Sports are about the stories. It has always been and always will be. I didn’t understand when I was younger. You move a ball to place to score a point and win. So what? Save for soccer, lacrosse and skiing I wasn’t a sports fan growing up, and I’m still not a major one, but I love a good tale.
I will always tune in to the important events when the plot peaks. Earlier this month there was the tale of the Eagles beating the Patriots. Soon there will be a Cinderella story on the parquet floors of March Madness. But right now my eyes are on Pyeongchang, where there are the worldwide inspirational Olympians overcoming all odds.
Last week I learned about Marissa and Hannah Brandt, two sisters from Minnesota who are on two different Olympic hockey teams. Marissa, who was adopted, played for the host country yet they sadly lost their first match. Even with my lacrosse and soccer background I find it difficult to focus on hockey during the Stanley Cup finals, but I will watch USA because I’m now invested in Brandt’s journey.
Silverthorne’s Red Gerard brought home the first gold of the games and the 17-year-old became the youngest American to medal in snowboarding. While that’s amazing, what I find even more astounding is Canadian Mark McMorris earning a bronze medal in the same slopestyle event. Just last year McMorris was in a medically induced coma after crashing into a tree. He had 17 broken bones, a ruptured spleen and collapsed lung. Now he has his second Olympic medal after his bronze in Sochi.
Another fantastic moment of redemption was Shaun White getting his gold in the halfpipe. After colliding with a superpipe in New Zealand, the flying tomato had to be flown out by helicopter to receive 62 facial stitches last October.
In Korea, his first run put him in first place, but then Japan’s Ayumu Hirano beat him by one point. White then came back during the third and final run with a score of 97.75, the highest ever seen in the sport. It marked the 100th gold medal for America in all Winter Olympics and was White’s third.
Since Olympians come from across the globe it’s not just Americans grabbing gold in dramatic fashion. Though he recently failed to medal in the 10,000 meter event, Dutch speed skater Sven Kramer broke his Olympic record for gold in the 5,000 meter event. Kramer currently has eight medals—with four gold and three of those in the 5,000 meter race.
Norwegian cross-country skier Simen Krueger fell out right at the start of the 15 kilometer skiathlon. However, he eventually took the lead in the last 5 kilometers. It’s also hard not to root for the “Cool Runnings”-inspired Nigerian bobsled team who crowdfunded their equipment.
This year the familiar faces had surprises, too.
Lindsey Vonn, who has dedicated Pyeongchang to her late grandfather, failed to place in the super-G. Instead snowboarder Ester Ledecka from the Czech Republic was as dumbfounded as everyone when she won gold by .01 seconds. The other Colorado favorite, Mikaela Shiffrin took gold in giant slalom but came up empty handed in her favored slalom competition. Likewise, Ted Ligety ended his final Olympics without reaching the podium in his events.
It hurts to watch my heroes falter, but despite defeat Vonn and Shiffrin remain positive. The Olympics are just one race of the season and even the most decorated woman skier can have a bad day. In 2014 Vonn was watching Sochi from the couch because of knee surgery so being on the slopes is still a feat.
Some stories are unfortunately tragedies. The podium only has three spots, after all.
Luge had moments of joy with Chris Mazdzer winning the first US medal in the event and Austrian David Gleirscher brought home his country’s first in 50 years. Yet the image that still stands out in my mind is the German coach Norbet Loch consoling his son Felix when he fell from first to fifth.
Tomorrow I’ll witness the climax of a saga I know personally. Before moving to Colorado I spent a handful of springs venturing to Copper Mountain to watch my brother compete in alpine snowboard racing at the USASA National Championships alongside grommets and grizzled legends. He did well, placing in the top three a couple of times, but the diehard professionals won again and again. This year my brother’s former friendly rival Mike Trapp and AJ Muss, whom we saw compete in a younger bracket, are racing in their first Olympics. Is there a word for being both extremely envious and proud of someone?
With 2,952 athletes in Korea, each event has hundreds of individual stories about struggle and hope. I can’t discuss, or watch, every one, but I’m beyond glad to hear them and see their dreams come true. A score is just a score. A medal just a medal. It’s the meaning and narrative behind them that give them weight.