Sunday, February 16, 2014

Thoughts Midway Through

Semi-random thoughts now that the Olympics are a little more than half over:

The High Profile Disappointments
So much attention was given to the attempts by Shaun White and Shani Davis to win gold for the third straight Olympics -- and so little given to the fact that each of them was only one of many world class competitors gunning for the gold in their respective events -- that I had a hunch they would fail. Years of watching sports have taught me that when fans and media act like an outcome is preordained, said outcome usually does not materialize. Call it the "That's Why They Play The Games Effect."

Still, I never would have predicted that neither of them would earn any medal at all. Though their Olympic careers have been great, this was a very disappointing way for them to end. Perhaps one or both of them will make another run four years from now, but Old Man Time's merciless nature makes it unlikely.

A Less Obvious Disappointment
This one has nothing to do with the performance of any one athlete or team. Instead, it has to do with the reaction of our country's fans to our hockey team's preliminary round win over Russia. There is nothing wrong with trumpeting the stellar, four-goal performance of T.J. Oshie in the shootout. There is, however, quite a bit wrong with the way lots of people are trumpeting the win without acknowledging that there was something dubious about it.

Technically, the refs were correct to wave off Russia's third period goal that would have won the game for them in regulation. The refs were correct because the peg lodging the left goalpost to the ground was bent, resulting in the goal cage being microscopically off its moorings. Check out the picture below, which was taken several seconds before the disallowed goal, to see how insignificant it was. If you look close, you can see that the left post is a whisker back from the goal line compared to the right post:

2 15 2014 8 59 38 AM

Keep in mind that the post was still fastened to the ground and never became dislodged. The goal would have stood in the NHL, but international rules do not permit discretion in this instance, and therefore do not permit common sense. If Team USA had lost a game because of such a small and unimportant technicality, we would be screaming that we got robbed and agitating for the rule to be changed, and we would be right to do so.

A dumb rule does not suddenly become a good one when it delivers a benefit to your team. It remains a dumb rule all the same. If we are the paragons of sporting ethics that we claim to be, our reaction to Saturday's game should be nothing other than: "We caught a lucky break and then Oshie was brilliant and inspiring in the shootout, but it would be a crime if a game in the medal round gets decided by something like that."

Alpine Skiing
Overall, our results in the events collectively known as alpine skiing have been below expectations, but I don't see that as a reason to gnash our teeth. Every one of those events amounts to barreling recklessly down a steep mountainside with life and limb at risk, knowing full well that something as capricious as touching a two-inch area of differently compacted snow might slow you down by a mere fraction of a second that somehow drops you from first place to fifth.

When a country's alpiners make fewer trips to the podium than expected, that tends to be a function of the sport's nature as opposed to the skiers having choked under pressure. And it is not as if our guys and gals have given us nothing to cheer about, as evidenced by 36-year-old Bode Miller becoming the oldest person (by two years!) ever to medal in an alpine event.

Beware the Finns
Obviously I want Team USA to bring home the hockey gold. And I am fully aware that most people consider Canada to be the favorite because of its depth, while many others expect Russia to triumph because they are on home ice. Regardless, if I had to wager money on who will win gold, I would put my eggs in Finland's basket.

Like I pointed out in my previous post, it is Finland, not Canada, that has won the most hockey medals since NHL players started participating. The Finns have always been able to put a plethora of snipers and superb skaters on the ice; but with Tuukka Rask, Kari Lehtonen, and Antti Niemii between the pipes this year, they now have what I think is the strongest goaltending contingent at these games.

It baffles me that none of the sportswriters and sports anchors are talking about the Finns as gold medal contenders. I, for one, will not be the least bit surprised if they finish atop the podium.

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