The Olympics are underway, and you know what that means: It’s time to develop extremely strong passions for athletes we’d never heard of before and decide which random countries we now hate. With the first week of the games behind us, who’s winning and losing the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics? Let’s hand out some good medals and bad medals to find out.
Platinum Medal: Teens
The teens are here, and they’re already better than everyone at sports.
America’s first gold medal at the 2018 Olympics was won by 17-year-old Red Gerard, who is extremely 17 years old: He stayed up too late the night before his gold-medal snowboarding slopestyle run streaming TV shows, overslept, and then had to bring his roommate’s jacket to the event, forcing him to wear a size large when he needs a size small. Red has said he was watching Netflix and also that he was watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. One of these things is untrue, since Brooklyn Nine-Nine is on Hulu, not Netflix. By even looking this up, I have revealed myself as Not A Teen.
The United States’ third gold medal was won by Chloe Kim, also 17, who notably spent the time in between her runs tweeting about food. During qualifying, she mentioned that she wanted ice cream and advised followers to eat churros when they get nervous; during the final round, she lamented that she had failed to finish a breakfast sandwich earlier, leaving her hungry during her big moment. Maybe she used Snapchat during her runs, too. I’m 27. I’m too old to know.
That’s two American gold medalists born in this stupid millennium. But it’s not just the American teens who are thriving. In the figure skating team event, the highest score in the women’s short program went to 18-year-old Russian Evgenia Medvedeva; the highest score in the women’s free skate was earned by 15-year-old Russian Alina Zagitova. Medvedeva hadn’t lost an event in more than two years going into this year’s European championships, which she lost to Zagitova. Nobody came close to either performer, and the women’s singles event next week is all but a lock to be won by one of these Russian teens.
The teens are already winning battles; soon they’ll win the war. I advise any Olds reading this to say goodbye to your loved ones and eat as many Tide Pods as you can to harvest the strength the teens already have within them.
Gold Medal: Adam Rippon
I’m officially mad about the fact some figure skaters are getting higher scores than Adam Rippon. Apparently skaters score higher when they attempt ambitious jumps and miss them than if they complete an absolutely flawless run with fewer rotations. If that’s the way it is, send me to the damn Olympics. I’ll attempt 50 octuple salchows in my run and miss every single one. It will be the worst and highest-scoring routine of all time.
It surprises me that I’m mad, because up until now I didn’t know that I had it in me to get upset about figure skating judging. But Rippon is captivating enough that he makes me wish I had deeply cared about figure skating before last week. He is the undisputed star of these Olympics, nailing every jump, tweet, and interview.
His programs are magnetic: While everybody else tries to craft routines that get the highest technical and artistic scores, Rippon is skating to get the highest Adam Rippon score. Each of his skates is drenched in his personality.
Importantly, it is a really good personality:
To all those who tweet at me saying that they “hope I fail”, I have failed many times many times in my life. But more importantly, I’ve learned from every setback, proudly own up to my mistakes, grown from disappointments, and now I’m a glamazon bitch ready for the runway.— Adam Rippon (@Adaripp) February 13, 2018
In one tweet, Rippon changed my opinion about whether Twitter should give users 280 characters per tweet. He started off with a fairly generic “message to the haters!” statement from an athlete, and then ascends to heaven with the phrase “glamazon bitch ready for the runway.” I’m a professional writer, and I strive to be good at my job, and this figure skater just wrote a six-word phrase better than any I’ve come up with in my entire life.
And while most athletes race to get to the end of media interactions, Rippon thrives in them like no athlete I’ve ever seen. He has spectacular answers even to the most generic question:
Even without such a gripping persona, Rippon would be a great Olympic story: He went from sadly eating In-N-Out on a roof during the Sochi Olympics four years ago to making his Olympic debut at the unusually late age of 28 to helping America win team bronze in Pyeongchang.
But that’s an athletic underdog tale we’ve heard before. Other aspects of Rippon’s Olympic story we haven’t: This is the first Winter Olympics in which openly gay men have competed, and Rippon is the first openly gay American man to win a Winter Olympic medal. (Gay men have won medals at Winter Olympics for America before, but Rippon is the first to be out at the time.) Even in 2018—perhaps especially in 2018, when a man with an on-the-record history of homophobia is the face of America’s government at the games—Rippon simply being honest about his sexuality and proud of it is revolutionary.
