Thursday, February 15, 2018

XXIII Olympic Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018 (Day 7)

1. Germany 9 gold, 2 silver, 4 bronze
2. Norway 6, 7, 4
2. Netherlands 5, 5, 2
3. United States 5, 1, 2
5. Canada 4, 5, 4
6. Sweden 3, 2, 0
7. France 3, 1, 2
8. Austria 2, 1, 3
9. Italy 1, 1, 3
10. South Korea 1, 0, 1
11. Japan 0, 4, 3
12. Australia 0, 2, 1
T13. China 0, 2, 0
T13. Slovakia 0, 2, 0
T15. Czech Republic 0, 1, 1
T15. Switzerland 0, 1, 0
17. Slovenia 0, 1, 0
18. Finland 0, 0, 3
T19. Kazakhstan 0, 0, 1
T19. Spain 0, 0, 1

Previous reports:

-- I Olympic Winter Games, Chamonix 1924
-- II Olympic Winter Games, Saint Moritz 1928

-- VIII Olympic Winter Games, Squaw Valley 1960
-- XII Olympic Winter Games, Innsbruck 1976 
-- XVII Olympic Winter Games, Lillehammer 1994
-- XXII Olympic Winter Games, Sochi 2014

-- XXIII Olympic Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018 (Preface)
-- XXIII Olympic Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018 (Introduction/Day 0)
-- XXIII Olympic Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018 (Day 1)
-- XXIII Olympic Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018 (Day 2)
-- XXIII Olympic Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018 (Day 3)
-- XXIII Olympic Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018 (Day 5)
-- XXIII Olympic Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018 (Day 6)


  1. Women’s aerials in freestyle skiing …

    So this is the sport hen people come skiing down a short hill without poles (like in ski jumping) and then fly almost straight up in to the air off a very steep ramp. Then the skiier does all kinds of crazy flips and gyrations in the air and tries to land on her or his feet. It’s like the gymnastics vault. You apparently have to declare what you’re going to do before you go off, because there’s a difficulty store computed before you get going. Then, a panel of five or six judges from different countries award you a score somewhere up to 100 points based 20 percent on your takeoff, 50 percent on your mid-air gymnastics and 30 percent on your landing.

    Now one of the interesting things about this sport—maybe it’s not unique but, if it’s not, I’ve never quite understood it was going on in the other sports—is that you cannot repeat your “tricks” (the stuff you do in the air) from jump to jump, at least within a stage. There are three heats in the finals. You start out among 12 competitors, and the top nine advance to the second jump. Then you’ve got to get into the top six to make it to the final final. And then you’re jumping for the medals. Across each of those three jumps, you’ve got to do different tricks, so, as you can see, there’s some real strategy involved in not overdoing it too soon.

    The other complicating thing in freestyle aerials is that there appears to be a significant factor of chaos. It’s not like short-track speed skating, in which it always seems like there’s massive crashes and then highly, highly subjective decisions among unseen judges about who is at fault. (Short-track is a potentially great sport, but they really need to figure out that deal.) In aerials, the key variables appear to be wind and the fact that you’re landing on packed snow or ice. You’re skiing, so you’re going to be in mountains, and it’s windy in the mountains. You get a big burst of wind at the wrong moment, and that can really throw a 120-pound airborne snow gymnast for a loop. And then the landing—there’s no “sticking” a landing exactly on ice. I mean, the announcers might say the freestylers are sticking landings, but it’s a lot looser definition of the term and dicier proposition than Mary Lou Retton had to do.

    OK, so this is the stuff that 22-year-old Madison Olsen of Park City, Utah, had to figure out. I’m not going to try to create fake suspense here. On the live stream from Pyeongchan’s Bogwang Phoenix Park right now, they’re handing out the medals, and they’re going to Hanna Huskova of Belarus (gold) and two Chinese women, Zhang Xin (silver) and Kong Fanyu (bronze). Madison Olsen finished sixth in the six-woman medal heat—by a lot. The top scores were 96.14 and 95.52. The next three all did some degree of falling on their landings and scored 70.14, 59.94 and 55.34, and then Madison Olsen, whose skies came tearing off her feet when she crash landed (thankfully, she did not appear to be injured at all), came in with a 47.23. But I was really impressed with Madison Olsen’s decision making and performance in this thing—this is my favorite Team USA sixth place of these Olympics so far--and I am really intrigued by the setup of this whole sport.

