PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – A country that most Americans don’t think a lot about is Norway, except if you watch the Winter Olympics and you are watching cross-country skiing.
But the fact is that Norway, a country with a population about 1/60th of the United States’ but with a lot more reindeer, has won more Winter Olympics medals than the U.S. – 329 to 282 – entering this Olympics.
After Tuesday, Norway was leading the U.S.-favoring total medal count with 11. (The U.S. had six going into Wednesday’s men’s halfpipe celebration.) Of those 11, six of them were in cross-country skiing.
In Sochi, it was a national crisis when Norway didn’t win any team cross-country medals. If it were in the U.S., it would have been labeled Wax-gate after Knut Nystad, the team’s chief ski wax technician, came under fire over Norway’s less-than-stellar team performance. The team still won 11 cross-country medals.
Makes you wonder if there is a waxing called a Norwegian and what it would be.
American TV viewers can chuckle about this controversy, but one thing about the Winter Olympics (and Summer, too) is that for two weeks you care about things that you, in your wildest dreams, couldn’t care less about the rest of the time.
The Norwegians have won 113 cross-country medals through the years, the most of any sport. The top U.S. sport, a surprise to most, is speedskating, in which it has won 67 medals. But a lot of those medals came in the heyday of the Heidens and before the introduction of the so-called X Games sports.
Perhaps when President Trump wanted more Norwegian immigrants, he was really thinking of bolstering the U.S. cross-country ski team.
Cross-country skiing is off on Wednesday, but there are 24 more medals to be awarded, so don’t expect Norway to be going anywhere from near the top of the leaderboard.
Auld Lang Syne
As Austrian Marcel Hirscher won the gold medal in the Alpine men’s combined (one downhill run and one slalom), it may have closed the books on that event. Nothing is official, but there is a move afoot to replace the combined with some sort of parallel racing event, which would be more TV friendly. Everybody likes to see a race as opposed to someone racing against the clock.
Ted Ligety, a two-time champion for the U.S., finished fifth. He was 26th in the downhill and fourth in the slalom.
Norway, of course
Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo of Norway picked up the gold in men’s cross-country sprint. He was the favorite, so no surprise there, or in the women’s sprint where favorite Stina Nilsson picked up a gold. Nilsson employed a strategy before the Games that was nothing short of un-American. She decided to get off all social media and the web. Too many distractions, she thought.
Jessie Diggins of the U.S. finished sixth in the women’s race. It was a big step forward for her to make the six-person final race. No U.S. woman has won a cross-country medal.
Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris of Canada won the first mixed doubles curling gold. They beat a Swiss duo that fell so far behind at 10-3 that they gave up their neutrality and surrendered after six ends. (That’s curling talk for inning. There are eight in mixed doubles.) The U.S. sister and brother team of Becca and Matt Hamilton, whose on-ice spat was caught on camera, exited after the round-robin competition. Russia, or whatever a collection of athletes from Russia is called, beat Norway for the bronze.
The Netherlands continues to run the table in speedskating, gaining four golds in four races, this time Kjeld Nuis taking the men’s 1,500 meters. Netherlands also got second. It has won eight of the 12 speedskating medals awarded so far. Joey Mantia, who like fellow U.S. speedskater Brittany Bowe is from Ocala, Florida, was the highest American finisher at eighth, 1.85 seconds behind the winner.
On your back
The U.S. won its first luge medal on Sunday and Canada won its first on Tuesday. Of course, neither was a winner, Chris Mazdzar getting silver for the men and Alex Gough a bronze for the women. But it was Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger who defended her gold from Sochi to become the third woman to win back-to-back women’s luge golds. Erin Hamlin was the top American in sixth place. If you’ve ever wondered how razor thin the difference in sleds is, understand that after four runs, Hamlin was 0.68 of a second behind the winner.
Quote of the day
Chloe Kim, winner of the women’s halfpipe gold, was asked by NBC’s “Today” anchor Savannah Guthrie about how she felt on the medal stand: “I was trying so hard to hold the tears back .. I worked so hard on my eyeliner.”