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Kovacevic: Hold door for U.S. ladies

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, 5:21 p.m.
 

SOCHI, Russia — As the wife will readily remind, when the trouble gets too deep, get out of the way and let a woman do the job.

So yeah, it's deep.

The United States finally added a fifth gold medal Monday in ice dancing, but the 18 total medals are so far off the pace of Vancouver's record 37 that Scott Blackmun, the U.S. Olympic Committee's CEO, now refers 2010 as “once in a lifetime” and adds matching it was never “a realistic expectation.”

Funny, but that bar didn't get lowered until all the busts began.

Ladies?

Figure skating

Hate to say it, guys, but not even a gold by Dan Bylsma's men's hockey team would touch the public consciousness quite like having a new golden girl in figure skating, a new Olympic darling.

Gracie Gold is 18, she's from a modest heartland home in Springfield, Mo., she's the national champ, and she's already got the darling part down. She sounds and looks so frail — 5 feet 5 and rail-thin — you wouldn't ask her to help carry groceries from Sam's Club, much less the hopes of a nation.

Moreover, you wouldn't want to pin — what's that term again? — “a realistic expectation” that Gold could possibly beat Korea's Yuna Kim, brilliant defending Olympic champ, or Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia, the 15-year-old whose dazzling skate in the team competition nine days ago went viral worldwide.

But champions are built of unreasonable expectations fulfilled, and there are experts in the business — a few of whom reached out to me when I glowed about Lipnitskaia's performance — that they felt Gold was technically better. Maybe she was. The fame of Kim and the home crowd for Lipnitskaia will mean Gold's got to be so precise that we all know in that instant that she's, well, good as gold.

Given the turf, almost all of the questioning for Gold at a news conference two days ago was about Lipnitskaia.

“Julia is a machine and an excellent skater,” Gold replied with a playful smile, unfazed. “But when it comes down to competition, it's not always about the best skater. It's about who skates best in that competition.”

The competition begins Tuesday with the short program.

Slalom

Mikaela Shiffrin might not be the new Lindsey Vonn. She might be better.

Like Gold, Shiffrin is 18, but that's it for similarities. She's part of a skiing family in Vail, Colo., she's reigning world champ in the slalom, she's a muscular 5-7, and she's got it all going on when it comes to poise.

Check out these gems from Shiffrin's news conference Sunday:

• On saving the Americans' miserable skiing effort here: “I'm going to do the best in my events. If that means I up the medal count, then great because I'm here to ski for the U.S. But I'm not the only one.”

• On Rosa Khutor's soft snow: “If I don't win, it's because of something I did with my skiing. If I do win, it's because of something I did with my skiing.”

• On this news conference: “I envisioned your questions. I wrote down the answers in my notebook. I've envisioned this moment for quite a while.”

• On envisioning these Games: “It takes a lot of courage to see yourself at the Olympics. To everybody else, it's my first Olympics. But to me, it's my 1,000th.”

• On her expectation: “We're all here to inspire the world with our sport. That's exactly what I'm planning to do.”

Wow. Where are we setting that bar again?

She races in the giant slalom Tuesday, the slalom Friday.

Hockey

The nastiest rivalry in these Olympics isn't on the men's side. The U.S. and Canadian women have a feud that includes two fight-filled exhibitions this winter, plus a whole lot of other vitriol.

Small wonder: It's essentially a two-team sport, as evidenced again the Americans humiliating Sweden, 6-1, in the semifinal with a shots advantage of — get this — 70-9.

(As an aside, that's a terrible thing for the sport. After the Vancouver Games, Jacques Rogge, then the IOC's president, said women's hockey needed to become “more competitive” to stay in the Olympics. And anyone not taking that seriously missed the part where he booted softball for that very reason. If anything, the gap between U.S.-Canada and the rest of the world has only grown.)

Julie Chu, veteran of four Olympics as a U.S. forward, has watched the Canadians take gold each time. On top of that, Canada won the round-robin meeting here, 3-2. But the Americans took three exhibitions in a row during the winter, lending to a feeling that this might be their time.

“We're going for a different color this time around,” Chu said after the Sweden rout.

“It's about time, isn't it?” coach Katey Stone said specifically of Chu. “Julie's been everything to the program. She's been a youngster, a veteran, a mother to the younger kids. She's a special one. I certainly hope she gets what she wants.”

Brianne McLaughlin, the former Robert Morris goaltender and current assistant coach, was the third-stringer here, as she was in Vancouver. Because she dressed for one game as backup, she's eligible for another medal.

The gold medal will be decided Thursday.

Bobsled

Elana Meyers and Rochester's Lauryn Williams haven't exactly had cool runnings in the lead-up to riding USA-1 toward what bobsled experts forecast as a good chance at gold.

Last Friday, Meyers crashed in a test run at Sanki Sliding Center, albeit with another brakeman. Williams had the day off.

The next day, Meyers crashed again. This time, it was after the run. Williams pulled the brake too late, and USA-1 slammed into a wall for what Meyers called “one of the hardest hits I've taken in a sled.” USA-1 was bent up enough that their next run was canceled.

It's been mostly better since then, but the risk that U.S. bobsled coach Todd Hays is taking — Meyers and Williams have raced competitively only once, and Williams had never even been on a track until six months ago — was on painful display with the crash.

“Coming from a sprint sport, speed is the thing,” Williams said, referring to her track career. “I wanted to make sure we were past the finish line. I went a little bit overboard. One thing that's awesome is that I've learned the track and knew exactly where I was. But I was like ‘I've got plenty of time.' Then I didn't.”

American women won a medal in each of the first three Olympics since their inclusion, but no gold since Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers at Salt Lake City in 2002.

First heats are Tuesday, the gold Wednesday.

 

 
 


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