Now, more on those tweets:
With everything going on in the media about me this Valentine’s Day I don’t want people to get distracted and forget how beautiful I am (on the outside)— Adam Rippon (@Adaripp) February 14, 2018
Bronze Medal: Germany
We’re halfway through the Olympics and Germany already has nine gold medals. No country had more than 13 at the 2014 Sochi Games. The record is 14, set by Canada when it hosted the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It seems unlikely that Germany will get that many—a lot of events Germany typically excels in, like luge, are in the rearview mirror—but the country is getting golds in historically unconventional ways.
For example, Germany took gold in pairs skating, the first for the nation since 1952 and the first figure skating gold since the country reunified in 1990. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot got the highest free skate score ever recorded to make up for a subpar short program, allowing them to squeak past the Chinese duo of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by less than a point.
Perhaps there’s a reason this tandem did what no Germans have before: They’re not originally German. Savchenko is Ukrainian, and she obtained German citizenship in 2005 to pair with Robin Szolkowy, with whom she won Olympic bronzes in 2010 and 2014. When Szolkowy retired, Savchenko paired with Massot, who is French. He obtained his German citizenship in November to pair with Savchenko, meaning that both skaters are representing a country they aren’t from.
Pairs skating has a lot of nationality switching; pairs skaters are often either too big or too small for singles skating, so their skating talents are more or less rendered useless unless they find the perfect person to complete their professional selves. Sometimes that person is not from the same country, which is a bummer because the biggest figure skating event on earth forces competitors to participate under a nation’s flag.
Hot take: It’s just as cool to have two people who chose to live in a country win gold as it is for two people who happened to be born in the same geographic region.
Cubic Zirconia Medal: King of the Netherlands
It’s good to be king, an adage that I confirmed this week by watching King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands have an excellent time at the Olympic speed skating rink. The Dutch are absolutely dominant in speed skating—so far they’ve won five of six golds, plus 10 of 18 total medals, including a clean sweep of the women’s 3,000 meters—and Willem-Alexander has just been chilling in South Korea all week, watching his citizens beat the hell out of every other country’s citizens.
Being a monarch seems pretty chill in 2018. You’re just as rich as your great-great-great-great grandparents, and you don’t have to win some battle on horseback or live in constant fear of being murdered by your siblings. All you have to do is watch sports and have children. Plus, you have Wi-Fi, while your ancestors didn’t. That’s neat.
Tin Medal: Sleep Schedules
I’m an Olympics obsessive. I would watch every event if I could. When I covered the games in Rio, I tried to watch literally every sport, although I fell a few short—if I ever get a chance to cover another summer games, I will make sure to check out archery, canoeing, rowing, and sailing.
But I cannot watch most of these Olympics, simply because of the logistics. The organizers have done a pretty good job at appeasing NBC by scheduling events Americans might want to watch when Americans want to watch: early in the morning in Korea—our prime time—and late in the Korean night—around 6 a.m. Eastern. But they can’t cram every event into those two time slots. A decent amount of the Olympics are happening while Americans sleep.
Despite my best efforts, a week into the Olympics I have failed to become nocturnal. I don’t have any legitimate, non-selfish qualm with the awkward time difference—parts of the globe besides the Western Hemisphere and Europe deserve to host the Olympics, too!—but I have not felt normal since the start of the Olympics. I am perpetually tired from my attempts to stay up for events, but still feel bummed about all the sports I have missed.
Styrofoam Medal: Wind
This might shock you, but sometimes it gets windy in the winter. This has been a real problem in Pyeongchang. It’s hard enough to play sports like football or baseball when it’s windy; it’s downright dangerous to hold ski jumping or snowboarding events, in which athletes launch themselves into the air and try to land without dying, in such conditions.
It’s been a big predicament. When events are postponed due to wind, it makes the already jam-packed Olympic schedule even tighter. American skier Mikaela Shiffrin had hoped to win five golds in South Korea; she won’t even try anymore now that winds postponed her first event (giant slalom) by several days. To pull that off with the revised schedule, she would have had to race six days in a row, so she’s pulling out of Saturday’s Super-G. The International Olympic Committee has to fit every event into a two-week span. That can become nearly impossible when some get delayed.
When the powers that be try to push on with events in spite of winds, though, it’s much worse. The women’s slopestyle snowboarding event was held in unsafe conditions. Every rider in the event fell at least once, and several spoke out about the wind afterward. Even U.S. gold medalist Jamie Anderson admitted her ride wouldn’t have earned a medal under normal conditions. The event had already been postponed once, and it should have been pushed back again. One Australian snowboarder, Tess Coady, says the wind was responsible for a training crash in which she tore her ACL.
