Try this on for size: The United States could win.
I’m not talking about winning a speedskating race or a medal in figure skating. I’m talking about the whole darned shooting match.
And that would be incredible. The United States has never won the Winter Games. Never.
So maybe we’ve been looking at this all wrong. The object of the game isn’t to score as many points as possible, but to win. In every other sport, no one cares if you win the championship 1-0 or 140-138. All that matters is if you take the trophy home.
I’m as guilty as anyone on this, and it took a conversation with Jim Scherr, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, to notice what’s been in front of us all along. The first fact is that, as of Saturday – the midway point of the Games – the United States had 13 total medals, which, if you’ve been reading the papers, is supposed to be a total bust. In reality, it’s just one fewer medal than Team USA had at the same point in Salt Lake City, when the team record of 34 medals was set.
On the other hand, although the United States as of Sunday morning was three behind Norway in the overall medal race with 13, it had seven gold medals, which leads the Games. In Europe, medal standings are figured on gold medals, and over here, all the lists say the United States is winning the Games.
Scherr said that whenever he meets representatives of other Olympic committees, they congratulate him on how well his team is doing. In addition to the medals, Team USA also had 40 top-eight finishes in the Games’ first week – another record for the Americans. That’s not a sexy sounding stat, but it’s big in the international sports community, because top-eight finishes are seen as the true measure of the depth of a team. It’s only in the States, where we have fixated on total medals and medals not won instead of the standings, that the team is getting criticized.
The reality is that medals are a lot harder to come by for everything this time around.
“This is probably the most competitive Winter Games ever,” Scherr said Sunday. “Twenty-three countries have won medals halfway through the games. That’s a record. Estonia has won three golds. It’s pretty interesting how competitive this Olympics is.”
Scherr isn’t doing a Chad Hedrick and calling his shots, but he does note that the United States is in position to win either the total medal competition, the gold competition, or both.
In fact, if Bode and Jeremy and Johnny and all the others who were legitimate medal hopes had come through. The United States would have 23 medals, six clear of Germany and headed for certain victory in the overall count.
But that’s done, and nothing can change it. More important to the United States is the week ahead. Scherr estimates that as few as 23 total medals could win the overall competition. That would mean the United States needs to win ten more.