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Monday, October 21, 2019

10 biggest disappointments of the 2018 Winter Olympics

NBC Olympics

Many athletes come to the Olympic Games with very high expectations, both for themselves and from their country. Many of them are world champions in their chosen sport and have been building up for four years just for this moment. One can only imagine, then, the disappointment and heartbreak if things don’t go as planned, be it their own fault or something outside of their control.

Here are 10 big disappointments from the 2018 Winter Olympics.

1) Olympic hockey being determined by shootouts

There is a practical reason why Olympic hockey games — both men’s and women’s — have been settled by so many shootouts. The nature of the tournament — and the small window of time in which the games must be played — makes it impractical to play limitless overtime periods to settle tie games. Still, there’s something somewhat unsatisfying about seeing high-pressure games come down to what is ultimately a skills competition, which is how the American women won their gold medal and how the American men were knocked out of the tournament. It’s hard to suggest an alternative, but it’s just another reason why the Olympic tournaments are vastly inferior to, say, the Stanley Cup Playoffs in terms of quality. At the least, perhaps medal games should not be determined by shootouts.

2) U.S. female figure skaters

The United States has a long tradition of producing iconic female figure skaters, and that only made the results of this year’s ladies figure skating program more disappointing. In all of Olympic history, the Americans had never failed to land a female figure skater in the top six of Olympic competition — until 2018. This year, Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu, and Karen Chen finished 9th, 10th, and 11th, respectively. None were ever in serious contention to get on the podium. They weren’t even in the same class as Canadian bronze medalist Kaetlyn Osmond, much less the top two Russian finishers. Ultimately, from the ladies’ side, this is going to be an Olympics that U.S. figure skating would rather forget, even if, based on the world rankings, this couldn’t even have come as a big shock.

3) Olympic Athletes from Russia

A state-sponsored doping program has had a huge impact on Russia in these Olympics. There were many questions as to how the Russian athletes would perform at PyeongChang, and the answer has been not well. The Russians have collected 14 medals in total. More notably, figure skater Alina Zagitova’s gold medal in the ladies’ individual program was Russia’s first gold of the entire games, coming just two days before the closing ceremony. Compare that to when they won 11 golds in Sochi four years ago, and there’s no other way to view the Games than as a disappointment for Russia.

4) Elise Christie

Christie’s story is as heartbreaking as it is disappointing. The British speed skater was disqualified from all three of her events in 2014, prompting a wave of social media abuse. She returned in 2018 to race in the same three events — the 500, 1,000, and 1,500, where she was a world record holder in the first and a world champion in the latter two. In PyeongChang, she crashed in the 500 and 1,500 and was disqualified from the 1,000, adjudged to have caused two crashes. Once again, Christie will leave the Games without a medal, forced to navigate a crushingly disappointing series of events.

5) Team USA

While the Americans have never exactly ruled the Winter Olympics, they tend to be strong performers near the top of the medal rankings. Things haven’t really gone according to plan this year. Nearing the end of the Games, the US sat fourth in the overall medal count with a total of just 22. That’s better than they were doing earlier in the week, but taken in historical context, it’s still underwhelming. In fact, it’s the worst performance by Americans at the Games since 1998 in Nagano, which was the last time the United States finished outside of the top two in the total medal count.

6) Olympic men’s hockey

Once a major Olympic draw, the quality of men’s hockey has taken a nosedive in 2018 with the exclusion of current NHL players. This has had a negative effect on the Canadian team, which didn’t quite roll through their group games and ended up crashing out to Germany in a shocking semifinal result. It particularly hurt the United States, which had to negotiate a qualification game against Slovenia just to get into the playoff rounds and ended up falling to the Czech Republic in a shootout once the knockout rounds started. This has opened the door for Russia, which boasts a number of former NHL stars who are now playing in the KHL. Sadly, the lower standard of play has negatively impacted the men’s tournament.

7) Felix Loch

One of the world’s most accomplished lugers, Loch looked like a very good bet to repeat his men’s singles championship, which he’d won in both 2010 and 2014. The German did, indeed, look on track to make it three in a row, leading after his third run. However, a catastrophic mistake on his fourth and final run not only cost him the gold, but it knocked him off the podium entirely, as he finished in fifth place overall. It was easy to see just how crushed he was after that performance. It’s hard to overstate what a huge favorite Loch was, so his bad run came as a massive shock.

8) The weather

Weather issues wreaked havoc on the ski and snowboard events. Intense winds caused some serious issues for the slopestyle competition, and many ski events were repeatedly postponed due to hazardous conditions. This caused major problems for Mikaela Shiffrin’s quest for five golds, as her schedule was thrown off and she was forced to compete on consecutive days, winning the first but finishing fourth on the second. Weather also forced the reshuffling of further events that caused Shiffrin to drop out of the downhill. Things stabilized a bit toward the middle of the Games, but outdoor events were heavily impacted early on.

9) TV ratings

TV ratings released for the Games have shown that people just aren’t watching as much of the Olympics, at least during primetime, as they have in years past. Ratings were down from the Sochi games, which were themselves a disappointment, and things really bottomed out over the first weekend of the Games. Perhaps part of it is the scheduling and time zone difference, though things did see an uptick with the figure skating. NBC is also dealing with a world that is rapidly shifting toward streaming, but they can’t be in love with these figures.

10) Nathan Chen

Perhaps it was the pressure of his first Olympic Games, but whatever the case, something went badly wrong for Chen. The American figure skater was regarded as a gold medal favorite in men’s figure skating. The first worrying sign came when he finished well off the pace in fourth during his part of the mixed team event, and then a disastrous short program in the individual competition saw him land in 17th, essentially eliminating him from medal contention. He was mentally lost but rebounded to land five quads cleanly in the free skate for some measure of redemption. But in the end, it was too little, too late for him to get on the podium. The future remains bright for Chen, but this hopefully won’t go down as his best Olympic moment.



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