vancouver games

The Koreans Cry Ohno, and They Mean It As an Exclamation, Not a Declaration

Aileen Gallagher is writing about the Winter Olympics every weekday for The Sports Section. She is smart.

It was an active weekend in Vancouver, but a much less active weekend for those of us who prefer watching athletes to being one. There were hours of events, and NBC skipped merrily from one to the other, save the interminable ski-jumping segment of the Nordic Combined on Sunday afternoon. The thrilling — no really! — last two minutes of the 10K cross-country skiing portion sort of made up for it, when Frenchman Jason Lamy Chappuis powered past the enviably named American Johnny Spillane.

If you watch the Olympics, your reactions are either (and only) an ejaculate of the “Holy Crap!” variety or a hushed, admiring “Wow!” Saturday night’s coverage was in the Holy Crap camp. Apolo Anton Ohno is the Michael Phelps of speed skating, but the Men’s 1,500-meter short track is so much more entertaining than swimming. Swimmers, to start, do not wear knives on their feet. And pools do not allow for so many crashes. (Editor’s Note: If swimmers crash, can anyone tell?) In the finals, Ohno shared the track with an American, J.R. Celski, who returned to the sport after gashing his leg to the bone with his own skate blade about five months ago. Three Korean skaters were also in the finals, and Koreans have hated Ohno ever since 2002, when a South Korean won the race but was later (questionably) disqualified for blocking the American.

On Saturday, the three Koreans were in the lead with Ohno and Celski trailing. Two of the Koreans took each other out in a Keystone Cops–esque collision, and Ohno and Celski slid into second and third place, respectively, after winner Lee Jung-Su. Ohno is now tied with Bonnie Blair, another speed skater, for most medals won by a U.S. Winter Olympian.

Women’s Freestyle skiing could be viewed only with iced knees and a clenched jaw, as your own body reacted to the 30-second punishment these skiers take voluntarily. American Hannah Kearney nudged past Canadian Jennifer Heil to take the gold, but we had trouble getting past the weird pajamalike uniforms the U.S. team wore. Constant cutaways of skiers hanging out on giant white beds (perhaps picked up at a Duvet fire sale) in between runs added to the notion that the women’s mogul event was really just an insane mountain slumber party with a particularly intense game of truth or dare.

Pairs figure skating captured the “Wow!” crowd, especially the long-term Chinese love story of married skaters Shen and Zhao. Though their long program had a few flaws, their short program was nothing short of perfect, and the combination of skill and artistry, with a hint of Valentine’s narrative, won them gold. Tong and Pang, another Chinese pair, won the silver with a particularly spectacular routine to “Dream the Impossible Dream.” (Their long program looked better, actually, but Olympic skating judges don’t award medals on performance alone.) Also, Dick Button is really mad about pairs skaters now being required to include grabbing and holding their own skate blade as part of the routine. Button didn’t elaborate on his distaste, but it does seem an unnecessary distraction.

Weekend Detritus

• If you are at all afraid of heights, roller coasters, or falling off cliffs into a rocky abyss, watch downhill skiing in HD at your peril.

• The cheering section at the Men’s Luge may want to reconsider including a bleating trombone at the conclusion of every race. It’s sad.

• That music you heard all weekend was Sia’s “Breathe Me,” a.k.a., that song from the Six Feet Under finale; part of The Road to Perdition score; and, curiously, the theme from CBS hit Cold Case.

• Overwrought sob story: Freestyle skiing gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau has an older brother with cerebral palsy.

• What to watch tonight: Men’s Super Combined Skiing, Women’s 500-meter roller derby Speed Skating, and Men’s Short Program (skating).

The Koreans Cry Ohno, and They Mean It As an Exclamation, Not a Declaration