Olympic men’s downhill many things, but fair isn’t one of them

1 Comment

SOCHI — Here’s the thing you can feel, really feel, when watching Bode Miller ski the downhill: He’s on the edge. He’s pushing the edge. In his words, he’s pushing the line. All of the downhill skiers are but maybe you feel it a little more with Miller. He’s on the very edge.

The edge of what? Well, that’s a little bit harder to pinpoint. He’s always on the edge of a crash, of course, but it feels even more dangerous than that. It’s like he and the other downhillers are on the edge of something disastrous, something calamitous, something hard to put into words.

“Hhhhh!” the person next to me sounds off five or six times while Miller skis — the sound of catching breath. “Huhhh,” she inhales when he’s turning and looks as if he’s about to flip. “Huhhh!” she inhales when he crashes into a gate. “Huhhh!” she inhales when it seems like he’s about to go bouncing off the course and, possibly, into the outer atmosphere never to be seen again. It’s like a sustained two-minute horror movie.

VIDEO: Comparing Bode’s run to Mayer’s

The alpine downhill is, perhaps, the marquee event of the Games because of that “Huhhh” sound, because of the feeling in the pit of the stomach, because even with all the thrilling jumps and blazing speed around the Games, it is the sport that grabs your inside for a few thrilling seconds. And then it’s over.

That means: Over. There’s one run down the mountain. That’s all. In a sports world of second chances and efforts to make things even for everybody, the downhill is thoroughly and unapologetically unjust and biased. You get your turn. If you catch a bad break on the light, or the wind changes direction, or the course is chewed up for your run, or the weather takes a bad turn … you deal with it. There’s no second chance.

And because of this: We are on a 25-year run of mostly random Olympic champions. The greatest downhill skiers of the last quarter century are probably, in no particular order: Austrians Michael Walchhofer, Stefan Eberharter and the legendary Hermann Maier (the Herminator); the great Swiss skier Didier Cuche; fellow Swiss skier Franz Heinzer who won three consecutive World Cup downhill titles; France’s Luc Alphand who would become a race car driver; Norway’s current genius of the downhill Aksel Lund Svindal and, heck, let’s throw in Bode MIller because so many downhill skiers are in awe of his guts and will.

Here’s one thing that is true of all nine of those men who have dominated the downhill for a quarter century.

MORE: Margin calls — U.S. talks Alpine variables

Not one of them won an Olympic downhill gold medal.

It’s pretty wild, if you think about it. It would be like taking the nine fastest sprinters of the last 25 years and not one of them wins an Olympic gold in the 100m. The Olympic downhill was once the place to elevate the greatest downhill skiers — Franz Klammer, Jean Claude Killy, Toni Sailer, Bernhard Russi — into legendary figures.

MORE: Bode Miller disappointed, but dealing

But now — randomness rules. In Torino in 2006, for instance, France’s Antoine Deneriaz won gold. It was the only international downhill race he ever won. The great Michael Walchhofer, two-time defending World Cup champion, settled for the silver, the only downhill medal he ever won.

In 1998, France’s Jean-Luc Cretier won the downhill. It was HIS only international victory. Hermann Maier, like more than a dozen others, crashed on the seventh turn and could not finish. Maier won gold medals in the super-G and the giant slalom in his career. But the downhill always eluded the Herminator.

In 1994 it was American Tommy Moe, and, right, he never won a World Cup downhill race either. Franz Heinzer — who, as mentioned, had won three World Cup titles in a row — crashed. Two years earlier, Heinzer finished sixth.

Sunday, everyone was looking to Bode and Svindal and Adrien Theaux of France. They are the best in the world. Miller was the most intriguing of the bunch; though he’s 36 and has been written off, he had been awe inspiring in training. Two out of three sessions, he had finished with the fastest training time. After his breathtaking Saturday session, Kjetil Jansrud of Norway issued a quote on Miller’s run was blunt and to the point: “There’s not much to say besides it was epic.”

“It’s a f-ing real course,” Miller explained, as only Miller can explain.

MORE: Matthias Mayer restores Austrian pride

Then, Sunday, a 23-year-old named Matthias Mayer went out early on that bleepin’ real course and put up a pretty good time. He didn’t think it was THAT good a time, but then nobody really expected much of him. Mayer is the son of Helmut Mayer, the 1988 silver medalist in the super-G, and he’s considered a bit of a skiing phenom but so far he had not done much in the downhill. He had never won an international race.

Miller went four skiers later. He would say something about the sun going down on him and that causing some issues. He would say that the middle of the course just slowed down. Then, this is the deal with the downhill. No mercy. He was faster than Mayer at the top of the track but he slowed, he had a brush with a gate, and he simply could not find enough speed. His run certainly FELT dangerous. But it was a half second slow.

