When three-time Canadian figure skating champion Patrick Chan came to Colorado Springs in December, he was dealing with a calf injury and losing his coach, which threatened to sidetrack the 19-year-old's Olympic season.
Two months later, Chan made a few mistakes in his performances at the Winter Games, but his fifth-place finish puts him in excellent position going into the skating's 2010 World Championships in Torino, Italy. Not to mention the next four years.
"I'm definitely going back to Colorado, at least through Worlds," Chan told me late Thursday night after his long program in Pacific Coliseum. "I think I've learned a lot from this. It's only my first Olympics, and there could be more for me."
He's "disappointed" with his skating in Vancouver, but not with the outcome.
One of his new coaches, Christy Krall of Colorado Springs, thinks Chan could be much better in another month at Worlds. She's also hoping he'll decide to continue training at the World Arena Ice Hall, where he's already bonded with many of the skaters. Chan also told media here that he really likes being able to train at the 6,000-foot altitude in the Springs.
"Patrick has come a long way in the last three month, but he had no time for it all to jell before coming here," says Krall, a former Olympian herself. "When he came to us, we went to work on everything: his injury, nutrition, (off-ice) training. He's a lot more solid now. He should even be able to have a quad (jump) for Worlds."
Krall, who actually started helping Chan with video analysis of his jumps and moves last spring, sees unlimited potential for him. After all, the top two Olympic finishers, Evan Lysacek and Evgeni Plushenko, aren't expected to stay in the competitive ranks. And Chan already has a silver medal, losing only to Lysacek, at the 2009 Worlds.
Bode Miller will have to wait longer in the 32-year-old's quest for an Olympic gold medal, but the flamboyant American added a silver to his collection today in the men's Super-G at Whistler, with little-known American teammate Andrew Weibrecht taking the bronze.
Those two were the closest to leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who finished the rutty, treacherous course in 1:30.34 on a day so warm that temperatures are the finish line were around 52 degrees.
Weibrecht, 24 of Lake Placid, N.Y., the third starter who never had finished better than 10th in a World Cup race, made it to the bottom in 1:30.65, which held up in the lead until Miller came through in 1:30.62.
One by one, the best Europeans took their shots, some coming within hundredths of Miller and Weibrecht, but only Svindal could beat them.
The result brings the U.S. up to 20 medals for these Winter Games.
Hybl served twice as USOC president, in 1990-92 and again from 1997-2001. He's wearing a credential here, but he's at the Olympics mainly as a spectator along with his wife Kathy and son B.J.
As we stood outside in the 55-degree weather, with me in shirt sleeves, I kidded Hybl about him wearing a winter jacket (although he
"This is the Winter Olympics, so I'm wearing my parka regardless," Hybl said with a laugh.
We also agreed that it could be a similar situation if the Winter Games would ever come to Denver.
After an amazing first week at the 2010 Winter Olympics with a whopping 18 medals, the United States shouldn't expect as much Friday as the schedule lightens up briefly.
"It gives us a chance to take a day off, see our families and enjoy Vancouver a little bit," U.S. women's hockey player Angela Ruggiero said after her team wrapped up pool play Thursday with a spotless 3-0 record heading into the semifinals Monday.
There are a few events with medal potential, starting with the men's super-G ski race at Whistler as Bode Miller and 2006 combined gold medalist Ted Ligety lead the U.S. contingent. If Miller can stay in control as well as he did in taking bronze in the downhill, he has a chance.
Then, over at Whistler Sliding Center, the men's and women's skeleton (imagine luge in a higher gear, with a single rider coming down the track on a little sled, face first) will wrap up today, with a possible women's medal for Noelle Pikus-Pace of Orem, Utah.
The only other medal event scheduled today is the ladies 15-kilometer cross-country pursuit ski rae, with the Americans not expected to be among the leaders.
Figure skating moves into ice dance with the compulsory dance, leading toward the free dance finale Sunday, and the U.S. teams of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (who won silver in 2006) along with Meryl Davis and Charlie White expected to be in the medals picture.
After 10 medals in the past two days (a record six Wednesday, followed by four Thursday), the U.S. has a sizable lead in the medal standings with 18 — six gold, five silver, seven bronze.
