The Vancouver Winter Olympics are over and I have to say that the big winner is not the Americans who broke the record for total medals or the Canadians who won fourteen golds including a couple in that chase-the-puck sport. No, the big winner was NBC which decided to show a bunch of sports where Americans were not expected, nor did they win, any medals.
NBC's flagship station showed almost all the cross country ski events and most of the biathlon events as well. The competition was excellent regardless of the country of origin of the protagonists. I hope this is a sign of things to come from NBC in future Olympics.
Undoubtedly, the most dominating performance at the Games was Shaun White in Half Pipe Snowboard. Even though this is a judged sport, there was absolutely no question who was the best athlete out there. White is at another level. There is a real possibility that he will be able to break the bond of earth's gravity by the time he competes at Sochi in 2014.
The breakthrough performance of the Games goes to the Men's Nordic Combined team which won four medals, one gold and three silvers, in three events. The USA's men's team typified what the Olympics are all about. Hopefully, the success of the team will inspire young competitors to enter the sport.
When it comes to judging, Apollo Anton Ono was robbed of a medal in the men's 500m. Ono got disqualified for putting a hand on the skater in front of him. The Canadian referee somehow "missed" the hand the Canadian skater put on the South Korean which won him the gold. If you have rules, they should apply to all the athletes not just the ones that aren't from the same country as the referee.
I was pleased to see Steve Holcomb and his four-man bobsled team take gold in that event. After a disappointing showing in the two-man competition he rebounded to dominate and win the gold going away. Redemption is always sweet. Doing it at the Olympics is even sweeter.
I am not going to comment on the opening or closing ceremonies. The pageantry that is the Olympics is better left for the viewer to watch and judge. I am just glad that the organizing committee choose Neil Young to sing instead of Celine Dion or Anne Murray. Good call.
I have to get one dig in at NBC. Jerry Seinfeld's new show, The Marriage Ref, stinks. It is not funny and the couples who are judged on the show have nothing compelling about them to generate any interest about their lives. Shame on NBC for using the Olympics to plug such a flawed concept.
Do the Olympics get any better than what we saw on Wednesday night? There was drama. There was dominance. There was good old hard work paying off. It was not just about America's three gold medals, how about Julia Mancuso's return to the form that won her a gold medal in the Giant Slalom at the 2006 Torino Games?
Since Torino, Julia has been less than spectacular on the alpine skiing circuit. To see her back on the podium (flash update: she took sliver in the Super Combined on Thursday) was great. We all have to learn to never give up. Take a lesson from Julia.
Let's start the Wednesday with Lindsay Vonn's dramatic win in the Downhill. That course had more bumps than the stock market. Add in the immense pressure Lindsey put on herself with the Sports Illustrated cover and the bathing suit photos and I am guessing that her shin injury was as much psychological as physical. In her defense, we all know the Olympics are a pressure cooker and it was clear after Lindsey's run that she was definitely over the boiling point emotionally.
With one gold medal around her neck hopefully she can relax a bit and take some of that pressure off her shoulders. (flash Update: Lindsay fell in the slalom of the Super Combined, but that's OK. Her next big race is the Super G).
How about Shani Davis in the men's 1000m speed skating? The ice in Vancouver looks to be pretty slow, but Shani put all doubts aside and skated his race to win gold. Just like ski racing, speed skating, especially the shorter events, are won by hundredths of a second so any little mistake can cost an athlete dearly. That is why there are so few repeat winners in the Olympics in the skiing events and the shorter distances (500m, 1000m) in speed skating.
Last but not least, how about Shaun White? Snowboard Halfpipe is a judged event which means there can be controversy at any moment. But, the Fying Tomato was so much superior to his competitors that there was absolutely no question who was the best boarder on that pipe. Shaun is only 23 which means you probably won't get more than even odds for the winner of this event in Sochi in 2014.
One last thing. More props to NBC for showing almost all of the men's and women's cross country sprint races on their afternoon show. The afternoon show is turning out to be a great place to watch some of the non-mainsream sports like cross country skiing and biathlon. Keep it up NBC!