Krasnaya Polyana, Russia This is not what I expected, and I’m not talking about the lack of authentic Russian food in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, the weather so warm you barely need a coat or even the presence of Russian cheerleaders, pom-poms and all, at many Olympic venues.
I’m talking about the success of the United States athletes we’re here to cover.
2014 Winter Olympics
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Slopeside at Sochi: Joel Reichenberger
Steamboat Pilot & Today Sports Editor Joel Reichenberger is on the sidelines in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Find more columns, stories, blogs and photo galleries at SteamboatToday.com/sochi.
Now, after my fifth full day of covering competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympics, I’ve covered only one American medal winner, and that was Hannah Kearney, who looked like someone ran over her dog after winning bronze in the women’s moguls.
That was supposed to be the first gold, of course. Kearney was a heavy favorite entering the event, seemingly a sure thing to double up on gold after winning the event early in the 2010 Olympics.
She bobbled at the top of her run, however, and got a medal of a different color.
I was even at the men’s snowboard half-pipe, as sure a bet to produce winning Americans as the Super Bowl.
When you can’t even count on Shaun White, who can you count on?
There have been plenty of heartbreaking story lines. First, there was Kearney, then the back-to-back gut-wrenching days for the Gold family, Taylor Gold, who missed out on the half-pipe finals Tuesday, and Arielle Gold, who withdrew from the Olympics with a dislocated shoulder Wednesday.
The U.S. Nordic combined team — the darling of the 2010 Olympics where it won four medals — wasn’t close Wednesday in its first competition and has some serious jumping issues to solve before the next event, which takes place Tuesday.
Exasperated by miserable conditions in the half-pipe, Taylor Gold, one of the brightest-eyed Olympians before the games, simply wished them over.
Frustration has been evident in the Nordic combined team, too. It’s been injuries, anger and poor showings.
Where’s the magic, huh?
Here’s the thing about the Olympics, though: They aren’t easy. That’s why the Olympics are different and why proven, championship athletes like Todd Lodwick pour so much into the quest for Olympic medals.
Those don’t just happen, and after years of U.S. snowboarding dominance, after the unprecedented 2010 medal haul in Nordic combined, after the dominating season from Kearney, that’s a simple truth that’s easy for a fan — or a journalist — to forget.
Either the Russians simply haven’t installed it yet, or Olympic magic doesn’t come simply with a room in the athlete’s village.
As much as those lessons are important, it’s worth remembering, too, that this experience isn’t all about the medals.
Taylor Gold, so frustrated with his performance Tuesday that the usually affable 20-year-old blew past the press and refused to comment after his final run, was thrilled several weeks ago just to earn the right to make the trip to Russia.
Remember when he was a longshot?
Bryan Fletcher, unconfident and upset with his jumping heading into Wednesday’s event, labored four years simply to get here, to erase the disappointment at not making the team in 2010.
He’s here. He made it.
Those athletes are strong, and better days are ahead, perhaps even soon for Fletcher and his Nordic combined teammates, who have two events remaining.
No matter what happens, however, I hope they all remember a bad day at the Olympics isn’t a very bad day at all.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9