Hell of a night at the Olympics. Hell of a night.
*removes his gray poorboy cap, takes a long drag from a hand-rolled cigarette, blows the smoke out in a long stream, and shakes his head like he's never seen nothin' like it.*
Seriously, yesterday showed why the Olympics are so great. It's an overload of pressure, triumph, and horrible heartbreak. Let's start with the latter.
Lindsay Fucking Jacobellis
Somehow I didn't remember, or never knew, what happened with her in Torino. It was 2006, in the championship heat of the snowboard cross, and she had gold wrapped up. Two more jumps, and immortality was hers. And then she blew it, which you can see in this grainy, dark video:
It's hard to see there, but on the second-to-last jump, she tried an unnecessary trick in mid-air. For those that don't know the sport, snowcross is a straight race. First person to cross the line wins; there are no tricks, no style points. Nothing matters but speed. So Jacobellis tried that fancy move, and it set her off balance, and she crashed. This video shows the half-twist itself in better quality.
On one hand, she was just a kid, probably feeling a ridiculous amount of elation that after all the pressure, she was about to win gold. I can understand why she'd do it. On the other hand, it's indisputably one of the greatest Olympic fuck-ups of all time. In the sporting realm, it belongs up there with Van de Velde's '99 collapse at the British Open.
So this was supposed to be redemption. Vancouver would bring her the gold, and erase the demons. At least that's how NBC set it up, and repeated shots of her hopeful family in the stands hammered the point home. If you didn't see it, you can probably guess what happened; in the semifinal heat, she brushed boards with another competitor, careened to the bottom of the track, and went around the wrong side of a flag. Out of bounds, race over. And man, she was barely out of bounds. In snowcross, you can veer outside the course boundaries as long as you don't go on the wrong side of a flag. Jacobellis just slipped below, and it happened to be right at a flag spot (they're roughly 20 feet apart). Anywhere else, and she would have had plenty of time to correct and try to make the final two.
I've been watching The Wire with my girlfriend lately (her first time, my third), and there's a part where Bubbles and Johnny are lighting up in an abandoned row house, and Johnny goes out to buy more. He's only been out of the hospital, where he was recovering from getting beaten up for trying to pass off fake money, for a couple days, but right when he steps outside, the police pick him up and arrest him. Bubbles hears the altercation, and looks out the window in time to see Johnny get cuffed. "Man," he says, "that boy ain't got no luck."
Same with Lindsay. Hard, hard, hard to watch. To her credit, she put on a happy face for the post-race interview, but it couldn't have been easy. You can watch video of her race and interview here.
Yikes. Unlike Jacobellis, Abbott, a figure skater and the defending US Nationals champion, outright choked. He's only 24 years old, and this was his Olympic debut, but he does have pressure experience. Regardless, this couldn't have gone any worse. His triple axel became a single, his quad toe loop became a double, and he screwed up a lot of the dancing moves too. I knew this because it became the kind of routine where Scott Hamilton, former gold medalist and NBC commentator, just kept saying "oh no...ugh!"
There was a great sequence, after the two failed jumps, where Tom Hammond wondered whether Abbott was failing, and his two cohorts responded in full catty mode. I'm reproducing this from memory, but it's not far off:
Hammond: Is it fair to say Abbott's on the road to disaster?
Sandra Bezic: Oh, he's already there.
Hamilton: It's over.
Mix the pressure of the Olympics with the inherent drama of figure skating, and you will have these moments. It's fascinating viewing, but you can't help feeling sorry for the goats. Abbott's routine is here.
Okay, let's get on to the good stuff.
Another American figure skater, and the defending World Champion. He was considered America's best gold medal chance, and he knocked it out of the park. Just an inspiring performance all around; every jump nailed, the dance elements smooth and graceful, especially for such a big dude, and a performance brimming with intensity and confidence.
(For the record, I understand that some of this content is bringing my sexuality into question; so be it!)
He finished second at the end of the night, and is in position to challenge the Russian Plushenko for the gold in Thursday's long program. Lysacek's routine is here.
Okay, I'm not one to generally gush about the beauty of a figure skating routine. I'm always awed by the jumps, and the dance parts usually seem equal parts impressive and comical. You can usually describe the moves with terms like 'over-the-top' and 'flamboyant.' But holy shit, Lambiel's program was fucking beautiful. AND I'M NOT AFRAID TO SAY IT, MASCULINE AMERICA!
He only finished in fifth place because he screwed up a couple jumps, but the footwork and choreography of his routine was pure artistry. And completely awesome. Lambiel won the silver in Torino, and could contend for a bronze on Thursday if any of the top three make huge errors. You can watch his short program here. I'm also going to post a YouTube of the same routine from a January performance, in case your work blocks NBC video like mine. The whole thing is good, but the really good stuff starts at 1:45 when the William Tell Overture begins.
Yes, the entire event gets a vote of triumph. A lot of you probably missed it since NBC showed it at like 4:15, but holy shit, there is nothing more fun than this event. Exaggeration? Possibly. But when all the competitors ski into the shooting range, and their entire placement depends on if they can hit five targets in a row, it's a complete thrill. My fellow townsman Tim Burke was too far back to compete for a medal in the pursuit, but going into the last shooting range, roughly ten people could still have won. This particular event, the 12.5km pursuit, is the sport's most popular event, and it's easy to see why. Check out the replay here if you get a chance...it's awesome.
*Johnny Weir had a very nice routine to finish sixth after the short program. As usual, he was very effeminate and had a very 'loud' costume. In the end, though, he was overshadowed, and I don't think his jumping game is strong enough to compete for a medal.
*The Vancouver curse continues with screwed up start times in the biathlon. Also, as a commenter yesterday pointed out, a ton of people are falling in figure skating, way more than seems usual. Could there be a subtle ice problem? Perhaps caused by the 'green' zambonis? Wouldn't put it past them.
*The US and Canadian hockey teams got off to a fast start, each winning their first game. I watched a bit of the Canada-Norway game, and man, they had some pretty goals.
*I had a lengthy Olympic conversation with my friend Carrie yesterday, and she pointed out that snowboarding is the beach volleyball of the winter games. I thought this was an excellent analogy. Yesterday, I said it was like basketball, in the sense that I consider it an American sport in which we should win every gold medal. But beach volleyball works way better; both are sort of alternative variants to traditional sports, both started (presumably) in America, and both are seen as out of the mainstream and relatively cool.
We also came to the conclusion that they're sort of sneaky games; America developed them first, and kids here were getting awesome while the rest of the world slumbered in ignorance. Snowboarding? Beach volleyball? What the fuck? Then, when the awesome kids grew to competitive age, we snuck those events into the Olympics. That gave us like a ten year window where nobody could possibly compete with us, and even now we have a distinct advantage.
Carrie decided the Japanese were probably the most pissed at this, and I concluded that the Chinese care the least; their strategy of picking current sports that nobody else spends any money on, like pistol shooting, and training people to be awesome at them, is working fine.
*Tonight: Shaun White, who is impossible not to love, goes for gold in the snowboard halfpipe. The cross-country individual sprints happen too, which is always fun. Supposedly there will be skiing events, but who the hell knows. Shani Davis goes for gold in the 1000m. My mom and I have decided we don't like him. And there's short track gold at stake for the women. Believe me, I won't miss that.
Briefly, non-Olympic stuff:
*Duke plays in a huge trap game tonight at Miami. Just win, fellas, doesn't matter how.
*As I predicted, Mississippi State took Kentucky to the wire, finally succumbing in OT. Tonight, Purdue-Ohio St. in an interesting Big 10 clash.
Shine on, you crazy diamonds.