  2. If you're like me, you suspect that the winter X-Games-ish sports like aerials freestyle skiing were cooked up by NBC in the last few years out of whatever they could find rich American kids doing on the fringes of their parents' ski clubs so that they could ensure a U.S. gold a night amid the McDonald's, Coke and Walmart commercials for 16 or 17 February evenings once every four years.

  3. I'm still not convinced that's not true, but, to the extent it is true in women's aerials freestyle skiing specifically, NBC has failed.

  4. The competition debuted (in medals form, at least) at Lillehammer 1994 (the greatest Winter Olympics of all time), and the medalists were Uzbekistan, Sweden and Norway. Only one American made the final, and Tracy Evans finished eighth. Team USA's Nikki Stone won the gold at Nagano 1998, but that's it. There's never been another U.S. medal in women's aerials.

  5. At Salt Lake City 2002, no American even qualified for the final. Nikki Stone had gotten hurt, and Tracy Evans and another U.S. competitor were back in the qualifications pack. The event was staged about a 45-minute drive east of Salt Lake, in Park City. Madison Olsen, who had started skiing when she was 2, was two months shy of her seventh birthday when the Salt Lake City 2002 games took place. She's from Park City.

  6. By age 12, Madison Olsen committed herself to competing in freestyle skiing, and, two years after that, she narrowed her efforts even more, giving up moguls and focusing solely on aerials. At age 17, she won the 2012 U.S. championships in the sport and finished second in the world championships for juniors.

  7. I'd be interested to know about the next three of four years, though. I'm sure the information is pretty readily available, but I've got to get to work and need to wrap this up. Anyway, maybe she went to college, or maybe she hit a wall, or maybe it's just this challenging to stay at the top nationally/internationally in a sport. But, whatever, Madison Olsen dipped off in the U.S. National Championships (sixth and fourth in 2013 and 2014, respectively), and she didn't place in a World Cup event until a third in Moscow in 2016. I'm honestly not being critical at all. I've never been as good as sixth best in the country or third best in the world at anything, so I'm totally impressed with Madison Olsen. I'm just noting that sixth is a dropoff from first and that being the second best junior in the world didn't quickly translate to equivalent success as an adult.

  8. And my real point here is to get to Pyeongchang 2018 and say that it's not like Madison Olsen came into this competition as a favorite. No American did, and, based on past Olympics, there would be no reason to expect any American to do so.

  9. In Brian Cazeneuve's (remarkable) medal predictions for all 102 Pyeongchang 2018 events for Sports Illustrated, he had no member of Team USA on the women's aerials podium. The American to watch was Ashley Caldwell, who had competed at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, he wrote.

  10. So there were three Americans among the 25 competitors in qualifications yesterday: Olsen, Caldwell and Kiley McKinnon, who is the only American with a World Cup victory this year. There were two rounds of qualifications. The top six finishers in Qualification 1 advanced to today's finals. Then the remaining 19 go again in Qualification 2, and the top six in that round also moved on--for the total of 12 finalists today.

  11. Now, obviously, I have no clue what I'm talking about here, but it appears from the jump descriptions that the more words you have in your description means the higher your difficulty score. Also, (maybe) "lay">"full."

  12. The top Round 1 qualifier, who shouldn’t’ve been allowed to compete at all because she’s from (cheating) Russia, did something called a “back lay-full-full.” The No. 2 qualifier, from Belarus, did a “back lay-tuck-full.” And then the No. 3 qualifier, who is the top-rated aerials woman in the world—Xu Mengtao of China—di a “back, full-tuck-full.” Two of those women—the woman from China and the woman from Belatrus—were Brian Cazenueve’s picks for gold and silver. (Brian Cazenueve does know what he’s talking about.)

    Madison Olsen’s jump description for Q1 was a good bit simpler: “back full-full.” Only five of the 25 competitors had a lower degree-of-difficulty score. But she apparently completed it successfully, because only one competitor got as high of marks from the judges with such a low degree of difficulty. I know that’s a mouthful, but please reread the sentence … OK? … see what I’m saying? I think Madison Olsen’s strategy was, don’t go for broke. Right?

    Still, it wasn't good enough. Madison Olsen finished ninth. On to Q2 (and no margin for error).

  13. Q2 … the woman who finished seventh in Q1 (top non-qualifier) kicked it up a notch, trying a higher-difficulty jump, and she qualified. The woman who finished eighth tried something different (she had to) but just as hard as her Q1 jump, and she qualified.

    Madison Olsen, however, went less challenging. (All three Americans did, in fact, so maybe this is Coach Todd Ossian’s strategy, not specifically Olsen’s). This time, only four of the 19 competitors tried a jump with a lower degree of difficulty than did Olsen.

