Gold? Bronze? Olympic “success” depends on the athlete (among other things)

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Steven Holcomb’s bronze-medal celebration Monday night brought to mind a vivid memory — his gold-medal celebration from four years ago.

“About the same,” Holcomb said of a boisterous fist-pumping, man-hugging reaction. “We didn’t even make it to the finish, and we were getting hounded by our teammates.”

Gold in one event one year. Bronze in another event four years later. The medals were different, but the celebrations were about the same.

Both were incredible achievements by Holcomb, who has now won Olympic and world medals in both the two- and four-man competitions. He is a trailblazer.

VIDEO: Watch Team USA’s bronze-medal run

He’s also a reminder that the definition of success at an Olympics is layered and largely brought on by subjective perception and expectation. The medal standings are growing with importance as the Games go through the final week.

What will make for a “successful” Olympics for the U.S.?

  • Winning more medals than Vancouver, when Americans took 37 of them, the most ever for one nation at a Winter Games?
  • Winning the overall medal count for the first time at a non-North American Winter Games?

It’s a nuanced question. First, let’s look at Holcomb.

  • He held onto bronze by .03 of a second after the fourth and final run in teeth-chattering conditions at the Sanki Sliding Center.
  • Holcomb, with brakeman Steve Langton, ended a 62-year U.S. Bobsled drought for the second straight Olympics.
  • In 2010, he became the first American to win four-man gold since 1948.
  • In 2014, he became the first American to win a two-man medal of any color since 1952.
  • Not only is Holcomb the reigning Olympic four-man champion, he also entered these Games as the season-long World Cup champion in the two-man.

“I don’t have any Olympic medals in two-man, so to finally come away with a bronze, I’ll take gold, silver, bronze,” he said. “We were just here to win a medal. I know we were the gold-medal favorites coming in.”

Pause right there. Gold-medal favorites. The Associated Press and Infostrada tapped Holcomb for two-man gold. Sports Illustrated picked him for silver.

WATCH: Holcomb, Langton make U.S. history in bobsled

Olympic medal predictions don’t have high success rates, but Holcomb knew the perception was there that he had a shot at gold.

Holcomb clarified, saying he didn’t consider himself the gold-medal favorite because talented Russian Aleksandr Zubkov had a home-track advantage, enough of an edge to make up for the fact he ranked well behind Holcomb in the World Cup standings.

In bobsled, track experience is critical. Holcomb dominates in places like Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah, where he’s taken more runs than a guy like Zubkov. His success rate outside North America is not as great.

So for Holcomb to win a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics, beating another Russian sled by .03 for that last medal, that’s worthy of celebration.

The 62-year drought? As is equated so often in sports, Holcomb wasn’t around for most of that time. But it speaks to how tough it was for the U.S. to break through in a sport long dominated by European nations.

Perception and reaction has varied across sports and athletes in Sochi. The U.S. speed skaters haven’t performed to expectations. Snowboarders and skiers have surprised.

Shaun White was a gold-medal favorite and finished fourth. Disappointment.

Hannah Kearney was a gold-medal favorite and won bronze, an upset she handled with grace (as did White). Bode Miller looked strong in training and then finished eighth in the downhill. He rebounded and tied for an emotional bronze in the super-G.

If the U.S. women’s hockey team wins silver, you can bet players will shed tears, and they won’t be of joy. How will people react if Ted Ligety wins silver in the giant slalom? If Mikaela Shiffrin wins silver in the slalom? How will Ligety and Shiffrin react?

Then there’s Dutch speed skater Koen Verweij.

The Dutch speed skaters have been seen as the epitome of dominance in Sochi, winning 16 medals. Here’s what their star, Sven Kramer, said Monday about Verweij, who missed gold by .003 of a second in the 1500m.

“What annoys me is that people blame him for not being happy with the silver,” Kramer said. “It’s good that he was unhappy. It’s top sport, and top sport is about winning.”

All medal reactions are not equal.

The U.S. won two medals on Monday to bring its total to 18 for the Olympics. There’s almost no chance it tops the 37 from Vancouver, even with more events at these Olympics than four years ago.

At the same time, it is tied with Russia for the overall medal lead. It is one medal ahead of the Netherlands and three medals ahead of Canada and Norway. The U.S. also could win a medal on every day of the Winter Olympics, which it has never done. (OK, so that’s a novelty stat.)

But with six days left of competition, the U.S. is in the running to win the overall medal count for the first time at a Winter Olympics held outside North America.

What will be a success? It’s hard to say, but Holcomb seemed pretty thrilled to contribute to the U.S. tally Monday night.

“Obviously, everybody here wants to win,” he said. “We’re happy to be in that hunt.”

Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03:  Former figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton onstage during A Capitol Fourth - Rehearsals at U.S. Capitol, West Lawn, on July 3, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts)
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Olympic figure skating champion Scott Hamilton said he was diagnosed with a benign pituitary brain tumor for a third time.

Hamilton, who took gold in Sarajevo in 1984, underwent chemotherapy to treat testicular cancer in 1997 and was twice previously diagnosed with brain tumors and had surgery, in 2004 and 2010.

“I didn’t have any symptoms, I just went in for my normal check-up, and they found the beginnings of the brain tumor coming back,” the 58-year-old Hamilton said. “I have a unique hobby of collecting life-threatening illness. … It’s six years later, and it decided that it wanted an encore.”

From People magazine:

Hamilton learned of the tumor at a routine check-up and is currently exploring all his treatment options before symptoms begin presenting.

“I’ll tell anybody that will listen: If you’re ever facing anything, get as many diagnoses as you possibly can,” he says. “The more you truly understand what you’re up against, the better decision you’re going to make.”

Hamilton was in New York on Friday to promote U.S. Figure Skating’s “Get Up” campaign.

“It’s all about shrugging it off, whatever’s going on, whether it be bullying at school, whether it be a setback in health, you just get up,” Hamilton said. “Not only to bring the young people that love skating together, but to bring the broader population into the fold.”

Hamilton said that surviving cancer was the moment in his life that he most associated with the “Get Up” campaign.

“Chemotherapy for months was devastating, but it’s endurable,” Hamilton said. “I don’t want to scare anybody from being treated for cancer, because I’m here, 20 years later, but the surgery afterwards was 38 staples, and I’m a little person. Getting up, getting back on the ice and performing again, quickly, was kind of my ‘Get Up’ moment.”

MORE: 2016-17 figure skating season broadcast schedule

Michelle Kwan works long hours for Hillary Clinton campaign

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 02:  Michelle Kwan presents the award for Female Athlete of the Paraylmpic Games at the USOC Olympic Committee Best of U.S. Awards Show at the Warner Theatre on April 2, 2014 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for the USOC)
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Michelle Kwan says the first time she met Hillary Clinton was April 29, 1998, visiting the White House with the U.S. Olympic team, two months after the Nagano Winter Games.

Now, more than 18 years later, the two-time Olympic figure skating medalist is in the final days of trying to help get Clinton back to the White House.

She joined the campaign 16 months ago as a surrogate outreach coordinator, working with celebrity and politician endorsers. The list includes Katy Perry, Barbra Streisand, John Legend and Magic Johnson. If Kwan hasn’t spoken to them personally, she’s been in touch with their managers.

“Long hours,” Kwan said while rushing through the red carpet of the Women’s Sports Foundation awards in New York City on Wednesday.

Kwan, 36, appeared at the awards with other female sports stars such as Billie Jean King, Laila Ali and a host of Olympic champions. She had to jet early, however, to attend a watch party for the third and final presidential debate between Clinton and Donald Trump.

Clinton has a unique relationship with the Olympics.

She sat next to Florence Griffith-Joyner in the frozen stands in Kvitfjell, Norway, at the Lillehammer 1994 men’s downhill. Clinton attended the start of the 1996 Olympic torch relay in Olympia, Greece. And she gave a speech for the failed New York City 2012 Olympic bid at an International Olympic Committee session in Singapore in 2005.

In 2006, Kwan was appointed the first U.S. public diplomacy envoy by then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Kwan continued in that role when Clinton succeeded Rice and then got what she called her “first real job” with the State Department, senior adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs, after earning her master’s degree in 2011.

She helped her husband, Clay Pell, in his 2014 Democratic bid for the Governor of Rhode Island. Pell finished third in his primary.

In the last year-plus, Kwan stumped for Clinton in at least 18 states, according to her social media logs. In speeches at universities or forums, she breaks the ice by remembering her experiences performing at nearby arenas. She knocks on doors and works the phones.

“Super fun,” Kwan has said, “and nerve-racking.”

Kwan hosted the Periscope of Clinton’s first campaign rally on Roosevelt Island just off Manhattan, not far from Kwan’s campaign headquarters desk in Brooklyn, on June 13, 2015.

“It really comes into play the skills that you learn in figure skating about determination, hard work, perseverance,” Kwan said on The Skating Lesson. “I think the schedule itself is kind of what was like training for the Olympic Games, the world championships. You wake up in the morning, determined, you have a set of goals, you organize, you’re just at it and you’re taking one day at a time. And then, before you know, it’s 7 o’clock at night.”

Kwan is documenting the last 100 days of the campaign on her Instagram. Where will she be posting from on Nov. 8?

“I can’t tell you that,” she said, smiling, on the red carpet Wednesday night.

MORE: 2016-17 figure skating season broadcast schedule