Congratulations, Vancouver. Despite some technical problems and less-than-ideal weather conditions for some of the skiing, you pulled off an incredibly entertaining Winter Olympics. I was thoroughly engrossed every night these past two weeks, and I think you represented your city and nation incredibly well. You even won for most gold medals, an accomplishment you should be incredibly proud of. The question remains: what did we learn about ourselves from these Olympics?
First off, a look back at some of my predictions for these Winter Games. In hockey, I thought the women would beat Canada for the gold. I was wrong, but they did win silver. The men will do at least as well, if not better. Two silvers or a silver and a gold are definitely praiseworthy. In skiing and snowboarding, I predicted several gold medals. Well, this was the most impressive Winter Games ever for the alpine US teams. Bode Miller and Lindsay Vonn each won gold (among multiple other medals). Shaun White defended his gold with the coolest trick I’ve ever seen on a snowboard. And the US put up three silvers and a gold in Nordic Combined, an event in which they had never metaled before. I predicted better than what we got from the US speed skating team, but they did win one gold (Shani Davis) and several silvers and bronzes. Apolo Ohno did all right in his last Olympics, as did Chad Hedrick. In ice skating, Evan Lysacek won gold and a US ice dancing team won silver. I predicted better from the US women, but I’ll still take a gold and a silver in four events. Lastly, the US won a gold in 4-man bobsled, the first in 62 years.
Overall, I think I did a pretty good job predicting the results of the Olympics, but there is still room for improvement. The US failed to medal in either ski jumping or biathlon, despite a strong team in both fields. The US curling teams were a total disappointment. And our cross-country skiing needs a lot of work if we’re ever to compete with the European countries. All in all, the US must continue to develop its weaker programs if it ever wants to win both the most medals and the most gold. What these Olympics taught us is that we have the best overall athletic training programs in the world (at least for winter sports… China may be superior in all around summer events), but maybe not the best overall athletes. We consistently medal, but winning gold is harder for us than either Canada, who had home-court advantage, or Germany. We’re a great athletic nation, but we still have something to strive for in terms of turning out gold-medal winning athletes.
But this is not to say we shouldn’t be incredibly proud of our athletes. 37 medals is a Winter Olympics record. And it’s been over 75 years since the US won the medal count at a Winter Olympics, the last time being the 1932 Lake Placid games, and that was on home soil. This was far and away our most successful Winter Olympics ever. So while it’s easy to look at the games and analyze where the US must improve, we should take nothing less from these games than the knowledge that we train some of the greatest athletes in the world.