I don’t know what the solution is here—don’t hold the Olympics in windy areas? Build enormous walls to block gusts of wind? Make the Olympics longer to accommodate more postponements? Sit inside and drink hot chocolate instead of broadcasting winter sports?
For now, let’s all just agree that wind sucks. Hey, air: Chill out! What’s so wrong with the place you’re in that you feel the need to go someplace else? Either help us create renewable energy or stay put!
Lint Medal: Felix Loch
Germany loves luge. It is a country that gets behind the premise of a person dedicating their life to shaving thousandths of seconds off of runs. Germany might not have won often at figure skating in its Olympic history, but boy, has it won at luge: If we combine German, East German, and West German results, Germans have won 34 of 48 all-time Olympic luge medals.
Felix Loch is a superstar in Germany: He won luge singles gold at the past two Olympics, and was Germany’s flag-bearer at the 2014 closing ceremonies in Sochi. And he was all set to bring home a third consecutive gold this winter; all he had to do was make one last run with no mistakes.
He made a mistake:
He went from defending champion to not making the podium.@AmyWilliamsMBE explains what went wrong for Germany's Felix Loch on @BBCTwo's highlight's show.#Pyeongchang2018 #bbcolympics pic.twitter.com/4ZdUbeBHyr— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) February 11, 2018
And what a huge mistake! He slightly touched the wall! Instead of winning gold, he lost by .266 seconds—an eternity in luge—and finished in fifth. He sat on his luge, head down, sadly sliding backward, until his coach and father came to comfort him. (Or the world presumed that his father was comforting him—I kind of think he just whispered, “You have failed Germany,” and walked away.)
But Loch’s failure left the door open for American Chris Mazdzer. The U.S. doesn’t care much about luge—there are only two tracks in the country, and we’re not huge on the “devoting oneself to chopping thousandths of seconds off of one’s time.” But despite our apathy, Mazdzer won silver for Team USA, the first singles luge medal for an American man in the sport’s history. He then immediately began to America all over the place:
Other things we learned about Mazdzer: He can eat a (very thin) slice of pizza in one bite:
And he is … alarmingly good looking?
Me yesterday: "Wait so like what is 'luge' anyway?"— Tim Federle (@TimFederle) February 10, 2018
Me today, sobbing: "Luge is probably the most important thing in my life after water and air." pic.twitter.com/jSFohvTNno
Name: Chris Mazdzer— Laura Kramer (@Laura_Kramer) February 12, 2018
Occupation: First US singles luge medal winner / the internet’s husband pic.twitter.com/pF7PCcunvn
Somehow, America, not Germany, ended up with the superstar luge guy.
Poop Medal: Russians Who We’re Not Supposed to Call Russians
Americans have rooted against Russia in sports for, oh, about 60 years now. In 2018, we have just thrown in overwhelming evidence that Russians are cheaters, sprinkled in some extremely topical political discourse, and given the entire Russian team a sinister-sounding name to remind us about that cheating. With that in mind, it has been quite enjoyable to watch Russia be bad at sports so far in these Olympics!
As you’re probably aware, Russia is not participating in the 2018 Games because Vladimir Putin’s government orchestrated a state-sponsored doping program during prior Olympics. However, the Olympic Athletes From Russia—athletes from the country who have been deemed clean—are participating. If a Russian were to win an event, an Olympic flag would be raised at the medal ceremony while the Olympic anthem plays. (This song, not the ones you’ll hear 400,000 times on NBC coming in and out of commercial breaks.)
But no Russian has had to bear that awkwardness yet. In Sochi, Russia tied Norway for the most golds and collected the most total medals, even after the IOC stripped two golds and nine medals from the country. After a week in South Korea, the Olympic Athletes From Russia have no golds and just five medals total.
We shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves: Most of the events that Russia won in 2014, like the pair of snowboarding events won by Vic Wild, haven’t yet been contested. And as noted above, the women’s figure skating gold is likely to go to the Russians who can’t officially be called Russians. Still, they have already missed out on some medals they had won in past years, and many of their stars who won in 2014, such as speed skater Viktor Ahn, are banned from competing. It’s stunning to see Russia tied with the Olympic Athletes From Russia at zero golds a full week into the games.