Olympics recap: Ashley Wagner gets redemption, Sage Kotsenburg a gold
NBC’s primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics continued Saturday night with Bob Costas embracing viewers’ description of his post as the Fortress of Solitude and announcing that he’s still wearing his Clark Kent glasses because of his pinkeye. But which athletes would end the day feeling like Superman? Here’s a recap:
OLYMPIC STUD OF THE DAY: Sage Kotsenburg. The 20-year-old American snowboarder, pictured center, took gold in the inaugural slopestyle event by putting the “style” back in the sport’s name. Even if you couldn’t ID the tricks he was pulling — one of which, a 1620 Japan Air Mute Grab dubbed “The Holy Crail,” he’d never even done before his winning run — you could recognize them as unique from what the other riders were laying down. He was the most entertaining to watch before, during, and after a run, thanks to his penchant for sticking out his tongue (it’s charming on him) and for capping his performance with a circle carve on his way to the finish corral (where riders wait for scores). That said, Norway’s silver medalist Staale Sandbech, who has found a hair product to defy gravity, is also rather fun, as shown later in our list of the Top 5 reactions of the day. Bronze medalist Mark McMorris of Canada also makes that cut.
Other random thoughts: The more subdued palette on the U.S. riders’ patchwork competition uniforms works better than the bold pattern of their “opening sweatermony” ensembles. Slopestyle riders should get boxer brief endorsement deals, if they don’t. If you dug this event, check out ski slopestyle on Feb. 11 (the ladies) and Feb. 13 (the men). The U.S.’s Nick Goepper, the gold medal favorite, is already a winner in our book.
TWIZZLE TROUBLE: The team figure skating competition continued with short programs from the ice dancers and ladies. I enjoy watching ice dancing for three reasons: everyone’s creative lifts, the repeated use of the word “twizzles” (the name for the traveling side-by-side spins on one foot that are judged on speed and unison), and the chemistry between Canada’s reigning gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. If you watched the competition earlier in the day on NBCSN (which will continue to air every figure skating event live), you got to see them take the ice. The way he looks at her seems to make the crowd fade away and focus them on each other, and yet, once the program begins, they always sell it to the audience. There’s such an ease to their skating — the way they match curves and leg positions — that I literally gasped when she got off-balance on their twizzles. Apparently she’s been having the occasional problem this season.
Set to a romantic, swingin’ Ella Fitzgerald-Louis Armstrong medley, the program landed them in second behind their training mates, America’s gold medal favorites Meryl Davis and Charlie White, whose twizzles were perfect. Their dance, set to “I Could Have Danced All Night,” fit White’s joyous charisma (and wind-blown hair). Watch their full performance. The U.S. jumped to third in the team event.
ASHLEY WAGNER’S REDEMPTION: In case you hadn’t heard that Wagner’s inclusion on the Olympic team was controversial — she finished fourth at Nationals and the U.S. could send only three women to Sochi — NBC provided you with a nice catch-up video to establish her story line. She had to prove to herself (and to us) that she deserves to be there because she’s sexy, and edgy, and can skate cleanly. Her teammates looked nervous, frankly.
But she didn’t fall during her program (music: Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”). When she finished, she looked like this:
And then when she got her scores, which had a deduction for a two-footed under-rotated jump, she looked like this:
Wagner ended up finishing fourth, behind Russia’s insanely flexible 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya (watch this spin below); Italy’s Carolina Kostner, who Johnny Weir calls the Coco Chanel of figure skating for her elegance and attention to detail; and Japan’s Mao Asada, who attempted an ill-fated triple axel but was still captivating. Fifth place was Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond, who did the kind of sexy Fosse-esque number Katarina Witt would have loved (and anti-posing Dick Button would have hated).
Only the Top 5 countries after the short programs moved on to the free skate, and they were Russia, Canada, the U.S., Japan, and Italy, respectively. (Goodbye German cowbell that those of us watching live on NBCSN had come to
loathe love.) The pairs’ free skate was aired after midnight. While the U.S.’s Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir had great music (a Bond medley), they finished fourth. The Russian pair Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov skated to music from The Addams Family — snooze — but she won me over with her victory dance after they took top marks. Watch that below. The team event continues Sunday with the medals being decided after the men’s, ice dancing, and ladies’ long programs.
HANNAH KEARNEY’S LONG GOODBYE: Could the U.S.’s Kearney defend her ladies’ moguls gold? It seemed destined at first. But even though she was quickest and coolest in the super final run, she broke form with a kickout on one mogul, and it was enough to place her in third behind Canadian sisters Justine Dufour-Lapointe and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe. Kearney gave an interview afterward, and with red eyes, she admitted that she was thinking “bronze medalist” didn’t sound as good as “gold medalist,” especially since this is her last Games. “Now that my Olympic career is over,” she said, “the peak of my athletic career is in the past, and that’s a hard thing to handle.” Would she consider coming back in 2018? At that very second, she wanted to say yes, but no, she knows she doesn’t have another four years in her. Watching her be so honest and articulate what so many athletes must experience — that feeling of now what? — I almost burst into tears.
That brings us to…
The Top 5 Reactions of the Day
1. Canada’s 19-year-old Justine Dufour-Lapointe celebrates her moguls gold, loudly.
2. Kotsenburg, Sandbech, and Morris enter the record books as the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle medalists.
3. McMorris is “a ball of emotion” when asked about his road to Sochi, which involved fracturing a rib last month at the X Games, not making it directly into the Olympic finals from the qualifying round in Sochi, and having it come down to his second run in both the semis and finals.
4. The biathlon commentators realize one Norwegian favorite doesn’t have the juice to overtake his 40-year-old countryman Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who would ultimately win gold and become the oldest individual Winter Games medalist ever — as well as tie for having the most all-time Winter medals (12). Bob Costas mentioned the records, but should have shown this:
5. Women collapse after finishing their skiathlon event. I would’ve liked an even wider shot.
SNARKIEST BOB COSTAS COMMENT: “Understand what happened: If you were here in Russia, you saw replacement video from the rehearsal when it worked. They didn’t see the glitch, which American viewers saw.” — Costas dissecting the opening ceremony snowflake malfunction with Cris Collinsworth and Apolo Ohno