Grinding Gears: Olympics show why we love sports

first_imgEric He | Daily TrojanThe great thing about sports is that the best moments come when you least expect them. Nowhere is that notion more apparent than the Olympics, where there are thousands of athletes, most of whom are relatively unknown and competing in niche sports. This is where historic moments become legendary — not because of the starpower of the athletes, but because the moment was so powerful that it quite simply cannot be forgotten.The Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea have produced a few of these moments thus far, but two of them will be etched in stone forever: Last Saturday, when a snowboarder won a gold medal in a skiing event, and Wednesday, when the United States women claimed gold in cross-country skiing for the first time in history, pulling off an incredible upset in a stacked field of winter sports giants.These moments were neither scripted nor predicted. The athletes were not hyped up to be gold medal favorites, like household names Shaun White and Mikaela Shiffrin. Nobody outside of people in their respective sports knew who they were before they competed. But by the time they crossed the finish line, Ester Ledecka, Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall would soon become household names themselves.Ledecka is a snowboarder from the Czech Republic, and her story is one straight out of a movie. She entered the super-G, an alpine skiing event, and reportedly borrowed someone else’s skis to compete. Let me reiterate: This was a snowboarder, competing in a skiing event — in the Olympics, no less.Ledecka was the 26th racer to go down the course, so by the time her turn came, the winner had all but been decided. On the world stage, the commentator had essentially declared Austria’s Anna Veith — the defending champion in the event — the winner, “barring something exceptional.” Well, the exceptional happened. At the first speed marker, she was 0.03 seconds back of Veith. But she was cruising, hitting the right speeds, taking the perfect angles. By the time she hit the third marker — between which the camera repeatedly showed Veith hugging her family, celebrating the presumed gold — Ledecka was in the lead by 0.04 seconds. And as she sped down the home stretch and touched the line, her time flashed on the screen: She had won, by a hundredth of a second. Ledecka’s reaction was priceless, because she didn’t have one. She stared straight ahead, speechless, so stunned that the cameraman had to tell her that she had won.“No,” she said. “Must be some mistake.” There was no mistake. She entered the field as a massive underdog and came out of it an Olympic champion skier. We all love these David vs. Goliath stories, which is why Americans will love what Diggins and Randall did at the women’s team sprint freestyle race. Before Wednesday, no American female cross country skier had claimed a medal. No American — period — had ever won gold, and the last medal went to Bill Koch in 1976.The odds were stacked against them to end the 42-year drought. They were up against countries like Norway and Sweden, which pump out gold medalists in the Winter Olympics like clockwork. The United States, historically, has not stood a chance at this event.But Diggins and Randall had the race of their lives in a relay event that is as hard to watch as it is to compete in. The terrain is nasty, the hills are steep and it is freezing cold. Yet, as the competitors reached the home stretch up the final hill, Diggins was in third, close behind Sweden and Norway. Hills are Diggins’ speciality, and she made her move into second before battling Sweden’s Stina Nilsson in an all-out sprint, winning by 0.19 seconds.Diggins, who placed fifth and sixth, respectively, in her first two events, screamed in joy for a brief second before collapsing in the snow out of exhaustion. Randall, a five-time Olympian competing in her final Games, waited at the finish line and dove on top of Diggins in an embrace. Together, they got up, each with “USA” glittered on their faces, grabbed a big American flag and flashed the widest grins you will ever see.These are the moments that make the Olympics great. We love to watch the so-called favorites. We tune in to see Nathan Chen skate or Chloe Kim snowboard. We’ll be watching when the  gold medal hockey game takes place on the final day of competition on Sunday. But, in the name of the Olympic spirit, let’s recognize the stories that pop up in between, the stories that bring out what we love most about sports.Eric He is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Thursdays.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *