Monday Superlatives
April 20, 2020

Let's remember the (mostly) unsung American heroes of the Pyeongchang Olympics, because why not?

Snowboard - Winter Olympics Day 4

Fred Lee

The U.S. won nine gold medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, which is exactly how many they'd won in 2006, 2010, and 2014. But there was something particularly special about those medals, both in how they were won and by whom, and with the delay of the 2020 Olympics, now is as good a time as ever to revisit the glory. Let's start with the man who inspired this post:

1. John Shuster, USA Curling

Saturday morning, desperate to have some background TV distraction as I chased a toddler around, I discovered that the Olympic Channel was airing the USA vs. Sweden curling gold medal match from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. It was the best thing I could have hoped for—as with many sporting events, I participate in a too-complicated Olympics pool, and in 2018 the 60 of us in the pool developed an obsession with John Shuster, the U.S. skip (read: team captain who throws the last two stones each end). It was an ironic obsession at first—we knew Shuster from previous Olympics, and his performances had typically ranged from below average to disastrous. In 2010, his first Olympics as a skip, he had been so bad in the first few matches that he got benched, which is apparently pretty rare. In the 2014 Sochi Olympics, his team's 2-7 showing was such a disappointment that the governing body in charge of putting together the U.S. team dropped him from its program. Undaunted, Shuster formed a team of "rejects," and that team went on win two national championships and the Olympic trials, meaning that in 2018, he'd once again be the man leading Team USA.

It started the same as always—Shuster's squad lost four of their first six matches, basically ending any hope of fighting for a medal. They'd have to win three in a row against teams ahead of them in the standings to even make the playoffs. Shuster seemed to have failed again.

Amazingly, they started playing lights-out, and won all three matches, starting with this terrific shot from Shuster to upset Canada in extra frames:

The late surge put them up against Canada for a rematch in the semifinal, and like the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the biggest match of the whole event was the semi, rather than the championship. Canada was the defending Olympic champion and by far the most decorated country in curling. It didn't matter—the U.S. scored the only two-point frame in the eighth, and prevailed 5-3. And just like U.S. hockey in 1980, the gold medal match came against Sweden. The match was tight and exciting, and peaked yet again in the 8th frame with the scored tied at five. After a few Swedish mistakes, Shuster had the chance to make them pay in a big way. Watch:

As you can tell by Sweden's faces, that was it—they had no chance to come back, and Shuster had finished one of the most improbable and, considering his past performances, unexpected gold medal runs in U.S. history.

2. Shaun White, Snowboarding

I know a lot of people talk about Shaun White when the Olympics come around, so it may seem like a stretch to call him unsung, but the truth is I don't think we talk about this guy quite enough. Not only is he one of the few U.S. athletes to ever win a gold medal in three separate Olympics, but he's dominated his sport—the half pipe—utterly. And even more remarkably, he made the transition to skateboarding, and got so good that he won two X-Games gold medals. Can you think of any sport where literally one person and only one person can pull off a specific move? That's White, in his second best sport:

But this is about Olympics, and though White has been very good for a very long time, nothing will ever match his final run in 2018 to take gold away from Japan's Ayumu Hirano (the run starts at 1:20):

3. Jocelyne Lamoreaux - U.S. Women's Hockey

It's not just that Lamoreaux scored the game-winning shootout goal in the gold medal match against arch-rival Canada...it's how she did it. Watch this masterpiece:

Here's another good angle, and it's worth watching at full speed too. If that had happened in men's hockey, we'd be seeing the highlights for decades.

4. Chris Mazdzer - Luge

Quiz: Before Mazdzer, how many Americans had won an Olympic medal in men's luge? Second quiz: How many non-Europeans had won an Olympic medal in men's luge?

The answer to both is zero, which makes Mazdzer's silver medal both pioneering and historic. The fact that he lives in my hometown is just an added bonus. Here's his winning run:

5. Chloe Kim - Snowboarding

She was 17 YEARS OLD! That made her the youngest snowboarding gold medalist in history, and one of the youngest Americans ever. She had already secured gold by her final run, which meant she got to show off. Watch her throw down back-to-back 1080s—becoming the youngest person to do that at the Olympics, too—knowing she had already made history:

As an Olympics obsessive, it pains me that we'll have to wait another year for the summer Games, but watching these videos and revisiting these moments at least reminds us not just what we're missing, but what we have to look forward to when the current nightmare is finally over.