This Week in Betting, A-Z
by Trevor Whenham - 3/1/2010
In honor of the end of the 2010 Olympics, the entire A to Z will be dedicated to recounting the best of what was a pretty darned brilliant two weeks:
A - Austria. There are going to be a whole lot of unhappy people in Austria. Downhill skiing is a very, very big deal there, and it always shows in their results. Well, almost always - Vancouver was a disaster for them. In Turin they won 14 medals. They took home just four from Vancouver. Only one of those medals was gold, and none were won by men. This isn't the kind of thing that will be accepted - you can expect heads to roll.
B - Bode Miller. Miller is one of those guys you either love or hate. I like the guy. After flaming out so badly in Turin he knew that he had only this chance to redeem his reputation and cement his legacy. He certainly made the most of the opportunity. Miller won the gold medal he hadn't ever won, and added in a silver and a bronze for good measure. It seems highly unlikely that Miller's career will continue, but at least now he can rest assured that he'll be remembered as one of the greats.
C - Cross. Some sports are more exciting to watch than others. Among the highlights for my money were the cross events - ski cross and snowboard cross. If you missed out on these, think of roller derby on snow with a ton of really massive jumps thrown in. The format is perfect for casual viewers, too – four-person races with the first two across the finish line moving to the extra race in the bracket, and the last two going home. Great stuff.
D -Demong, Billy. One thing that's fascinating to watch during the Olympics is countries suddenly excelling in sports that they aren't traditionally strong in. Like the Americans and nordic combined, for example. The U.S. had never won a gold in any nordic event, but Demong ended that slump with a gold in the large hill event. The team didn't stop there, either - they were second in the team relay, and Johnny Spillane got silver in both individual events. The success was inspiring, but it doesn't take away from the fact that the combination of ski jumping and cross country skiing is nonsensical.
E - Evan Lysacek. It was quite a year for the American figure skater. A couple of years ago it looked like his career was on the decline. He found new life, though, and the gold medal he won in Vancouver goes with the world championship he currently owns. Lysacek didn't win without controversy - critics, including second-place finisher Evgeni Plushenko - said that he shouldn't have won without attempting a quad jump. Plushenko could have a point, but the fact is that he would have won if he had concentrated on doing anything other than the big jumps.
F - Finland. No team had a more topsy-turvy trip through the playoff round of the hockey tournament than this one. They started out by shutting down and shutting out the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. They entered the semis with high hopes, but the game was over almost before it started. In perhaps the worst 13 minutes in international hockey history, they gave up six goals to the Americans to start the game and then gave up. Their apathy continued for two periods in the bronze medal game, and they were behind 3-1 to Slovakia in the third. As suddenly and inexplicably as they collapsed in the semis they woke up with a vengeance in the third, scoring four goals to take the medal.
G - Germany. The German women won the gold in the team pursuit event in long track speed skating, but it didn't come simply. It's a three-person event, with all three skating at the same time, and the time ending for the team once all three have crossed the finish line. In the semifinal against the U.S., the Germans were cruising to a win when Anni Friesinger-Postma tripped and fell just feet from the finish line. She stopped short of the finish line, but had the sense to twist around and kick her skate across the finish line to stop the time and give her team a win by just 0.23 seconds.
H - Hockey. I'm a Canadian, so you know I am going to talk about the hockey a whole lot. Even if you don't share my giddiness about the ultimate result, though, you have to be in awe about this tournament. Not only did it gather the best players on the planet in one place, but it consistently delivered historic matchups, incredible games, and breathtaking drama. That, quite simply, was as good as hockey can be.
I - Immortal. Sidney Crosby already had quite a list of accomplishments - a Stanley cup and an MVP by the time he was just 22 - but he rose up to a whole new level with one shot on Sunday. Crosby scored the overtime winner to secure Canada's hockey gold medal and send his entire country into a frenzy. He'll never have to buy a beer again, and he has guaranteed he'll be talked about among a small list of national legends for all time.
J - Joannie Rochette. You would have to be completely heartless to not be deeply touched by this story. Coming into the games the Canadian figure skater was in a tough fight for a medal - she had a good look at a bronze, but only if she was at her best. Two days before her first skate her mother, who she was very close to, died of a heart attack at age 55. Despite the intense sorrow, Rochette skated an almost flawless short program before breaking into tears as the music ended. Two days later she skated very well again to earn that bronze and show the world just how tough she is.
K - Kevin Martin. Martin isn't what you think of when you think or someone who is the best in the world at his sport. He's 44, balding, and looks more like an accountant than an Olympian. The Canadian is the best curler in the world, though, and he showed it again by going undefeated en route to the gold medal. Curling was a huge success story at the games, and the buzz and excitement around it helped many others realize what Canadians, who are obsessed with the sport, have always known - this deceptively simple game is addictive and fascinating.
L - Lindsey Vonn. I'm split on what to think of Vonn. On one hand she got her gold in the downhill, and did it in stunningly dominating fashion. She added a bronze as well. On the other hand, she fell in her three other races, she caused controversy and bitterness among her teammates, and she was obnoxiously omnipresent. She's unquestionably impressive, but other athletes certainly came out of the games looking better and more likable than Vonn did.
M - Montgomery, Jon. If you didn't come across Montgomery as you were viewing the games then you missed out. This guy is a true character. The Canadian came from behind in the final run to win the gold medal in skeleton. As he was walking through Whistler village to do an interview for Canadian TV, followed by cameras and a growing mob, someone handed him a jug of beer. Without missing a stride, Montgomery downed a good portion of the beer, and with that entered the heart of all Canadians.
