PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Norway will leave the 2018 Olympics as the victor in the medals race, and United States Olympic Committee chef de mission Alan Ashley thinks the US can learn a thing or two from the Norwegians.
Norway won 39 medals, including 14 golds, to break the previous record of 37 set by the US in Vancouver in 2010. Cross-country skiing accounted for the majority of Norway’s medals with 14, and six more came in biathlon. Norway also medaled in six other sports, and won gold in six different sports.
“We’re going to look at the other countries, [and ask], ‘What are they doing?’ One of the things I’m curious about is that Norway had a runaway success here and they really did a great job preparing their athletes and I really admire them for that,” Ashley said Sunday. “I admire their athletes as well. I want to find out some things about what they’re up to.”
The US won 23 medals, its fewest at a Winter Olympics since 1998, when it won 13. The US medals came across 11 sports.
Ashley said the US was close to the podium in a variety of events, and his goal is to turn the fourth, fifth, and sixth places — he said the US had 35 such finishes — into top threes over the next four years.
He plans to start by gathering intel from the American athletes who competed in PyeongChang.
“I really want to sit down and get the feedback from the athletes about what sort of things they see in the field in the preparation of their competitors so we can learn from that and focus on some of those things moving forward, whether that’s in the areas of coaching, better training, better technology and innovation, more competition opportunities. You’ve just got to look at all those things as you go into this,” Ashley said.
The success of the female members of Team USA was a point of pride for the USOC. Women won 12 medals, men won nine, and two more came from mixed teams.
Meghan Duggan , the captain of the gold-medal winning US women’s hockey team, was proud of the way the medals standings turned out for the US.
“It’s been so empowering. I’m so proud to be a woman in this society and climate these days. I think this has been a fantastic Games for Team USA, certainly been a fantastic Games for women. As always, I’m really proud to be a woman, be a female and represent our team and our country,” Duggan said.
Bobsled silver medalist Elana Meyers Taylor embraced the notion of being a role model for young female athletes.
“Hopefully the little girls will look up to us and say they can achieve anything,” she said.
Ashley understood why some may view the US’s performance here as a disappointment — he said he, too, follows the medals standings daily during the Olympics — but was optimistic.
“I’m actually probably more encouraged now than I’ve ever been, because even though people can say, ‘Well, you didn’t hit your medal count, you didn’t get to the right level,’ look at the depth of our team and the number of individuals who were fourth through sixth, we had some incredibly close calls,” Ashley said.
Silence at the top
The USOC wrapped up the games with a closing press conference, but did not have any senior management in attendance. CEO Scott Blackmun did not attend the games because he is recovering from surgery to treat prostate cancer, and chairman Larry Probst was attending an International Olympic Committee meeting at the same time as the meeting with reporters.
Yet the USOC remains under heavy criticism for its handling of the Larry Nassar case, and some have called for changes at the top. Probst was available at the start of the games, but his answers to questions about the Nassar case left many with an empty feeling.
“We’ll have more communications on the serious issues facing sport and the US later this week,” USOC spokesman Mark Jones said.
The Russia issue
Two cases of failed drug tests by Russian athletes led the IOC to rule that the Russian flag would not fly at the closing ceremony on Sunday. Russian athletes competed under the Olympics flag and were called “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
US freeskiing gold medalist David Wise, when informed of the decision, agreed with it.
“Cheating’s cheating. I think any true competitor or true champion admires winning fairly more than winning in general. And some people get lost in that and they make winning their angle rather than winning well and winning with a conscience,” he said.
While Lindsey Vonn again said this would be her last Olympics, she thinks the future of Alpine ski racing in the US is on solid ground.
“I have a foundation, [The] Lindsey Vonn Foundation, and my mission is to empower and inspire the next generation of girls,” Vonn said. “I think we all do the best job that we can to filter down the success and the empowerment that we feel at the Olympics to the schools and the kids so they can achieve anything they set out to achieve.
“They can have those dreams and realize there is no glass ceiling.”
Vonn won one of the three medals the US won in ski racing. Mikaela Shiffrin won the other two.
“I won’t be racing in Beijing [2022 Olympic Winter Games], but I think we take seriously the responsibility of being role models and we will continue to do our best job and hopefully the next generation will do the same and we’ll continue down this path of empowerment,” she said.Follow Matt Pepin on Twitter at @mattpep15.