PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018: Return of Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn; NHL Players Absent from Competition

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Ethan Marchetti, Andy Fite and Eric Fishbin; Maroon-News Staff

The Maroon-News Sports staff takes a look into some of the biggest storylines of the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Skiing and snowboarding

The 2018 Winter Olympics are underway in PyeongChang, South Korea, with the United States once more bringing an array of newcomers and familiar faces.  Heading into the games, though, none have grabbed (or earned) the spotlight more than winter sports legends Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White.  These past few months have been filled with question marks and drama for the skier and snowboarder, but they are no strangers to overcoming adversity and both remain poised to secure gold for the United States once again.

Though Vonn enters PyeongChang as the most decorated female skier of all time, she and the Olympics have a frustrating relationship. Injuries hindered her ability to compete in 2006 and 2014. Her only complete participation came at Vancouver in 2010, where she won gold in downhill and bronze in super-G. 

Now, eight years removed from her last Olympic competition and with the memory of her recently deceased grandfather in mind, Vonn is ready to leave it all on the line.  “[My grandpa] will be in the starting gate with me,”  said Vonn in a speech at his memorial service.  “Three races.  No fear.  Everything I have.”

Shaun White is another athlete whose success has primarily come in non-Olympic events.  White has a record 15 X-Games gold medals, but only two Olympic golds, at time of publication.  White will also look to get back atop the Olympic podium in PyeongChang this year, but it will be no small task.  Back in October, the snowboarder suffered a gruesome injury that left him with 62 facial stitches. Many began to question White’s outlook for the games following the fall, but he reassured supporters and teammates that he would not allow anything to get in his way to the top again White posted on Instagram that he would be “back soon and better than ever,” and these Olympics can be the perfect platform for him to do so by reclaiming gold.

At the time of publication, White had not yet won gold in the half-pipe event. On Wednesday, February 14, he defeated the competition to again reclaim gold, bringing his record to three.

Diamond in the Rough: Luge

Chris Mazdzer became the first American to ever medal in men’s singles luge, ending a drought dating back 1964 when luge first appeared in the Winter Olympics. The number 13 proved lucky for Mazdzer, who wore the number on his bib on Sunday during his silver medal finish in the event.

Mazdzer was joined on the podium by gold medalist David Gleirscher from Austria and Germany’s Johannes Ludwig, who won bronze. Missing from the podium was Felix Loch of Germany, who won gold at the past two Winter Olympics and was largely considered the favorite going into Sunday’s event. Loch was poised to claim his third straight gold medal in the competition until a poor final run knocked him into fifth.

But Loch’s loss was Mazdzer’s gain, as the American luger completed one of the biggest upsets in PyeongChang thus far. In both 2014 and 2010, Mazdzer finished the competition in thirteenth, and was written off by many before the games even began. Men’s singles luge, a sport in which competitors hurl down an icy track topping speeds of over 80 miles per hour, has traditionally been dominated by Germany. The German delegation has claimed 10 out of a possible 14 gold medals in men’s singles luge.

Though Americans are not expected to place in either the men’s or women’s biathlon in this year’s games, the only sports in which the U.S. has not medaled, Mazdzer showed the world that you can never count out an underdog.

Men’s Hockey

What if I told you a kid from Vail, Colorado would go on to win the Gold Medal at the Winter Olympics… playing hockey… for a unified Korean team. Mike Testwuide, educated at Colorado College, is one of seven North Americans skating for the Korean team. If the Koreans go on to win the gold in PyeongChang, an NHL dreamer who never broke through to the biggest stage will have his moment of glory and a nation unknown to the hockey world will create its “Miracle” moment.

Speaking of NHL dreamers, this Winter Olympics is their time to shine. For the past five Olympics, NHL stars have been a part of the competition. This was made possible by a break in the NHL schedule to let its athletes represent their home nations. However, a majority of owners and the Board of Governors decided that this tradition would end in 2018 and 2022 as well. The 17-day break required to accommodate the participating players, during a time when the NFL is over and the MLB has yet to begin, causes a disruption in the flow of the season and holes in pockets around the League. While the NHL had not been required to financially support its athletes making the trip because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had done so, this year would have been different. The IOC told the NHL that it would no longer pay the costs. Without the financial backing and with the little upside the Olympics provide for the NHL, sending players to participate no longer makes sense for the league. 

While it is a shame that the best talent in the world will be absent this year, a new opportunity for those who could not have dreamed of competing with and against NHL stars arises. Rosters are comprised of ex-NHL veterans, AHL players hoping to be noticed by big league clubs, highly-drafted and developing NCAA talent and pros from leagues around the world. Though your favorite NHL team won’t have a representative in the Olympics this time around, the talent in Pyeongchang and the excitement surrounding the Olympics collectively will make the games worth the watch.

Contact Ethan Marchetti, Andy Fite or Eric Fishbin at [email protected][email protected] or [email protected]