    But she made it. Six Q2 qualifiers advanced. No. 5 was Team USA’s Kiley McKinnon; No. 6, Madison Olsen.

  14. McKinnon and Olsen were among the seven of 12 finalists today who appeared to try the same first, relatively safe jump: the “back full-full” with which Olsen opened yesterday.

    The other five tried harder jumps, and all five of them made the top nine, advancing to the second of three final heats. That left four more slots to be sorted out completely by the judges’ opinions, given that those seven competitors were all doing the same thing.

    Madison Olsen finished eighth—advance! Kiley McKinnon came in 10th—eliminated.

  15. So the second final heat ... eight of the nine competitors attempted jumps with higher degree of difficulties higher than the "back full-full" that so many of them did in the first go. Only one finalist went the other direction, going easier.

    Guess which one she was.

  16. China's Xu Mengtao, the world's top-rated aerials competitor, crashed and came in last. (There's the seemingly high degree of potential chaos; SI should put up Brian Cazenueve in the nicest hotel room in Pyeongchang all weekend and pay for room service so he could research how often the top-rated competitor in each of the Winter Olympics sports flames out early relative to, say, how often the Usain Bolts and Carl Lewises mistakenly tie their shoelaces together in a 100m heat.) The two competitors from cheating Russia came in seventh and eighth. Madison Olsen took the sixth and final qualifying spot for the final-final. U! S! A! ... U! S! A! ... U! S! A!

  17. The 22-year-old from Park City was the first of the six final-finalists to jump. This time, only two of her competitors were trying anything harder.

    The NBC Sports Network commentator--I think his name is Todd--said he didn't think she had ever tried the "back full-double full" before today. The broadcast was live, and I was scared to death this young woman was going to badly hurt herself. For Pete's sake, don't do it for me--some middle-aged schmo sitting on his couch back in Kentucky. I've lived in this country for almost 50 years, and I've paid my taxes and mostly stayed in the speed limits and was in the Boy Scouts and pretty much everything. On behalf of the entire country, sitting next to my own 9-year-old daughter, I silently exercised my authority to give Madison Olsen permission to lay it up and take the sixth.

    No dice. This time, Madison Olsen was going for broke.

  18. I'd have to go back and watch again to describe what went on, and, really, I've got to get to work in earnest now. She went up in the air spectacularly, and she came back down to Earth spectacularly. I cheered and cheered and almost cried when she came back up on her feet, even without her skis. Madson Olsen did get the sixth, but she absolutely did not lay it up. And while the other five finalists competed, Madison Olsen stood and watched and waited--just in case three of them happened to badly overestimate their own capabilities or got discombobulated by a terrific gust of South Korean mountain wind or whatever.

    Not enough of that stuff happened. They all did great. Congratulations to them, and congratulations to Madison Olsen, my favorite Olympian so far of Pyeongchang 2018.

  19. Team USA medal counts in the (completed) Winter Olympics I can remember ...

    Innsbruck 1976: 3 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze
    Lake Placid 1980: 6, 4, 2
    Sarajevo 1984: 4, 4, 0
    Calgary 1988: 2, 1, 3
    Albertville 1992: 5, 4, 2
    Lillehammer 1994: 6, 5, 2
    Nagano 1988: 6, 3, 4
    Salt Lake City 2002: 10, 13, 11
    Turin 2006: 9, 9, 7
    Vancouver 2010: 9, 15, 13
    Sochi 2014: 9, 7, 12

  20. Medals standings through first seven days after the opening ceremonies at Sochi 2014:

    1. Germany 7 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze
    2. Switzerland 5, 1, 1
    3. Canada 4, 4, 2
    T4. Norway 4, 3, 6
    T4. United States 4, 3, 6
    6. Netherlands 4, 3, 5
    7. Russian Federation, it turns out, was cheating
    8. China 2, 1, 0
    9. France 2, 0, 2
    10. Belarus 2, 0, 1

  21. Medal standings through seven days after the opening ceremonies at Pyeongchang 2018:

    1. Germany 9 gold, 2 silver, 4 bronze
    2. Norway 6, 8, 5
    3. Netherlands 6, 5, 2
    4. United States 5, 1, 2
    5. Canada 4, 5, 4
    6. Sweden 4, 2, 0
    7. France 3, 2, 2
    8. Austria 3, 1, 4
    9. Italy 2, 1, 3
    10. South Korea 2, 0, 1