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Krupa: These Winter Games offered indelible moments

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Women’s national team coach Robb Stauber said of unflappable USA goalie Maddie Rooney, “I like people who have ice in their veins.”

Detroit — As athletes, coaches and officials have pledged at each Olympics, featuring for the first time this year a combined oath, “...We do this, for the glory of sport, for the honour of our teams and in respect for the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.”

The Winter Games of Pyeongchang occurred in the shadow of nuclear hostility. Athletic achievement is a preferred human endeavor.

A distraction from conflict and intrigue, the thrill of competing and entertainment of watching is the liberation sport provides.

Amid some disappointing moments for the United States and Canada, the ascendance of Norway and the non-Russian team of Russians vowing not to dope, bright, shimmering events unfolded.

The Olympics, with their mythological Greek birth and the purity of their amateur adolescence, seem to license sentiment and foster a truer sense that achievement is not always marked by victory.

But when it is, at the games, what is achieved is golden.

The look on her face

Ester Ledecka, a 22-year-old Czech is a 2017 world champion in snowboarding, and she came to PyeongChang as the first athlete ever to compete in both snowboarding and Alpine skiing.

Asked if coaches had ever suggested she concentrate on one, Ledecka said if they had, she would have found other coaches.

Her resolve created Olympic history.

Standing in a starting gate, she ranked 43rd in the world in the Super-G and 68th in the overall. NBC and the CBC had already broken away from coverage, proclaiming another winner.

Then, Ledecka went down the hill.

When she arrived at the bottom, her world had changed.

It was as if she was the last to know. Utterly motionless, she stared. And stared.

The computerized timing showed she had won the gold medal, by .01 seconds.

She turned to a cameraman.

“How did that happen?” she said.

“I really don’t know what happened,” she said, according to the Olympic News. “You tell me… I was riding.

“I don’t know what happened.”

Ledecka had more, still.

Seven days later, she won a gold medal in snowboarding.

She is the first athlete in 90 years to win gold medals in two different sports at the same Olympic games, and the first woman to do so.

‘The thing about Maddie’

The 20-year-old United States goalie, Maddie Rooney, looked down the international ice surface at the goalie from Canada, Shannon Szabados, an imposing, three-time Olympic gold medalist, who would be voted the best goalie in the 2018 tournament.

More: Krupa: Let’s bask in U.S. women hockey’s golden moment

Rooney smiled.

As one could see, through the caged portion of her goaltender’s mask, she smiled often during the gold medal game in women’s ice hockey. Rooney even smiled and said something to the referee after each of six shots in the shootout.

Asked what thoughts occurred to her before her momentous final save, after Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson rocked Szabados to sleep with sterling fakery and scored the gold medal-winning goal, she smiled again.

“I just thought, stop it and then go get the gold medal,” Rooney said.

Last March, in Plymouth, Robb Stauber, coach of the women’s national team and a former NHL goalie, said he had a specific reason for using the then 19-year-old goalie in the World Championship.

“The thing about Maddie is, she never looks nervous, at all,” Stauber said.

“To some people, she scares them, because she never looks uptight.

“It doesn’t scare me,” he said. “I like people who have ice in their veins.”

The United States’ Tyler George shouts instructions during the men’s curling finals match against Sweden at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The rejects

The United States entered the Pyeongchang games having won a single medal in curling, a bronze, since it became an Olympic sport in 1992.

The men finished last in 2010 and one place better in 2014.

Described as a team of rejects, the 2018 team barely made the playoffs with a 5-4 record in pool play.

Then, they got hot.

They won five in a row, defeating the defending Olympic champions, Canada, 5-3, in the semifinals, and the favored Sweden, who had earlier trounced them, to win the gold medal.

The Swedes brought their king, but The Rejects ruled.

“For five days, we were the best team in the world,” said vice-skipper Tyler George. “And we did it at the right time.”

More: U.S. men upset Sweden to claim Olympic curling gold

Six quads

After stumbling and bumbling through his short program, one almost wished 17th-placed Nathan Chen would have been allowed to go home.

But the 18-year-old, who trained eamarshaledis career the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, marshalled a resurrection.

It began immediately after some of his worst moments.

As he left the “kiss and cry zone,” Chen publicly acknowledged reality, described how it felt, took stock of the required task and prepared his way.

One could hear him pivot.

“It was rough,” Chen said. “Nothing really clicked together.

“I did all the right stuff going into it. It should have been different.

“I honestly have never been in this position before, so I don’t really know exactly what to do. I’m going to talk to my team, figure out what the best approach is and try to move on from it.”

