PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – “We’re No. 4!” Or maybe No. 5, or 6.
Just past the halfway point of the 2018 Winter Olympics, U.S. athletes have won five gold medals, three silver and two bronze for a total of 10, far fewer than what was predicted at this stage of the Games.
But if coming close counted, the Americans would be cleaning up. The USA has 24 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishes: eight fourths, nine fifths and seven sixths. Now that’s some serious depth.
Barring a medal surge in the next week, Team USA’s performance here will fall below that of Sochi in 2014 (nine gold, seven silver and 12 bronze) and far below that of Vancouver in 2010 (nine gold, 15 silver and 13 bronze), which might as well have been a home game for the Americans.
The disappointments and close calls for the Americans have befallen the famous and the barely known. Some of the biggest names of the Games have missed out on medals in their specialties or in events in which they were looking to medal: Mikaela Shiffrin in women’s slalom, Nathan Chen in men’s individual figure skating, Lindsey Vonn in women’s Super G.
But Shiffrin won gold in the women’s giant slalom, Chen won a bronze medal in the figure skating team event, and Vonn, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist in the downhill, still has that event coming up.
In the Super G, Vonn made an uncharacteristic mistake at the end of her race, finishing sixth.
“At least I’m not fourth,” she said.
Finishing fourth, just out of the medals, can be brutal at the Olympics.
Maggie Voisin found herself in that position in the women’s ski slopestyle final Saturday afternoon.
“Oh yeah, fourth is definitely bittersweet,” she said. “But I just have to take away the positives. Small wins, just like I said, grateful to be out here representing Team USA and the sport of women’s freeskiing.”
Figure skater Mirai Nagasu, 24, is back for another Olympics after finishing fourth at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
“On one hand, I’m extremely proud that I came in fourth place at 16 years old at my first Olympics,” she said. “And now here I am eight years later, that’s a long time, and now I’m taking home a medal (the bronze in the team competition). That is super exciting for me. I really wanted that medal in Vancouver. I’ve stuck around. I’ve stuck around for a really long time. I feel like I really deserved a medal. And so I kept at it and kept at it.”
Perhaps some of the close calls will go the Americans’ way in the final seven days of the Games. Perhaps they won’t.
But there’s more to any country’s performance in the Olympic Games than the medal count. Consider this. At the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France, the United States won only one gold medal. But what a gold medal it was: figure skater Peggy Fleming’s. Her name became synonymous with her sport, launching the golden age of skating in the United States.
And this. In 1980, the United States won just six gold medals at its home Olympics in Lake Placid: speedskater Eric Heiden’s five golds, and one you might have heard about, the greatest U.S. Winter Olympic gold of all: the one won by the Miracle on Ice U.S. men’s hockey team. Sometimes it’s not the quantity but the quality of the medals that counts.
And look at the bright side, America. U.S. athletes do have those five gold medals. Russia — the Olympic Athletes from Russia, to be precise — have yet to win even one.