delighting most of the 19,000-plus inside Canada Hockey Place. Then, less than three minutes later, Poulin struck again at the 16:50 mark during a 4-on-4 situation to make it 2-0.
The goals came after a lengthy U.S. power play, including a 5-on-3 advantage for 40 seconds, as the Americans bombarded Szabados with a handful of tough shots from close range. But she saved them all, and the roaring crowd inspired the ensuing rush that led to Poulin's goal.
The second 5-on-3 lasted 1:38, but the Canadians packed their defense in front of Szabados and the U.S. couldn't crack through it, which turned out to be the story of the night.
I've been to a lot of hockey games over the years, including the Colorado Avalanche playing for the Stanley Cup, but I can't remember a scene as electric as it is right now inside Canada Hockey Place for the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics women's hockey gold medal game between Canada and the United States.
I look around and see literally hundreds of flags for both nations, waving wildly as the teams come out onto the ice, with more than 19,000 fans screaming in anticipation. It's probably two-thirds Canadians and one-third Americans, which is what makes it so special compared to settings such as the Stanley Cup where there's always a home and visiting team.
I'll update this blog as the game goes along. Based on the pregame warmup, I'd have to say Canada looks more relaxed and comfortable, but we'll see once the puck drops...
This time, nobody could catch the Americans in Nordic combined at the 2010 Winter Olympics. After settling for second place in the previous two Nordic combined events, U.S. teammates Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane of Steamboat Springs jumped and skied their way to the long-hill individual gold and silver medals Thursday afternoon at Whistler.
The medals bring the U.S. total up to 30, with another guaranteed in the women's hockey gold-medal game later this afternoon. Germany now has 26, and both nations have eight gold medals.
Spillane and Demong, both 29, finished second and sixth, respectively, in the morning ski-jump portion of the event on the long hill. That put them starting 34 and 46 seconds behind the Austrian leader, Bernhard Gruber, in the 10-kilometer cross-country ski finale, with the leaders finishing together.
Demong raced up from his 46-second deficit to win the gold by four seconds ahead of Spillane, with Gruber another 6.8 seconds back. Another Steamboat athlete, Todd Lodwick, wound up 13th.
Spillane now has three silver medals at these Olympics. He was caught near the end of both earlier Nordic combined events, the individual normal-hill competition and the team event.
As usual, you can't find anyone inside the U.S. Olympic Committee who will talk for the record about how many medals the Americans will win at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
So we will.
With the U.S. total now at 28, it's a growing possibility that the American athletes will surpass the 34 medals they won as the home team at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. In fact, a quick and not-too-optimistic analysis of the remaining four days in Vancouver indicates that the United States very well might finish with 35 medals.
Not only would that mean a U.S. record, but it also would pretty much guarantee that the Americans would win the total medal count for the first time at a Winter Games since ... would you believe, 1932 in Lake Placid, N.Y.? That's when the U.S. won 12 medals in the 14 contested events, with Norway at 10 and Canada at 7. And it's the only time the Americans ever took the most medals at a Winter Olympics.
Seven more medals would take the U.S. to 35 here. The possibilities, and my projections, include:
Thursday (3): Nordic combined individual event (U.S. already has two silvers in the other two Nordic combined events); women's hockey (either gold or silver, depending on the Canada-U.S. outcome in the gold-medal game); men's aerials (Jeret Peterson and Ryan St. Onge are contenders). Ladies figure skating is an outside shot with Rachael Flatt in fifth now.
Friday (2): Short-track speedskating, men's 5,000-meter relay and 500 meters (Apolo Anton Ohno), women's 1,000 meters (Katherine Reutter). It could be three, but we'll say two. Other possibilities include women's slalom.
Saturday (1): Four-man bobsled (driven by Steven Holcomb), and we won't assume anything in men's slalom or parallel giant slalom, either of which could produce a podium finish.
Sunday (1): Men's hockey, which would be guaranteed gold or silver with a semifinal win Friday against Finland. Otherwise the U.S. will play Saturday night for the bronze, probably against Slovakia.