N - Northug, Petter. The Norwegian came into the games viewed as the best cross country skier in the world. He lived up to the hype. He won a complete set of medals - gold, silver, and bronze - heading into the final day of competition. The last day is when the 50 km event - the Super Bowl of cross country - happens. Northug stayed with the lead group throughout the race, and then won his second gold of the games with an absolutely incredible, indescribably powerful sprint to the finish.
O - Ohno. There are few less likely superstars than Apolo Anton Ohno. He competes in short track speedskating - the ultimate fringe sport - but he has somehow become a household name. In Vancouver he also became the most decorated American winter Olympian ever with eight medals. Only four Americans have ever won three medals in one winter games. Ohno has now done it twice. He won a silver and two bronzes in Vancouver, and he actually crossed the finish line second in the 500m, but was subsequently disqualified.
P - Petra Madjic. What's the definition of tough? Petra Madjic. The Slovenian cross country skier fell while training for the individual sprint, slid off the trail, and landed on some rocks. She persevered, and went on to win bronze in the event. After the race the full extent of her injuries were uncovered - four broken ribs and a collapsed lung. She could barely climb onto the podium, yet she somehow managed to win a medal - and to pass her drug test after the race.
Q - Quite ridiculous. There were some ridiculous controversies stirred up by the press during the games, but none as stupid as the celebration by the Canadian women's hockey team after they won gold. After they had received their medals they went into the locker room to celebrate. After the building had emptied out, several of the players came back onto the ice to soak in their accomplishments once more, and they brought beer, champagne, and a couple of cigars with them. Some total loser of a media member saw what was going on from the press box, called the IOC to ask for a comment, and unleashed a totally ridiculous storm of controversy. Much ado about absolutely nothing.
R - Russia. Most countries put a lot of effort into having a strong performance right before they are hosting the Olympics themselves. Russia may have tried to do that, but they sure didn't succeed. Their Olympics were a total disaster. Several medal contenders were kicked out for doping before the events even began, the hockey team was eliminated early, and the team limped to a pathetic sixth-place finish in the medal standings. There's already a governmental inquiry underway, and there are going to be a lot of people fired before all is said and done. Russia prides themselves on their sporting success, so this is a serious embarrassment.
S - Six. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, a 36-year-old Norwegian biathlon legend, earned a silver in an individual event, and then anchored the relay team to gold. It was the sixth gold medal of his career - the most ever in his sport. What was most interesting about the event was realizing just how big this sport is in Europe. Norway and Germany in particular view this sport as one of the major ones, and treat the stars, like Bjoerndalen, like rock stars.
T - Tremendous. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the games was the impressively high number of incredibly attractive women. The American skiers got their share of attention, and the snowboarders deserved all the attention they got as well. A personal favorite of mine was the skip of the Russian curling team. There is a clear and obvious gold medalist on this front in my mind, though. If you haven't seen Canadian ski cross gold medalist Ashleigh McIvor then you need to Google her immediately. Wow. Just wow.
U - USA-1. The Americans hadn't won a bobsled medal since 1948. USA-1, piloted by Steven Holcomb, ended that drought with authority. They didn't just win gold in the four man event, they totally dominated it. They started out by setting a track record in their first of four runs, and they never looked back. German Andre Lange had won four gold medals, and was looking to win a fifth before he retired, but he could never chip away at the dominant Americans.
V - Vancouver. I live a fairly short drive from Vancouver, so I already knew what people discovered during these games - it's a stunningly beautiful city where you want to always be outside, even if it seemingly rains constantly. What I didn't expect, though, was that the city would embrace the games with such unrivaled enthusiasm, or that they would come across so well internationally. Frankly, I've always viewed Vancouverites as too snobbish to be that likable.
W - Withdrawal. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with my time now. For the last couple of weeks I've watched the Olympics almost constantly - or at least they have been on in the background. Now I have to find something else to watch and obsess over. Thankfully, college basketball goes into overdrive, the NHL trade deadline is days away, the NFL Draft is just around the corner, the NBA is into the closing stretch, and the Triple Crown trail is winding up. It really is great to be a sports fan.
X - eXtreme. Shaun White won his gold medal over a week ago, and he's been long gone from Vancouver for almost as long, but I still can't get over what he did in the halfpipe event. Maybe it wasn't that impressive to people who follow the sport closely, but his domination of the event, and the way he got better and better as things went along - even when he already had clinched gold - was perhaps the most amazing thing I saw during the entire games.
Y - Yu-Na Kim. Joannie Rochette stole the hearts in the figure skating, but it was Kim that dominated the event. The South Korean skater won perhaps the least dramatic gold of the games - everyone who knew anything about the sport knew she was going to win. Despite the inevitability, Kim shocked viewers by just how good she was. She was absolutely perfect in both of her skates, set world records for her scores, and won by a massive margin - despite the fact that the women behind her all skated clean, strong programs.
Z - Zach Parise. The story of the hockey tournament was the emergence of young stars for several teams. Among the most impressive was Parise. The American from the New Jersey Devils tied for third in tournament scoring, and scored the goal with 24 seconds remaining in the gold medal game that gave the Americans more life and caused about 34 million heart attacks in Canada. It was an impressive outing - so impressive that Canadians keep trying to claim him as our own - his father J.P. scored four points for Canada in the famed 1972 Summit Series.