Svindal went shortly after Miller. He too could not find enough speed to get on the medal stand. Theaux followed and could not come close. The only one who did come close to Mayer was Italian Christof Innerhofer who is worth mentioning because he’s also an Armani swimsuit and ski wear model, plays the stock market, and takes painkillers for his back every single day so he can continue to ski. THAT is a downhill skier. He fell six-hundredths of a second short.

MORE: What makes Bode great after all these years?

And the times got slower and slower after that. Mayer won gold. It made him the fourth man since 1994 to win his first downhill event at the Winter Olympics.

“It’s tough when you have to judge yourself because the clock doesn’t really seem to judge you fairly,” Miller said when it ended.

That’s the downhill at the Olympics. It’s thrilling. It’s terrifying. It’s magnificent.

And it does not even pretend to be fair.

Kristi Yamaguchi tells Nancy Kerrigan to ‘break a leg’ on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Getty Images
1 Comment

Kristi Yamaguchi told Nancy Kerrigan to “break a leg” on her “Dancing with the Stars” debut in an innocent good-luck tweet between friends that generated plenty of reaction.

“So excited for you @NancyAKerrigan ! Can’t wait to see you grace that ballroom floor, break a leg! #DWTS,” was posted on Yamaguchi’s account Monday morning.

It generated more than 6,000 likes, 3,000 retweets and 1,000 replies, many referencing the horrible attack on Kerrigan before the 1994 U.S. Championships (where Kerrigan’s knee was bruised, but not broken).

Yamaguchi’s spokeswoman says in a statement that “Kristi loves Nancy” and “no ill will was intended,” according to The Associated Press.

The tweet conjured memories of T-shirts sold leading up to the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics with the words “Harding-Kerrigan” on the front and “Norway ’94, Break a Leg!!!” on the back, reported by major media 23 years ago.

Yamaguchi and Kerrigan shared world championships and Olympic podiums in 1991 and 1992 (Yamaguchi winning both times; Kerrigan with bronze).

They remain friends. Kerrigan said she spoke with Yamaguchi, a past “Dancing with the Stars” winner, about the experience, according to TeamUSA.org.

“I said to Kristi, ‘You’ve seen me at shows, Kris, how demanding is it?’” Kerrigan said, according to the report. “She said it’s very demanding, but you have to do it. She’s like, ‘You’ve been through worse, you have to do it, it’s such a great experience.’”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Nancy Kerrigan’s first ‘Dancing with the Stars’ waltz

World Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen
Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports will air coverage of every event at the World Figure Skating Championships starting Wednesday in Helsinki, Finland.

The U.S. could have its best world team in more than a decade, led by 17-year-old phenom Nathan Chen, 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner and the past two world silver medalists in ice dance.

Results in Helsinki are key, given they determine how many entries each nation gets for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

Entries | Daily Schedule

Chen, the youngest U.S. champion in 51 years, has the highest total score in the world this season, achieved at the most recent top-level event, February’s Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea.

He’s a threat to become the first U.S. men’s medalist since Evan Lysacek took gold in 2009. The field is perhaps the deepest of all time, featuring Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain and three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada.

Wagner’s goal is to make the podium against a women’s field that includes Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, trying to become the first woman to repeat as world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

In ice dance, 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada are the favorites in their first worlds appearance since 2013. Two U.S. couples, Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, finished second and third at worlds last season and are again medal contenders in Helsinki.

In pairs, Canada has the two-time reigning world champions in Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, but they were beaten at their last two international events. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim hope to become the first U.S. pair to finish in the top six since 2011.

All broadcast coverage on NBC and NBCSN will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Scimeca Knierim details life-threatening condition

Date Time (ET) Program Network
Wednesday, March 29 4:40 a.m. Women’s Short Icenetwork.com*
12 p.m. Women’s Short NBCSN, Streaming
2 p.m. Pairs Short NBCSN, Streaming
Thursday, March 30 6:10 a.m. Men’s Short Icenetwork.com*
11 a.m. Men’s Short NBCSN, Streaming
1 p.m. Pairs Free NBCSN, Streaming
Friday, March 31 5 a.m. Short Dance Icenetwork.com*
1 p.m. Women’s Free NBCSN, Streaming
8 p.m. Short Dance NBCSN, Streaming
Saturday, April 1 4:50 a.m. Men’s Free Icenetwork.com*
10:35 a.m. Free Dance Icenetwork.com*
12:30 p.m. Men’s Free NBCSN, Streaming
2:30 p.m. Free Dance NBCSN, Streaming
8 p.m. Women’s Free NBC, Streaming
Sunday, April 2 2 p.m. Exhibition Gala NBCSN, Streaming
Sunday, April 9 3 p.m. Recap NBC, Streaming

*For Icenetwork.com subscribers.