It’s easy to make fun of the Olympics. They clearly haven’t figured out how to deal with institutional, state-sponsored doping. The Games are pricing themselves out of every market through excess and greed. Their approach to media is archaic — on a good day.
But dang, we’re seeing some unbelievable ski racing. So grab yourself a bowl of kimchi and a Kass, kick the dog off the couch and watch today’s Men’s 4×10 relay and the Men’s Mass Start Biathlon. You’ll see the rise of a possible once-in-a-lifetime talent. You’ll see a 15k biathlon mass start come down to inches — with one athlete pounding the ground only to find out that he actually won.
If you haven’t watched tonight’s relay yet — you should. It’s yet another seat-of-your-pants, pedal-to-the-medal (!) Olympic ski race with drama, surprises and a razor-thin margin of victory.
But if you’re watching just to see a possible American medal — spoiler alert — it doesn’t happen. Team USA skied a helluva race, but came up short.
The hype around this relay race got a little heavy. Yes, we had a shot. But the world is filled with great teams and the Olympics brings out the very best in everyone. (Do you think that OAR didn’t have something to prove tonight?)
My only request is that you put tonight into context. A few years ago — especially on the women’s side — the USA was strictly back of the pack. The idea of World Cup points, nevermind a possible Olympic medal was a daydream. Then Kikkan came along and a great coaching staff gelled. Sophie showed up. Jessie made herself known. Sadie. Ida. People like Liz Arky finally tackled World Cup basics like a waxing truck. (Until this year, our waxing resources were the same as the Freeport Ski Team at the Maine Class C State Meet.)
And the next thing you know, we’ve got a team fighting for podiums and medals. It’s a remarkable achievement. And the good news? I photographed the World Junior/U23 Championships last year and we’ve got some kickass kids coming through the pipeline. And this year’s WJC/U23 team performed even better than last year’s team.
So how do we clear that final bar? It won’t happen with letters to FasterSkier about team selection, race order or criticizing this leg or that leg. That’s a colossal waste of time and gets exactly zero accomplished. Want to make a difference? Donate money to the NNF. Work with your regional division like NENSA or CXC. Sponsor an athlete (Many of our athletes spend over $25k a year on travel). Sponsor a team. Renew your USSA membership. Ask the USSA about their budget priorities and nordic funding plans. Better yet, one of the most pressing needs in the ski community is middle and high school age coaches. Take a coaching course and convince some kids to slap ’em on.
Because that’s how we become a real skiing nation.
The best piece of advice I received from other photographers prior to the Olympics was to “pace myself.” 9:00am to 1:00am is a young person’s game, especially over twenty-one days.
So I shot just one event — the Men’s 15k Free Interval Start. And it was the “Super Dario Show” from beginning to end. It’s impossible to comprehend how someone can defend a title across THREE Olympics, but Switzerland’s Dario Cologna did just that today and by an impressive margin. The other kick-butt race was by the USA’s Scott Patterson (UVM & APU). He’s had a great Olympics so far.
Tomorrow it’s the Women’s 4x5k, hopefully, the Women’s 12.5k biathlon mass start and — with a bit more luck — time on the Large Hill.
Made a quick trip to the sliding center to catch a bit of the skeleton event. When I was walking the track during a training session last week, a Canadian course worker was kind enough to explain how everything works, two vs. four bobsleds, luge, etc. As we got to skeleton — headfirst down the track vs. luge’s feet first — he paused and added: “Andyou should know that those bastards are crazy.”
From there, it was back to the XC stadium for the Women’s 10k free. Yesterday was perhaps the most beautiful day of the games so far and we saw an equally fantastic performance by Team USA. As a long time member of the ski racing community, I think it speaks to Kikkan’s “elevation of expectations” when our first reaction to Jessie’s 5th place finish is a whisper of disappointment. It wasn’t too long ago when just getting people into points (Top 30) was considered a miracle. Jessie skied a gutsy race with Sadie and Kikkan not too far behind.
The evening was wrapped up at the Ice Planet Hoth Biathlon Center. (The Women’s 10k free XC race and the Women’s 15k Individual biathlon races were essentially taking place at the same time — you had to pick one.) Another photographer told me that you can tell where we are in the Olympic period by the photography :
1st phase — All the photographers are running from event to event and shooting clean, traditional shots.
2nd phase – Photographers start getting bored. Lots of pans, multiple exposures and “Oh, that’s what that button does!” type shots.
3rd phase – Photographers get tired. The only things photographed are those easily visible from the finish tower.
The way things are going, the entire Olympics will take place next Saturday. It’ll save on heat packs and hand warmers.
My original plan was to catch one or both slalom runs, hustle back for a few group shots, shoot the Nordic Combined and wrap things up with Women’s Biathlon.
First, they canceled the women’s slalom. High winds. The group shots were both quick and awesome. Then they canceled the women’s biathlon. High winds. Only a few hundred meters away, nordic combined ski jumping and the 10k Gunderson (pursuit) went off without a hitch. Welcome to Pyeongchang.
The best part of the day? It’s apparently Korea’s New Year tomorrow and my hosts had a full spread of Korean food waiting for me when I got home.
I might have scoffed a few years ago when Sprints were introduced onto the FIS circuit (“Meh. What is happening to this sport?”), but it’s turned into one of my favorite events.
From a photographer’s perspective, the qualifying round gives you the very rare chance to get clean shots of all the athletes. And the heats are a blast to shoot — especially when you’re given the “golden ticket” and told you can stand next to the tv cameras at the finish line if you behave yourself.
And for spectators, it’s fantastic. Sure there’s a bit of interest in the “Final 30” drama, (eh, Erik Bjornsen?) and the new lane selection process is entertaining, but the real action is skier vs. skier racing. The top two move on, but the field (and viewers) stay engaged via the Lucky Loser slots. A little suspense, a little drama — just all around good, clean fun.
Last night’s races didn’t disappoint. The Americans qualified Jessie, Sophie, Sadie, Erik and Simi into the rounds. Jessie made it to the finals (In a classic sprint, go figure…) through a photo finish lunge. Klaebo put on a show and another Swedish woman – Stina Nilsson) came through for Gold.
Given the troubles mentioned in my earlier post, I’m going to skip the Women’s Biathlon Pursuit other than to say that Laura Dahlmeier (GER) has nerves of steel. She absolutely crushed that race and I’m sure Fasterskier will have a great write-up.
On the Men’s side, Martin Fourcade (FRA) came back with a vengeance. Fourcade is the odds on favorite for all the biathlon races and there was grumbling in the Press Room about his loss to a German in the Sprint. All that talk came to an end last night.
And how about Tim Burke? He drove through half of Europe last night, climbing 30 places to finish 17th. Amazing performance.