By Dan Egan
The 2022 Beijing Olympics are upon us, and it’s an appropriate time to ponder about this global gathering, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. The 2002 Salt Lake City Games are considered the most successful Olympic Games of the Modern era. So, it makes sense for a few comparisons between these Games on their 20th anniversary.
The legacy of 2002 can be seen at most of the major venues which are still active today for major regional, national, and international events. The Utah Olympic Park offers bobsledding, Nordic jumping freestyle water ramps and Soldier Hollow Nordic Center and Woodward Park City offer opportunities for skiers and snowboarders. All three places are just some of the examples where youth programs and world class training come together, and they were all generated from the 2002 Olympics.
Twenty years ago, the 2002 Games were in peril due to the horrific events of 9/11, which threatened the running of the Games. In the end the Games became an international representation of resilience.
Can Beijing potentially become a similar symbol of hope? Only time will tell.
Over 2 million fans from around the world descended upon Salt Lake City in 2002. It’s hard to imagine those types of numbers, especially with athletes and journalists already posting social media images of empty flights to China. However, over 3 billion people watched the recent delayed 2020 Tokyo Games on broadcast and streaming, so viewing numbers for Beijing could dwarf the 2002 Olympics.
Some big names landed medals in 2002, including Bode Miller with two silver medals, Ross Powers who took gold in the halfpipe along with Kelly Clark and Apolo Anton Ohno both of whom won the hearts of fans winning gold in short track speedskating.
As we dive into the 2022 Beijing Games, we will again see some familiar faces, none bigger than Shaun White. In the 2014 Sochi Games, White was the highest paid athlete at the Games hauling in over 20 million. That seems like plenty of incentive to head to China, which will be his fifth Olympics. At the age of 36, with three Olympic gold medals in hand he has nothing to lose and nothing to prove but if he lands on the podium his GOAT, or greatest of all time, status will be secure. And now that he has made the finals in such a dramatic fashion, all eyes will be on the men’s snowboard finals.
Lindsey Jacobellis, rewrote her legacy by winning a gold medal in snowboard cross, this week. Mainly known for falling in the 2006 Olympics off of the final jump with a bit of pre celebration maneuver in the air, the crash cost her the gold and she settled for silver. The 36-year-old Jacobellis now becomes the oldest female athlete to win gold and Olympic redemption in an already storybook career.
Also headlining Team USA is David Wise who is attempting to win his third gold medal in the men’s ski halfpipe. Montana’s Bradley Wilson had a strong showing in his third Olympics but fell short of the finals over the weekend in China. Grand Targhee’s Jaelin Kauf, took silver in the women’s moguls providing the USA with its first women’s medal in moguls since Hannah Kearney in Sochi 2014. Snowboarding featured a changing of the guard as Julia Marino took silver for the USA and superstar Jamie Anderson fell well short of her quest to threepeat in snowboarding slopestyle.
The “Five Medal Quest” for Mikaela Shiffrin has created a lot of pressure. NBC has been running Olympic promos featuring Shiffrin since October 2021. She continues to break records and lead the charge for the U.S. Alpine Ski Team. However, with her recent fall in the first run of the giant slalom at the Olympics, the “Five Medal” quest has slipped through the cracks. The Alpine world was hoping this was a simple mistake however with the DNF, did not finish, in the slalom, it has not gone well for Shiffrin in China.
Arguably the best skier of all time with plenty of runway in her career this is her fourth Games and Shiffrin has three Olympic medals—two gold, one silver—and four World Championship medals—three gold, one silver. There is a lot of pressure on Shiffrin and it was recently the second anniversary of the passing of her father, so between NBC, her desire to win, and all of the international media coverage of her life on and off the mountain the pressure is clearly taking a toll. Will she compete in the remaining events? Hard to say at this point especially because they are speed events and the potential for falling in downhill and/or super-G would have bigger consequences than missing a gate in a technical event.
In the past we have seen what this sort of pressure has done to athletes as recently as this past delayed 2020 Olympics with Simone Biles. In the ski world, Miller had the world watching him during the 2006 Torino Olympics and he had a very disappointing Games with no medals. At the 2010 Vancouver Games Lindsey Vonn took home two medals—a gold and a bronze. It’s hard to say the winningest American World Cup ski racer was unsuccessful at those 2010 Games, however, the hype for five medals was peddled by NBC, Sports Illustrated and other media outlets.
The Olympic movement has historically united the nations of the world around sports and as fans we love our winners and often empathize with the effort and participation of the world’s best athletes. These 2022 Games will be no different. There will be the underdog who overachieves, our heroes who stand on the podiums and the aging athletes we will miss when they retire, and I for one plan on watching every minute of it.
Extreme Skiing Pioneer, Dan Egan coaches and teaches at Big Sky Resort during the winter. His 2022 steeps camps at Big Sky Resort run Feb. 24-26, March 10-12 and March 17-19. His newest book, “Thirty Years in a White Haze” was released in March 2021 and is available at White-Haze.com.