PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (CBS SF & AP) — Reno’s David Wise, the women’s hockey and cross country teams all won gold and alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin collected a silver medal in the most successful day so far for the U.S. team at the Winter Olympics.
Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins ended one of the longest medal droughts in recent U.S. Olympic history when they teamed up to outsprint more heralded teams from Sweden and Norway to win the gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle race.
It was the first ever gold medal in cross country skiing for the U.S. and the first medal since Bill Koch took home a silver in 1976.
“Hearing it out loud, it still doesn’t feel real,” Randall told reporters. “It’s what I’ve been working on for 20 years and with this team for the last five years and, wow, it’s just so fun to put it together tonight, finally.”
It took a shootout for the American women’s hockey team to top their hatred rivals — the Canadian women’s team — to win the gold.
On the sport’s biggest stage with all her teammates leaning eagerly over the boards watching Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s every move, the three-time Olympian came back to her forehand to finish off a dazzling, triple-deke move by sliding the puck into the net past the outstretched glove of Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados for the deciding goal in the sixth round of a shootout thriller.
“I knew when that went in that Maddie was going to stop the next one,” Lamoureux-Davidson said.
That would be 20-year-old goalie Maddie Rooney, who stuffed the last two Canadian shooters to wrap up a 3-2 victory that snapped the Americans’ 20-year gold medal drought and ended Canada’s bid for a fifth straight title in the first shootout in an Olympic women’s final.
The Americans piled over the boards, throwing gloves in the air before piling on top of Rooney on the ice — 20 years after their last gold medal in women’s hockey and 38 years to the day after the men’s famous “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet team in group play at Lake Placid.
“Joy’s the only word that comes to mind,” said Gigi Marvin, a three-time Olympian and at 30 the oldest American on the roster.
This victory capped a year that started with the Americans threatening a boycott of the world championships to secure more money and the same kind of treatment that USA Hockey gives to the men’s team.
“They should make a movie on it,” forward Hilary Knight said. “We had all the drama and everything. It’s sort of a storybook ending to an incredible series of accomplishments.”
It also was a cliffhanger for Wise.
He decided there was nothing left to lose when he stood atop a halfpipe that had sent one third of the 12 riders limping off with injuries, facing an all-or-nothing run after his ski bindings had failed him in his two previous trips down.
“We cranked my bindings up as high as they would go,” Wise said. “We’re like, ‘You know what, my leg’s coming off before the ski does.'”
The skis stayed on.
Wise put down the most difficult, technically precise run ever seen in the sport of halfpipe skiing. He edged out his Olympic roommate and fellow American, Alex Ferreira, to win his second straight Olympic gold medal. He and Ferreira gave the United States its fifth and sixth medals on the halfpipe — producing a glimmer of good news for a U.S. team that has struggled at these games.
In Seoul a few weeks ago, Wise and Ferreira huddled up and decided to get matching tattoos of the logo for the Pyeongchang Games on their arms. They were fitting tributes to all the work they put in and the suffering they endured on the road to South Korea.
“I certainly felt like I needed to do something epic to commemorate this journey, because it’s been a really hard struggle the last couple years,” Wise said. “I’ve been through a lot, and making the team for me was a lifetime accomplishment. Freeskiing won.”
Meanwhile, it was bittersweet day in the Alpine Combined for Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn — America’s two top female alpine skiers.
With the snow carefully descending under the artificial lights lining the course, the drama quickly dimmed. Vonn’s slalom lasted all of about 10 seconds before she went off-course, leaving Shiffrin in second place between two women from Switzerland: gold medalist Michelle Gisin and bronze medalist Wendy Holdener.
Gisin, whose older sister Dominique tied for first in the 2014 Olympic downhill, produced a total time of 2 minutes, 20.90 seconds that was 0.97 seconds better than Shiffrin’s. Holdener was nearly 1½ second off Gisin’s pace, turning in the fastest slalom after standing 10th after the downhill.
Shiffrin ranked sixth in the downhill, 1.21 seconds slower than Gisin, and wasn’t able to make up that large a deficit in her forte, the slalom, which was a much shorter track. The downhill took about 100 seconds; the slalom about 40.
“Clearly,” said Shiffrin’s coach, Mike Day, “the downhill didn’t go quite to plan.”
Still, Shiffrin added the combined silver to her giant slalom gold from a week earlier, giving her two medals — plus a surprisingly low fourth-place finish in the slalom — in three races. She arrived in South Korea to chatter about entering five, but after a series of weather-related schedule changes, wound up dropping two.
“It’s really nice to be at the end of it,” she said, “and know that I do have two medals.”
With her slalom gold from the 2014 Games, Shiffrin joins Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso as the only Americans with a medal in each of at least three Alpine disciplines.
“It’s like being a great butterflier, being a great breaststroker, being a great freestyler and being a great backstroker,” Day said. “There’s not many people who do all of those really well.”
Eight years ago, it was Vonn who went to the Vancouver Olympics accompanied by outsized anticipation and unrealistic speculation (by others) about four or five medals. She, too, came away with two, then missed the Sochi Olympics after tearing knee ligaments.
At what she has said must be her last Olympics because her oft-injured body cannot endure another four years, Vonn added a bronze on Wednesday in the downhill, one of the races Shiffrin elected to skip to conserve energy.
After Vonn’s slalom ended suddenly, she crossed paths with Shiffrin in the finish area. They had a brief exchange.
“I mean, it’s incredible what she’s able to accomplish. She’s so young and she approaches ski racing much different than pretty much anyone else,” Vonn said later. “I think she had potential to do a lot more at these Games, but at the same time — same like me, you can’t expect everything all the time.”
So, then, there they were as the sun settled behind the clouds, the temperature dipped and the last individual Alpine race of the Pyeongchang Games concluded. Yes, there is a team event Saturday, but neither Vonn nor Shiffrin is expected to enter, as is the case with the rest of the sport’s biggest names, who would prefer to take a break before returning to the World Cup circuit.
Shiffrin is the best female skier of today, chasing a second consecutive overall title; Vonn is the best female skier in history, just five World Cup race wins away from tying Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record of 86.
Tears gathered in Vonn’s eyes as she spoke about wishing she could be at Beijing in 2022, but knowing “that’s just not the way it is,” because, she explained, “My mind is still telling me I can do things that my body is telling me I can’t. ”
Shiffrin, smiling and chuckling, talked about “a mix of thoughts right now,” and her struggles with anxiety and internal pressures while dealing with postponements of the slalom and giant slalom, then the pushing up of the combined from Friday, making it all feel as if “someone was playing a game of ping-pong in my brain.”
Neither can possibly know what the future will bring, of course.
But Vonn offered some words of caution about Shiffrin, who for quite some time, fairly or not, has been labeled “The Next Lindsey Vonn.”
“She can ski for another 10 years and have a lot more medals and a lot more World Cups. But as I saw in my career, things can change quite quickly. You never know what’s going to happen,” Vonn said. “That’s why you have to appreciate every moment that you have, because ski racing has a way of taking a lot from you.”