Evan Lysacek might not have had the quadruple jump in his arsenal, but he had everything else down perfectly. And when Russian Evgeni Plushenko gave an uneven performance between his jumps, that was all that Lysacek needed in the Olympic long program Thursday night in Pacific Coliseum.
Lysacek's marks stood up ahead of Plushenko's, and that made him the first American gold medalist in men's figure skating since Brian Boitano in 1988 at Calgary.
The margin of victory was narrow, with Lysacek totaling 167.37 points to 165.51 for Plushenko, the 2006 Olympic champion. Japan's Daisuke Takahashi wound up third.
"I couldn't have asked for much more than that," Lysacek said. "To get a personal best in the most important moment of my life — you dream about it. It was definitely my best, and it was what I came here to do."
Patrick Chan, the Canadian national champion now training in Colorado Springs, skated strongly except for a fall on a triple axel, and the 19-year-old moved up from seventh after the short program to fifth overall. That was just ahead of American Johnny Weir, who won over the crowd but not the judges.
The current American champion, former longtime Colorado Springs resident Jeremy Abbott, bounced back from his disastrous short program and climbed from 15th to a ninth-place finish.
Lysacek's victory also meant the first career gold medal for his coach, 71-year-old Frank Carroll, who came up just short several times in the past with the likes of Michelle Kwan and Linda Fratianne.
And the United States added to its lead in the medal standings, now with 18 in all (six gold, five silver, seven bronze) to Germany's 11. That U.S. total went up by four Thursday, also including Julia Mancuso's silver in the ladies super combined and the silver-bronze finish by Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark, respectively, in the ladies halfpipe.
The script didn't go as expected, with falls and mistakes along the way, but Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark still managed to give the United States a 2-3 finish Thursday night in Olympic ladies halfpipe, with Australia's Torah Bright pulling out the gold medal with a clutch final run at Cypress Mountain.
Gretchen Bleiler of Aspen and Kelly Hight, the other two Americans in the finals, couldn't complete either of their final runs and missed out on any shot at medals.
But the silver and bronze for Teter and Clark gave the U.S. four out of six medals for the two days of halfpipe, and the Americans upped their overall lead in the medal standings to 17-11 over Germany with five gold, five silver and seven bronze.
For eight minutes of hockey Thursday afternoon, Finland stood up well to the United States in their final pool-play game of the Winter Olympics, even with a 9-8 edge over the Americans in shots on goal.
Then, suddenly Julie Chu redirected a shot by Angela Ruggiero past Finn goaltender Noora Raty, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead. That woke up the crowd of about 5,000 inside the University of British Columbia's Thunderbird Arena. And, suddenly, the Americans were in total control, cruising onward to a 6-0 victory helped by a strong performance in the nets by Jessie Vetter.
Goals from Molly Engstrom, Meghan Duggan and Natalie Darwitz built a 4-0 lead at the first intermission with a 20-9 edge in shots. Finland didn't collapse, but the U.S. women added one goal each in the final two periods. Vetter made 23 saves, several spectacular, topped by denying a penalty shot after a U.S. penalty on a breakaway.
"This was more of a hockey game," Engstrom said afterward, looking back on earlier blowout wins against China and Russia. "And it's a good thing, because we need to be more on our toes from now on."
So the U.S. continues its streak of never losing an Olympic pool-play game, setting the same semifinal matchups as in 2006: Canada vs. Finland and the U.S. vs. Sweden. That turned into a disaster for Team USA, as Swede goalie Kim Martin shut down the Americans at the end of a 3-2 shootout upset.
The semifinals will be Monday, with the gold-medal game next Thursday.
Lindsey Vonn finally ran into misfortune Thursday afternoon at the Winter Olympics, but that didn't stop her teammate Julia Mancuso from making some history in the ladies super combined Alpine ski event.
Vonn, who had led the field after the initial run this morning, missed a gate midway through her slalom run and didn't finish, a day after the Vail resident's dramatic gold medal in the downhill.
