Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: Biggest Surprises from Day 4
With the sun setting on a very hectic fourth day of competition in Sochi, it is time once again to stroke our metaphorical beards and ponder what the action revealed.
Anyone can tell you who grabbed the hardware. But what does it really mean, man? Which of the storylines delivered on its promise? Who met expectations? Who failed to meet them? Who brought the shock and awe from the Winter Games today?
That's what we're here to do, each and every doggone day. These are the biggest surprises from Day 4.
Shaun White Heads Home Sans Medal
Shaun White measures himself out in coffee spoons these days.
The wild child once known as "The Flying Tomato" has a much more buttoned-down demeanor than he did when he burst onto the scene many years ago. Perhaps not a big shock, given his status as the living, breathing dominant brand of snowboarding and snowboarding-related products and so on.
So by extension, it wasn't terribly shocking when White abruptly pulled out of the men's slopestyle, citing health and safety concerns. All the better to focus on his signature event, the halfpipe. Why take chances? A bird in the hand and all that.
But if you're going to do that, you darn sure better follow through on expectations, which are always pure gold when Shaun White and the halfpipe are involved.
But a repeat Olympic championship wasn't to be for White, who fell twice on his first run and ultimately failed to medal. Ironically, a couple of free spirits—Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov and his vaunted YOLO flip, Japan's Ayumu Hirano and his 15 years of existence on Earth—were among those who surpassed White.
I can't lie: It felt like the end of an era on the halfpipe Tuesday.
The Eagle Has Luged
In 90 years worth of Winter Olympics, no American has ever won an individual luge medal.
Take a bow, Erin Hamlin. The New York native wasn't widely predicted to hit the podium in Sochi. But hit it she did, progressively inching up the standings with every run to ultimately edge out Canadian Alex Gough and a solid Russian contingent to take a bronze medal and a little bit of history.
Not surprising? A gold-silver finish from Germans Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner, who were expected to do just that.
Kikkan Randall Misses Semis
Kikkan Randall was expected not only to medal in the women's cross-country skiing sprint, she was predicted to take top honors.
Quite a sad turn of events, then, when Randall faded down the stretch after leading in her heat and failed to reach the semifinals of the event, much less crack the podium.
Randall was definitely Team USA's best hope for a cross-country skiing medal, which would have been its first since 1976 and first, period, for any American woman.
Swiss Grab Curling Lead, Great Britain Back in Fourth
Don't panic. It's still early.
But this can't be the start Great Britain envisioned when it stormed into Sochi as the odds-on gold-medal favorite in women's curling. Led by the charismatic Eve Muirhead, the British curlers and their faithful had one word on their minds and one word only: domination.
And yet, that is why they play the game. Or curl the matches, or whatever. The Brits waxed the Americans 12-3 on Tuesday but still find themselves 1-1 in the early rounds after dropping their first match to Sweden.
Meanwhile, the Swiss have swooped in to grab the lead, going 3-0 thus far in the prelims. They've so far bested Denmark, South Korea and your girls from Team USA.
What? Only One South Korean Speedskating Medalist?
The South Koreans have positioned themselves as Winter Olympic specialists.
Nothing wrong with that. And after raking in 13 speedskating medals in 2010, they have the makings of a dynasty.
So far, they are picking up where they left off. Somewhat. In the women's 500-meter short-track race Tuesday, Sang Hwa Lee took the gold. Sadly, though, she was alone on the podium.
Come on, South Korea. Why are you slippin'?
Belarus Grabs Biathlon Gold
Darya Domracheva upset Slovakia's Anastasiya Kuzmina, Norway's Tora Berger and others to claim a gold medal Tuesday in the women's biathlon 10-kilometer pursuit.
Domracheva was not projected to contend for the pursuit title, especially after finishing ninth in the 7.5-kilometer sprint earlier in these Games. Berger, one of the most decorated biathletes alive, was a default in many minds.
Berger didn't perform terribly; she did take the silver, after all. But the day was Domracheva's, who now is the sole Belarus competitor with a medal thus far in Sochi.
An Unlikely Hero in First Olympic Women's Ski Jump
It was tears of joy Tuesday for German Carina Vogt after she became the first Olympic champion of the women's ski jump.
Some expected Vogt to medal, but no one expected gold. But she accomplished the feat on her final jump, vaulting over Austria's Daniela Iraschko-Stolz and more established names like Coline Mattel of France, Sara Takanashi of Japan and Team USA's Sarah Hendrickson (more on them momentarily).
But congratulations are certainly due to Vogt, who leapt into the history books Tuesday.
No Sarahs (or Saras) on the Ski-Jump Podium
Sheesh. What happened to the American ladies today? First curling, then cross-country skiing, now ski jumping? I'm grateful for Erin Hamlin, that's all I have to say.
American Sarah Hendrickson was recovering from knee surgery, yes, but plenty of observers still believed she'd at least contend in Sochi. Certainly, no one I know figured she'd fall back to 21st. But that's where she fell after a lackluster performance.
Japanese sensation Sara Takanashi didn't fare much better, at least by her own ultra-lofty standards. Takanashi finished fourth, barely beaten to the podium by Coline Mattel of France.
The good news? Hendrickson and Takanashi are 19 and 17 years old, respectively. Here's guessing they will be back.