When next on the ice, Chen skated a blistering, bravura performance, landing a record six quadruple jumps, five clean and one supported by his hands on the ice. He achieved the best score in the free skate and a personal best, 215.08, vaulting into fifth.

Gold medalists in the women’s team sprint freestyle cross-country skiing Kikkan Randall, left, and Jessica Diggins became the first Americans to medal in the sport since 1976.

A 42-year drought

Jessie Diggins told NBC Sports when she hit the second-lap of the women’s team sprint freestyle in cross-country skiing, she knew the time had come.

Concerned that she and her teammate Kikkan Randall skied without risk in the semi-finals and that the first lap of the finals felt these same, Diggins said she realized, “It’s time to start dropping people.”

She made an immediate pass and another on the next lap, before vanquishing a final foe with her brilliant “kick” to the finish line.

Diggins took them from third to first on the final leg to win the gold.

Bill Koch won the only other medal (silver) in cross country skiing for the United States in 1976.

“On Kikkan’s last lap, I saw there was three of them and I was like ‘a medal is not enough anymore, I want to win this,’ ” Diggins told the media.

“I just felt unstoppable.”

Shibutanis prevail

Maia and Alex Shibutani moved to Ann Arbor almost a dozen years ago to train in the figure skating mecca of metro Detroit.

They were the first skaters to win a medal in their first season after juniors.

At 16, Maia did it at the youngest age in history.

Hopes spiked.

But the dream was deferred. The Shibutanis found that careers do not always progress evenly, or continuously.

At Pyeongchang, however, they won two bronze medals and proved what glitters is not always gold.

Their free dance is not always their strong suit.

“It’s incredibly special,” Maia said, according to TeamUSA.org. “Along the way, there have been a lot of people that have told us that maybe we shouldn’t do it, or that siblings shouldn’t be a team.

“But we believed in ourselves.”

Before the games, Alex said they intended an important personal statement with their free dance.

“There are always going to be doubters,” he said after they won the bronzes. “But all I can say, right now, is we persevered and we did it our way.”

More: Canadians earn gold in ice dancing; U.S. hockey wins

Pasha’s gold medal

The gold medal-winning captain of the men’s ice hockey team of the Olympic Athletes of Russia looked perhaps too familiar.

It has only been two seasons since Pavel Datsyuk left Detroit.

What singed the hearts of Red Wings’ fans, as the non-Russian, Russians decimated the United States, 4-0, in men’s ice hockey is that Dastyuk looked so good.

He stirred a sometimes-enigmatic Russian national team, flashing his brilliant puck-handling and that amazing sense of precision amid the flow of play.

Datsyuk stole the puck, delivered body checks, including a huge, booming one in the opening moments, and played on the power play and every penalty kill.

He looked constantly fresh.

In Russia, the title of a high-ranking officer in Turkey is sometimes applied to men of advanced standing and accomplishment as an honorific.

Around the dressing room at Joe Louis Arena, some of the Red Wings used it as Datsyuk’s nickname.

They called him Pasha.

Well-managed games

As some Olympic games have demonstrated, when the buses do not run on time, construction deadlines were not met or there are problems with venues and their siting, the toll can be harsh.

Atlanta and Rio did not go so well. Vancouver had its glitches.

The South Koreans established efficiency as a trademark of the games. Even reshuffling some of the Alpine events due to high winds reportedly yielded a reasonably organized result.

The projected cost is $13 billion, about one-fourth the cost of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, which cost about $50 billion.

Keller’s rush

Out of North Farmington High School and the Honey Baked Hockey Club, Megan Keller is among the finest defensemen from the state of Michigan.

At 21, she entered the Winter Games as an All-American, one of the 10 finalists for the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Award. She said she looks forward to a possible National Championship at BC and a likely career in the National Women’s Hockey League.

On a deeply talented team, as a younger defender of considerable skill, providing offense became less of priority. But she is offensively-skilled, too.

And when Keller jumped into the rush in overtime in the gold medal game, she broke in alone and nearly ended it.

Goalie Szabados lunged quickly to her right in a half-split to make an outstanding blocker save, one of her best of the tournament.

Keller could play in at least three more Olympics.

Norway’s Olympics

An underdog won.

Never a surprise, up toward the top of the medal standings, Norway shocked at Pyeongchang with 33 percent more medals than it won at Sochi in 2014.

It topped the grid with 39 medals.

Germany took 31 medals, an increase of 12 over its haul in Sochi, trying Norway with 14 golds.

Canada managed four more medals this quadrennial with 29.

The United States matched the nine gold medals it won four years ago, but had five fewer medals with 23 overall.

For this toast, therefore, we lift Aquavit, served at room temperature, in the festive Norwegian tradition.