Saturday, February 22, 2014

Best Underdog Moments of Sochi

The Sochi Olympics are over. What will we remember most about these games-- stray dogs, yogurt scandals, pink eye, soft-serve snow? For me, I will remember these games as being The Year the Underdog.

Everyone loves an underdog, especially those of us who ARE underdogs. That said, here are my top four underdog victories of the Sochi Olympics:

1. Men’s Snowboarding Slopestyle  

Expected To Win: Emperor, Shaun White (who later withdrew)

Next Expected To Win: Wunderkind, Mark McMorris of Canada, competing with broken ribs no less. 

Next-Next Expected To Win: A whole line of “proven” riders who make up snowboarding’s royal court. 

WINNER: Sage Kotsenburg

The commentators, who had plenty to say about the favorites, had not one utterance about the actual winner. That is, until he WAS the actual winner.

Sage, the human version of Crush in Finding Nemo, hadn’t won a medal since he was eleven. With nothing to lose and a head and heart filled with love of his sport, he took it all.  I wish I could bottle the joy he felt that day. GREAT JOB, SAGE! Kookookoochoo!!!

Sage Kotsenburg

2. Women’s Freestyle Aerial Skiing

Expected To Win: The Chinese dream team, who stacked the event. 

Next Expected To Win: Lydia Lassila of Australia. 

Next-Next Expected To Win: Well, there wasn’t any need to go there. The commentators KNEW who was going to take it. 

WINNER:  Alla “Super Duper” Tsuper of Belarus.  

Alla, a veteran of the sport, was spared nothing from the NBC commentators, who made their snide digs about how she barely got out of the qualifying round, and how at the venerable age of 34 it was a miracle she wasn’t in a retirement home somewhere.  Alla responded to their snipes with a HUGE, perfectly landed jump that earned her the gold. V VASHEM LITSE!!!  That’s Belarusian for “IN YOUR FACE!”

Alla Tsuper

3. Men’s Alpine Skiing Super G 

Expected To Win: Kjetil Jansrud of Norway. 

Next Expected To Win: Bode Miller (who should have spit in that stupid reporter’s face). 

Next-Next Expected To Win: Any number of talented skiiers.

WINNER: Kjetil Janrud...yawn.

It’s the silver story, however, that makes me believe in fairy tales. Andrew Weibrecht, known as “War Horse” for all his injuries and perseverance, hadn’t done well on the World Cup all year. He was slated to ski last on a rutted out course with crappy snow conditions.  The commentators had all but packed up and left. I could just picture them as Andrew readied at the start, checking their emails, wondering where to eat dinner that night. He simply wasn’t on the radar. 

A second later, the world watched speechless as Andrew rocketed down the mountain with no thought of brakes. Jansrud, the winner of the event, said his legs turned to jelly watching Weinbrect’s descent.  And so they should have—Andrew came in behind the winner with just three tenths of a second difference!  He might not have won it all, but Andrew will touch more lives with his silver than Jansrud ever will with his gold. WAY TO GO, ANDREW!

Andrew Weibrecht

4. Women's Figure Skating

Expected To Win: Yuna Kim of South Korea

Next Expected To Win: Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia

Next-Next Expected To Win: Carolina Kostner of Italy. 

WINNER: Adelina Sotnikova

I’ve saved my favorite sport for last.  I follow figure skating closely, even in non Olympic years. Last year, I attended the U.S. Figure Skating Championships when they came to my home state of Nebraska. (In fact, I got a high five from Gracie Gold as she made her silver victory lap around the rink!) 

Yuna, the reigning gold medalist from the Vancouver Olympics (and arguably the best figure skater that ever lived), faced some stiff competition from a band of up and coming teenagers. Although she skated perfectly in both her programs, she seemed uncharacteristically clouded throughout.  In the end, she took home silver. Although disappointed for Yuna, I was thrilled with the underdog winner: Adelina Sotnikova.

17 year-old Adelina took the ice as the most under appreciated, most ignored, most forgotten member of the entire Russian team.  A four time national champion, the Russians wouldn’t even let her skate in the team competition. 

Instead they (and the American media…good grief) focused all their time and energy on a 15 year-old phenom, named Julia Lipnitskaia.  Seriously, it was Julia this and Julia that AD NAUSEUM. Every so often, the NBC commentators stopped slathering over Julia long enough to comment on Gracie or to beat the dead horse story of Ashley Wagner and her controversial pick for the American team. But throughout the coverage, not one mention of Adelina… video snippets of her life, no pre-competition interviews with her…nothing.  

That is, until she almost won the short program. Then everyone started falling over one another to find something, anything, about her. In the end, Adelina prevailed with a performance that brought the crowd to its feet, regardless of nationality.  The skater no one cared about took GOLD. Underdogs of the world unite!!!

Adelina Sotnikova

The Bible says God will confound the wise, aka the know-it-alls. No where has that been more obvious than the Sochi Olympics. Remember that the next time you think you have things figured out. See you in four years in Pyeongchang!

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