That's the path to 35 medals, with plenty of backup chances in case the obvious candidates come up short.
It'll be fascinating to watch.
Their paths couldn't have been more different, but two teams of U.S. women still captured bronze medals Wednesday night at the 2010 Winter Olympics, on a day when Canada had much more to cheer than any other nation.
For the American women, third place came in the short-track speedskating 3,000-meter relay and in the bobsled. Those medals push the U.S. total to 28, with Germany at 24 and Norway at 18.
Canada took gold-silver in the women's bobsled and four medals overall, meaning that now the host nation is up to seven gold (same as U.S. and Germany) and 15 overall.
In the bobsled, the U.S. team of Erin Pac and Elana Meyers had troubles in their final run, which they began in second place, and they settled for third behind the Canadian teams.
Bree Schaaf and Emily Azevedo of Colorado Springs and the Olympic Training Center moved up to fifth overall, and the other U.S. team was sixth.
In the short-track relay, the U.S. foursome including Katherine Reutter, Allison Baver, Alyson Dudek and Lana Gehring actually couldn't keep up with the world-record pace and finished a distant fourth behind Korea, China and Canada.
But the judges reviewed the race and disqualified Korea, igniting a controversy as China took the gold, Canada the silver and the Americans the bronze.
In other speedskating events, Apolo Anton Ohno and Reutter qualified in the men's 500 and women's 1,000 short-track races. Their finals will come Friday.
Peggy Fleming might be a 61-year-old grandmother now (though she's the most glamorous 61-year-old grandmother you might ever meet), but the figure skating legend and 1968 Olympic champion still keeps a close eye on her sport.
Fleming, who trained in Colorado Springs at the old Broadmoor World Arena, graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School and attended Colorado College during her skating years, was watching inside Pacific Coliseum on Tuesday night as another Cheyenne Mountain student, Rachael Flatt, placed fifth in the short program to start the ladies event at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Fleming isn't working here, though she has been a network commentator for ABC for more than two decades, but she had plenty of analysis to offer Wednesday morning after signing a special Olympic Hall of Fame mural of American winter-sport athletes at USA House.
And she feels Flatt, as well as fellow American Mirai Nagasu in sixth place, still can have a shot at medals in the long program Thursday night.
"I think we're going to see the same kind of performances from both of them that we saw in the short program," Fleming says. "Rachael is so steady and consistent. She might not have quite the flair of some of the other skaters, but she's so solid. Mirai needs to show a little more confidence out there, but she has a lot of potential."
Fleming says she hopes both Flatt and Nagasu will continue skating through the 2014 Olympics, "because I think it really helps our sport in America when our athletes take us on their journey with them, the way Michelle Kwan did for so many years. They've handled themselves so well here, but these girls are young, just 17 (Flatt) and 16 (Nagasu). They have a lot of good years ahead of them."
Fleming was sixth in the 1964 Olympics before winning in 1968 at Grenoble, France.
Like most observers, Fleming is virtually conceding the gold medal here to South Korea's Kim Yu-Na, who won the short program by a comfortable margin.
"I really like Kim's style, her elegance and her speed on the ice," Fleming says. "She's over and above everyone else right now. It's not just the jumps. She makes it look so easy. I told somebody in the stands who didn't know much about skating, 'When it looks easy, that means they're good.'"
Fleming also says she could barely comprehend how much courage it took for Canadian champion Joannie Rochette to skate well enough for third place in the short program Tuesday night, after her mother Therese had died of a sudden heart attack at 55 just after arriving in Vancouver early Sunday.
"That was amazing," Fleming says. "I don't know how she could deal with that and still skate so well. I lost my dad two weeks after winning my first Worlds, and I was just 17. I'm not sure I could have done what she did. But it had to help that the audience was full of people pulling for her."
Fleming had her own life-threatening moment in 1998, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But she went through aggressive treatment and says she hasn't had any problems since, "though I don't miss anything on my checklist."