But Mancuso made it to the bottom of both runs and came away with another silver medal, finishing second behind Maria Riesch of Germany. Riesch, a superb technical skier, dominated the slalom and wound up with a total time of 2:09.14, well ahead of Mancuso's 2:10.08. The bronze went to Sweden's Anja Paerson, who came back from a nasty crash just short of the finish line in the Wednesday downhill to post a 2:10.95.
Mancuso becomes the first U.S. woman to have three Olympic medals (she won gold in the 2006 giant slalom), and she's the first American to medal in the women's combined since 1948.
Vonn and Mancuso will be back on the mountain Saturday for the women's super-G race.
One day later, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso are not letting up in the Winter Olympics ladies super combined.
Vonn leads the field after the morning downhill portion with a time of 1 minute, 24.16 seconds, with Mancuso third in 1:24.96. The downhill course was shortened and one jump shaved down from Wednesday's downhill race.
The competitors come back this afternoon with the slalom, and total time for the two runs will determine the medals.
So what does Team USA do for an encore today at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver?
It's not realistic to expect another six medals or three golds, as the American athletes produced Wednesday. But then again, don't be surprised to see something close.
First, back up at Whistler, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso try to keep their momentum going in the ladies super-combined with downhill in the morning and giant slalom in the afternoon. As Vonn said Wednesday after her downhill gold, "The pressure is off now. I've done what I came here to do — a gold medal."
Then later in the day, men's figure skating wraps up at Pacific Coliseum with defending world champion Evan Lysacek challenging 2006 gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko of Russia in the long program. Lysacek looks like a lock for at least silver, if not gold.
And finally, on Cypress Mountain north of Vancouver, the women's halfpipe goes off with Gretchen Bleiler of Aspen and Hannah Teter leading the U.S. foursome that could win two or all three medals.
Not for medals, but U.S. women's hockey wraps up pool play against Finland, having already secured a berth in the semifinals, while the U.S. men should go to 2-0 against Norway.
He apparently doesn't want to be called "Flying Tomato" anymore. Some are now calling U.S. snowboarder Shaun White the "Red Zeppelin," but perhaps it's best just to call him the best in the world, by far, in Olympic halfpipe.
White, at 23 arguably the most famous single athlete (OK, there's an argument for hockey's Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin) at the 2010 Winter Olympics, laid down a technically superior halfpipe run to start the finals Wednesday night at Cypress Mountain. And when nobody could touch his 46.8-point score in the second run, White had the pleasure of a "victory run" at the end knowing he already had duplicated his gold medal from 2006.
But instead of coasting, White beat himself with a second run of 48.4 points (out of 50 possible).
It was the third gold of the day for the United States, tying the most ever in one day for American athletes at any Winter Olympics. But since the other three-gold day happened on Feb. 20, 2002 at the Salt Lake City Olympics, this was the most golden day ever for the U.S. in a Winter Games outside American soil.
And when American Scott Lago of Seabrook, N.H., came away with the bronze, it became the best medal-winning day ever for the United States at any Winter Games with six (three gold, one silver, two bronze), ahead of the five on that same day in 2002 that included three gold, one silver and one bronze.
Richard Quincy knows all about helping athletes recover from injuries as soon and completely as possible. He did that for a lot of years in Colorado Springs as head trainer for the Colorado College hockey program from the early 1990s until August 2007.
Now Quincy is medical director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, headquartered in Park City, Utah, and he was heavily involved the past two weeks with helping oversee American skier Lindsey Vonn as she dealt with a severely bruised right shin that threatened to derail her Winter Olympics.
Vonn made enough progress, helped by schedule delays, that she won the gold medal Wednesday in the ladies downhill, the first time a U.S. skier has ever won the event. Teammate Julia Mancuso won the silver with a run that looked good enough to win until Vonn came down the mountain at Whistler.
And though Quincy cannot divulge details of what Vonn has gone through, in part because she still has more events including the super-combined Thursday, he did offer this comment via e-mail:
"Lindsey Vonn is truly an amazing athlete with tremendous skill and talent. She also possesses an incredible ability to focus despite the challenges of the environment or any physical limitations. Lindsey is
truly one of those athletes that I genuinely admire both as a professional and as a person. She is truly exceptional and is an excellent example of true Olympism.
"Julia Mancuso was also superb today. Her performance was an outstanding way to start off the women's team. It's a true testament of her will and desire to compete and challenge for Gold. Any podium is
a true reward for USA."
