SOCHI, Russia — Maybe the USOC should have tossed Vic Wild a few more bucks when he was snowboarding in White Salmon, Wash., so he wouldn’t be tempted to slalom for rubles for the Motherland.
Or maybe US Speedskating should have hooked up a few Dutchmen with potential American mates on Match.com. Half a dozen extra medals would have kept Uncle Sam on top of the Olympic table here.
While the Yanks had their best overseas Winter Games with 28, that was five fewer medals than the host Russians collected and four fewer golds. And it was nine fewer overall than they collected in 2010 even though the US picked up that many from events that weren’t on the Vancouver program.
The bulk of the haul was produced by the X Gamers, the Alpine skiers and the sledders and sliders.
The shortfall came because the long-trackers had what Shani Davis, mimicking the Comic Book Guy on “The Simpsons,” called the “Worst Olympics Ever,” coming up empty for the first time since 1984. And the Nordics and biathletes, who’d shown potential for several medals, left here emptyhanded.
A sport-by-sport assessment, with medals in parentheses:
Alpine skiing (5): They didn’t match the eight that they collected in Whistler last time but the Yanks got what they were supposed to and then some. Ted Ligety was the first US male to win the giant slalom and teenager Mikaela Shiffrin the first American woman to claim the slalom since Barbara Cochran in 1972.
Andrew Weibrecht and Bode Miller won silver and bronze again in the super-G and Julia Mancuso picked up a bronze in the combined. A solid fortnight’s work.
Bobsled (4): No golds this time but nobody’s arguing with a quartet of medals. Steve Holcomb’s bronzes in the two-man and four-man — by a combined six-100ths of a second — marked the first time since 1952 that the Americans made the podium in both events. And the silver and bronze from Elana Meyers and Jamie Greubel were the first multiple medals for the women. A creditable haul, all in all.
Biathlon (0): When world medalist Tim Burke came down with a sinus infection after the World Cup season any chance for a podium breakthrough vanished. But the stop-and-I’ll-shoot brigade still made significant progress here. Lowell Bailey’s eighth in the 20k was the best individual finish ever by an American, as were Susan Dunklee’s efforts in the mass start (11th) and sprint (14th), and the women’s (seventh) in the relay. They’re not scaring the Norwegians yet, but the Yanks finally are in the vicinity.
Cross-country skiing: (0): After a team gold at last year’s world championships and her sprint success on the World Cup circuit, the Americans were poised for Kikkan Randall to do for the women what Bill Koch did for the men at Innsbruck in 1976. But Randall didn’t make it out of the quarters and she and Sophie Caldwell, who was sixth in the sprint, were eighth together. The US males didn’t do much — 26th in the 50K by Noah Hoffman was the highlight — but that’s nothing new.
Curling (0): The men, who had to survive a last-chance qualifying tournament to be here, didn’t figure to do much and they didn’t as John Shuster’s rink won one match and finished ninth of 10. But Erika Brown’s bunch, which was loaded with former Olympians, figured to contend for a medal. They lost eight of nine matches, including an 11-2 stoning from the Koreans in the finale, and finished dead last. “I wish we could start over again,” said vice-skip Debbie McCormick. Maybe it’s time to naturalize a few Manitobans.
Freestyle skiing (7): If they were their own country, they would have finished 17th in the medal count. Golds from David Wise and Maddie Bowman in the halfpipe, the men’s slopestyle sweep with Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy, and Nick Goepper, and the silver from Devin Logan, plus Hannah Kearney’s moguls bronze made for an embarrassment of riches. If they can get the aerialists back on the podium and the ski crossers up to speed, the freestylers will have the goods to march under their own banner next time.
Figure skating (2): The skaters performed as predicted. Meryl Davis and Charlie White won an unprecedented gold in the dance, the team picked up an inaugural bronze, and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir’s ninth place in pairs was an improvement over last time. But the men and women both missed the podium for the first time since 1936 and that was no coincidence. They’ve been on a downward spiral since Vancouver. Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds had promising debuts here but the men still are a couple of Lysaceks shy of a medal. Ninth and 12th don’t make it at Olympus.
Ice hockey (1): For a giddy moment, an historic twin gold was more than a fantasy. The women led the Canadians by two goals with less than four minutes left in the final and the men stormed into the medal round as the tournament’s best team. But the women lost in overtime and the men never scored again, losing to defending champion Canada and treating the bronze-medal game with the Finns like a Beanpot consolation. In the end, a double deflation.
Luge (1): Erin Hamlin’s bronze, the first medal by an American woman, was a pleasant surprise against a tough field. But the men were left well up the track. Chris Mazdzer, who had an outside shot at the podium, finished 13th, the worst men’s placement since 1984, and Christian Niccum’s and Jayson Terdiman’s 11th in the double was the poorest showing since 1988. When a couple of 40-year-old Europeans can win medals, there’s no reason the US males can’t be in the chase.
Nordic combined (0): They mined a motherlode in Vancouver with a gold and three silvers after having come up empty for 86 years. It was plenty of nothing this time, though, as Bill Demong went from first to 31st in the same event and flagbearer Todd Lodwick, who arrived here with a broken shoulder, was limited to the team competition, in which the Yanks went from silver to sixth. It’ll be a construction zone heading into Pyeongchang.
Snowboarding (5): Sage Kotsenburg? Jamie Anderson? Kaitlyn Farrington? The X Games pipeline keeps pumping out precious metal. The Americans claimed both of the new slopestyle events with Kotsenburg and Anderson, picked up the customary couple in halfpipe with Farrington’s gold and Kelly Clark’s bronze, and got a bronze from Alex Deibold in snowboard cross. Shaun White didn’t get his three-peat but it didn’t matter. There are plenty more where he came from, dude.
Ski jumping (0): If Sarah Hendrickson hadn’t torn up a knee in practice last summer she likely would have won the debut women’s event. Just making it here was a personal triumph (she was 21st), but Hendrickson was nowhere near medal form and her teammates weren’t at podium level. The men finished around where they usually do — 35th place by Nick Fairall and 10th in the team.
Skeleton (2): Persistence paid off for sliding mom Noelle Pikus-Pace, who came out of retirement after just missing a medal in Vancouver and collected a silver this time as Katie Uhlaender was four-100ths from the bronze. Matt Antoine’s bronze on the men’s side was no surprise, but still satisfying. After two Games away from the podium, it was a great double for Uncle Sam’s belly-floppers.
Speedskating (0): A head-scratching disaster. They figured to pick up at least half a dozen medals between Davis and the women’s sprinters. They ended up skunked. How did a team that won more than two dozen medals during the World Cup season end up on the far side of the podium? The “superfast” skinsuits weren’t. Training outdoors in the Italian mountains for an indoor sea-level competition on slow ice made little sense, but it’s more likely that the Yanks simply peaked too soon. The Dutch, who won 23 medals, figured out that nothing before February matters in an Olympic year.
Short-track speedskating (1): With Apolo Anton Ohno and Katherine Reutter retired and the 2012 coaching scandal still reverberating, the Americans didn’t figure to do much here so a silver by the men’s relay, the best showing since 1994, was an encouraging sign of resurgence. What the helmet-heads most need now is depth and stability.