The 2018 Winter Games are over, leaving behind memories and medal counts. While U.S. athletes undoubtedly left Pyeongchang, South Korea with a lifetime of memories, Team USA’s medal count has been called “disappointing” – or worse.
For the record, the U.S. finished fourth in both gold and overall medals won. However, the assessment of several events, most notably figure skating, has been particularly cruel. For the first time in 46 years, U.S. figure skaters did not win a gold or silver medal. Even medal winners were unable to avoid the criticism, including Lindsey Vonn who was participating in her fourth Olympics. Vonn, 33, became the oldest female skier in history to medal in an Alpine event.
Although she won two medals in Pyeongchang, neither of them gold, which wasn’t good enough for the critics.
The U.S. Olympic Committee is partially to blame for the public disapproval of our athletes’ performance. Prior to the Games, the USOC projected Team USA would win 37 medals; they won 23.
While wrapping themselves in the red, white and blue, too many people in this country lose sight of the fact the Olympic Games aren’t solely about the U.S. South Korea hosted 2,920 athletes from 92 nations who participated in 102 events in 15 sports.
There’s more to Olympic competition than winning medals. Vonn, who has more World Cup victories than any woman in history, just five short of Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time mark of 81, has long been a role model for young girls and women in this country and abroad. One of Vonn’s non-skiing passions is the foundation she formed to empower and support young women. Sofia Goggia, the Italian downhill skier who won gold in Pyeongchang, grew up idolizing Vonn. So great is her respect and admiration for her role model that a day after the downhill event, where Vonn won the bronze, Goggia was lobbying her to keep skiing through the Beijing Olympics in 2022.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact the U.S., while finishing below expectations in some events, won medals in events they weren’t favored in. The women’s hockey team upset Canada to win gold, the first time in 20 years Canada failed to take home the gold. The men’s curling team won gold over a highly favored Swedish team, the first U.S. gold medal in the history of the event. Our curlers beat Canada, gold medal winners in the past three Olympics, twice, to reach the gold medal game.
Critics of U.S. Figure Skating were adamant changes must be made to improve results, including centralizing training, intensifying training at ages 10-14 instead of waiting until athletes are 15-16, and reducing the influence of parents. One columnist suggested U.S. Figure Skating must adopt the USA Gymnastics model, not the best analogy in the wake of the horrific Larry Nasser scandal. But at what cost to our nation’s youth?
While shiny medals are nice, Olympic competition can’t be measured simply by the number and color of medals won. Win or lose, sports provide life lessons for participants and spectators alike.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.