And with that, Quincy jumped on a bus from Whistler down to Cypress Mountain to watch U.S. snowboarder Shaun White go for his own gold in the halfpipe.
Shani Davis, who had made more noise with his mouth and his negativism than with his skates in the early days of the 2010 Winter Olympics, changed all that Wednesday night with a stirring final lap to pull out his second straight gold medal in the men's long-track speedskating 1,000 meters with a time of 1 minute, 8.94 seconds.
Chad Hedrick, Davis' rival but not friend, also skated a strong race in his two-man heat and came away with the bronze in 1:09.32, perhaps helped by chasing South Korean Mo Tae-Bum, who took the silver in 1:09.12.
Davis was 0.34 of a second behind Mo's pace after 200 meters and 0.26 behind at 600 meters, but found another gear on the last lap. His time was well off his world record, but that didn't matter as he skated a victory lap and hugged teammates and coaches in the Richmond Olympic Oval.
Afterward, Davis and Hedrick set aside their personal differences and shared in carrying a large U.S. flag to the podium for the flower ceremony.
It's the second gold of the day for the United States, which now has 12 medals overall (four gold, three silver, five bronze).
Sometimes the Winter Olympics can come close to filling a 24-hour day, but occasionally there's a chance for the working journalist to check out the host city's favorite beverages in between the figure skating, hockey and luge.
Here in Vancouver, that could mean tasting any number of red and white wines from British Columbia, and because of the consistently cool, damp climate, you can find plenty of decent quality choices in the range of $15 to $20 a bottle.
But for those on a tighter budget (in other words, many of us in the media), the first impulse was to discover some good, local-made beer. So far, I've found two: Kokanee, a very smooth pilsener brewed in British Columbia, and Granville Island Lager, a local product. Given the choice, I'd take Kokanee first, and it's much better than some of the more familiar Canadian beers that make it down to Colorado. It's also 5.5 percent alcohol, more than a lot of beers back in the States.
So I venture to a nearby liquor store, thinking the beer would have to be inexpensive. I see Kokanee, Granville Island Lager and more, but the prices seem strange, anywhere from $10 to $20 and more. Hard to figure if it's a case price, a 12-pack or what. But all I need is just one six-pack, so I grab the Granville Island Lager.
The cashier rings it up, and there it is: $11.95 !!!! For a freakin' six-pack, and though you see bottles here, I was just getting cans.
I've never paid $11.95 for a six-pack of anything, not even from bootleggers in Arkansas. But I shelled out the money, and the beer really is good. You just don't drink nearly as much, or as fast, at $11.95 a six-pack.
So what was the cheapest beer in that store, at about half that price? Coors Light, of course.
You could say Lindsey Vonn has been lucky at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and you'd be right. But it took more than luck for Vonn to make it down the Whistler Creekside course this afternoon, as the Vail skier became the first American skier ever to win the Olympic ladies downhill — with fellow American Julie Mancuso taking the silver.
With the U.S. fans holding up flags and signs that included the message "VONN-couver," Vonn had the fastest times at every interval and finished in 1 minute, 44.19 seconds.
That took the gold away from Mancuso, the 2006 giant slalom gold medalist from Olympic Valley, Calif. Earlier, Mancuso had put up a time of 1:44.75 that gave her a commanding lead. Then came a delay to repair the course after Swedish skier Anja Paerson, who had a shot at a medal, crashed just short of the finish line.
But that didn't faze Vonn, who had benefited from scheduling delays that put off the downhill four days from its initially planned run last Saturday. That gave her more time to recover from the bruised shin that had been bothering her for nearly two weeks. She also benefited from the luck of the draw, getting the No. 16 spot to lead off the final seven super-elite skiers.
Vonn will try for another gold Thursday in the super-combined, a two-part event including a shorter downhill and giant slalom.
The downhill bronze medal went to Elisabeth Goergl of Austria, whose time was 1:45.65. Another American, Stacey Cook, was 11th.
The gold and silver pushed the United States back into the medal lead with 10 (three gold, three silver, four bronze) with more likely medals to come on the busy Wednesday schedule.