GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – The Pyeongchang Olympics have had a bit of everything since Yuna Kim ignited the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony on Feb. 9. Political theater, incredible athletic achievements, the wrath of Mother Nature, and more Russians caught doping.
The first week was significantly overshadowed by the visit of Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim Yo Jong attended the opening ceremony and also took in the first ice hockey game played by the combined Korean team while meeting with South Korean leaders.
What it all means in the final analysis is unclear at this point, but South Korean president Moon Jae-in was extended an invitation by Kim Yo Jong to visit Pyongyang for a summit with Kim Jong Un at some point in the future.
There were several highlights here, but none surpassed that of Yuzuru Hanyu winning his second consecutive gold medal in figure skating. Hanyu equaled a mark that had stood for 66 years, since American Dick Button claimed his second straight gold at the 1952 Games in Oslo.
It’s one thing to win the gold twice in a row, it’s another to do it coming off a serious ankle injury and with precious little time to train. Fellow athletes, the media and spectators were all left in awe by what the Sendai native achieved here. His triumph will remain an indelible memory from the 2018 Games.
Hanyu further illustrated his heart and compassion by remaining at the games and training for the Exhibition Gala, despite not being fully recovered from his injury, knowing fans had already paid big money (up to 800,000 Korean Won) to watch him skate in the finale.
The win by the U.S. women over Canada in ice hockey in their thrilling gold-medal game was another high point. The Americans had not won the gold in 20 years, since the 1998 Nagano Games, while Canada had taken the Olympic title four straight times.
Ester Ledecka’s two gold medals — one in skiing (super-G) and the other in snowboarding (parallel giant slalom) — made history, as the 22-year-old from the Czech Republic became the first woman ever to win two golds in different sports at a single Winter Olympics.
Norway’s Johannes Klaebo and France’s Martin Fourcade were the top gold medalists here with three each. Klaebo, 21, won his in cross-country sprint events, while the 29-year-old Fourcade’s came in the biathlon.
American Shaun White claimed his third gold medal in the men’s halfpipe in dramatic fashion on the final run, while Russian Alina Zagitova edged compatriot and training partner Evgenia Medvedeva for the gold in women’s figure skating.
Norway topped the final medal table with a record total of 39, including 14 gold, the most ever at a Winter Olympics. Germany was second with 31 (also 14 gold) and Canada third with 29 (11 gold).
Japan finished with a total of 13 medals while enjoying its best Olympics since Nagano with four golds. Japan won five at the 1998 Games.
Hanyu’s gold, Nao Kodaira’s victory in the women’s 500 meters speedskating, Nana Takagi’s triumph in the women’s speedskating mass start event, and the win in the speedskating team pursuit brought Japan two more golds than it had earned in the previous four Winter Games (two) combined.
Since Nagano, Japan’s only golds had been Shizuka Arakawa’s in figure skating at the 2006 Turin Games and Hanyu’s in Sochi.
Takagi’s two golds were historic, as she became the first Japanese woman in any sport to win two events at one Winter Olympics. Her younger sister Miho was also on the gold-medal winning team pursuit squad in addition to winning silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 1,000 to become the first Japanese woman to win all three medals in a single Winter Games.
Japan’s women’s ice hockey team, Smile Japan, did well here with a 2-3 record despite being eliminated in the preliminary round. It notched its first victory ever in Olympic play and ended a 12-game losing streak that dated back to Nagano, when it beat the Korean team 4-1 on Feb. 14 with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on hand to watch.
Disappointments abounded as well, with American skier Lindsey Vonn only able to collect a bronze medal in the downhill after being favored for gold, and teammate Mikaela Shiffrin taking home one gold (in the giant slalom) and one silver (in the Alpine combined), after being tabbed for three golds.
High winds forced the postponement of several events during the games. Dangerous blasts ripped through both Pyeongchang and Gangneung on Feb. 14, injuring 16 staff members .and forcing the temporary closure of media venues that day.
Unfortunately, the stench of the Russian doping scandal from Sochi did not dissipate, rearing its ugly head here again when both a male curler (Alexander Krushelnitsky) and a female bobsledder (Nadezhda Sergeeva) were caught doping. Krushelnitsky was stripped of his bronze medal in the mixed doubles.
Russia competed here under the Olympic flag and was referred to as Olympic Athletes from Russia, but I’m not sure anybody bought into the tactic hatched by the International Olympic Committee following the revelation of the diabolical doping plot that took place at the 2014 Sochi Games.
The Olympic flame in Pyeongchang was extinguished at the closing ceremony on Sunday night, and now it’s on to Tokyo 2020.