SOCHI, Russia — Perhaps Vladimir Putin could have promised them the Olympic oval, bubble-wrapped and airlifted to Amsterdam, as a souvenir in exchange for a dozen medals of various colors. The Dutch long-track speedskaters already have 16 medals, more than every entire country but the US and Russia, and they’re likely to collect another half-dozen before the organizers turn off the Zamboni on Saturday night.
The Orange Crush went an astounding 1-2-3-4 in Sunday evening’s women’s 1,500 meters, their third sweep of the Games. If the Netherlands, whose medal tally of 17 is one ahead of the Americans and Russians, had a few X Gamers, it probably could top the table here. That’s how the US is likely to have done it when the XXII Winter Games conclude here Sunday evening. The Yanks have collected four golds, four silvers, and eight bronzes in six sports, and they could pick up at least 14 more medals, half of them gold.
While the US tally won’t be nearly as hefty as it was projected to be due to their also-ran bunch of speedskaters, the US still figures to win the overall medal count again. The final seven days of competition should yield four in bobsled, three more in freestyle skiing, two each in ice hockey and Alpine skiing, and one apiece in ice dancing and snowboarding.
What’s notable in the Americans’ case is that all of their golds have come from athletes, three of them slopestylers, who definitely needed an introduction to the folks in living rooms back home — Kaitlyn Farrington, Sage Kotsenburg, Jamie Anderson, and Joss Christensen. At this point, the marquee names and those who’d been hyped for historic breakouts haven’t delivered.
Bode Miller, who’d won an Alpine medal of every color in Vancouver to go with his two silvers from Salt Lake City, was delighted to share a bronze medal in Sunday’s super-G. Shaun White finished off the snowboard podium in his bid for a record third consecutive title in the halfpipe and speedskater Shani Davis was nowhere near it in his three-peat bid in the 1,000 meters. And Kikkan Randall, bidding to become the first US woman to win a cross-country skiing medal, went out in the sprint quarterfinals then finished 12th in her leadoff relay leg as her teammates came in ninth.
Not that the Americans were alone in having their big guns fall short of expectations. Patrick Chan, the three-time world champion in figure skating who had a terrific chance to be Canada’s first men’s champion, stumbled into silver. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, the global champion and World Cup leader in the downhill, finished out of the medals. Latvia’s Martins Dukurs, who’d won skeleton Cups in four countries this season, was beaten by Russian homeboy Alexander Tretiakov. And the Russian men’s hockey team, playing its first Games in the Motherland, lost to the Americans and was taken to a shootout by the winless Slovaks.
This has been a Games where the stars’ sponsors could have saved a bundle by having them compete on commission. The US team has so much breadth and depth that it can afford to have a bunch of contenders miss the podium. The speedskaters figured to get at least half a dozen medals with Davis and sprinters Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe. They haven’t come close to even one. Ted Ligety, the reigning world champion in the super combined, finished 12th.
The women’s curling team, which had a good chance at a breakthrough bronze, already has been eliminated. And the lugers, with a strong shot in the new team relay, placed sixth. Elsewhere, though, the Americans have picked up multiple unforeseen pieces of shiny hardware.
It didn’t seem likely that Miller and Andrew Weibrecht both would make the podium again in the super G, but they did. Nobody predicted a sweep in the men’s freestyle slopestyle, but Christensen, Gus Kenworthy, and Nick Goepper produced one. And a couple other potential medals that the Yanks hoped would fall their way did — the bronzes from Erin Hamlin in luge and Matt Antoine in skeleton.
For the most part the people that the US had been counting on cashed their chances — Julia Mancuso in the super combined, Noelle Pikus-Pace in the skeleton, the figure skaters (including Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir from the Skating Club of Boston) in the inaugural team event. But nobody has come through like the freestylers and snowboarders, who’ve contributed more than half the total.
Topping the table in the day of the IOC’s all-you-can-eat smorgasbord demands diversity. The Canadians, who ramped up in multiple sports in their quest to “Own The Podium’’ in Vancouver four years ago, have continued to spread out their bets. They’ve medaled in half a dozen disciplines already — figure skating, Alpine and freestyle skiing, long and short-track speedskating, and snowboarding — and will pick up more in hockey and curling as well.
Which is why what the Dutch have done with their long blades here is so remarkable. The Hans Brinkers from Hades always have been dominant in the distances but when they swept the podium in the men’s 500 it was a sign of the apocalypse inside Adler Arena.
The Netherlands, which had hoped to win a total of nine medals in all sports here, already has equaled its combined haul from the last two Games. Its 16 in long-track surpassed the single-sport record of 14 set by Austria’s Alpine skiers in 2006. “I have a feeling that only the Dutch team is training,” mused Russian skater Yekaterina Lobysheva, “and the rest of the world is just coming into the Olympics.”
The Dutch are considered so much of a lock to sweep Tuesday’s men’s 10,000 that Russia’s Ivan Skobrev, the Vancouver runner-up, and the entire Norwegian team have pulled out of the event to save their wind for the team pursuit, where the rules say that the Netherlands only can win one medal.
The Orange gold rush figures to end there but it’s a motherlode by any measure. If the Dutch want to leave a few medals behind for their hosts on the way out, Putin may well toss in Stalin’s dacha and a few cases of caviar.