Olympics Today: Another up-and-down day for Canada in Pyeongchang

Kaetlyn Osmond takes home the bronze medal in women's figure skating, to up Canada's 2018 Olympics total in that discipline to 4.

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While you were sleeping…

These Olympics — it’s just an emotional ride, isn’t it?

Canada finishes one-two in ski cross, as Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan dominate the competition throughout, and you’re watching a pair of close friends dancing and deliriously hugging each other on the podium, and you’re feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

And then you turn around and Canadian men’s curling skip Kevin Koe’s looking dejected, in that Eeyore way that he does, as Swiss curlers rambunctiously celebrate the bronze medal they just won, ensuring in the process that Canada will miss the podium in both the men’s and women’s competitions at these Olympics for the first time since, well … that’s just never happened before.

Canada will not win a men’s or women’s medal in curling. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Kaetlyn Osmond takes the ice and she skates brilliantly, just throwing down with the program of her life, shattering her personal best, becoming only the sixth Canadian woman to win an individual figure skating medal at the Olympics when she’s awarded bronze — a truly historic bronze at that, because it’s her nation’s 27th medal of these Games, making it Canada’s most successful winter Olympics ever. She’s just beaming on the podium. Radiant with excitement.

So, you flip on the hockey game and Germany — Germany! — is not just beating the Canadian men’s team, they’re gutting them. Germany has only 20,000 registered ice hockey players (Canada has more than 600,000) yet these 22 particular registered German ice hockey players have scored three times in the second period, and that’s before Canadian forward Gilbert Brule is sent to the dressing room for attempting to behead a German player with his forearm at centre ice.

But Canada scores two quick ones in the third, and the Germans keep taking penalties, and you start thinking, ‘OK, the Canadians are coming back, they’re going to figure this out.’ But Germany just bleeds that clock, man, and its goaltender, someone you’ve never heard of named Danny aus den Birken, is strong when he needs to be, and as time expires and jubilant Germany are spilling over the boards to celebrate their greatest international hockey victory in quite some time, the feeling for a Canadian fan is perhaps best described as empty.

You go up, you go down. Canadians triumph in competitions they haven’t always excelled at, they fall in sports they’ve owned for decades. In a way, that’s been the story of these Games for Canada. It’s the best the nation’s ever had thanks to stirring victories in events like freestyle skiing, luge and figure skating. But it’s come with some not-disregardable disappointment, as well, with crushing defeats in cornerstone sports like hockey and curling.

It’s been an outstanding Olympics for Canada, no doubt. But a frustrating one, too. If you’ve watched it front to back, you’ve been along for quite a ride.

A double on the mountain

Ski cross only became an Olympic sport in 2010, and Canadian women have owned it ever since.

Ashleigh McIvor won the inaugural gold in 2010. Four years later, Marielle Thompson won gold and Kelsey Serwa took silver. On Thursday night, Canadians stood atop the podium again as Serwa won gold and Brittany Phelan took silver. Of the nine Olympic medals ever awarded in this sport, Canada has claimed five.

The Canadians were simply dominant. Serwa and Phelan finished second and third in qualifying Wednesday, then each won their 1/8 Finals and their quarterfinals, before finishing one-two in a semifinal. Serwa led for the entirety of the medal race, while Phelan hung back in fourth during the early going before surging to an easy second-place finish in the race’s latter half.

And yet, Canada’s day could’ve been even better. Thompson, the defending gold medallist who returned from a devastating knee injury suffered only four months ago to put up the fastest time in Wednesday’s qualifiers, crashed in her 1/8 final heat, ending her Games.

Moments after Thompson’s spill, fellow Canadian India Sherret went down in her 1/8 final heat, as well. Sherret did everything she could to regain her balance after losing it during a jump, but eventually lost her battle with gravity and made frighteningly hard impact with a hill.

Such is life in ski cross — a sport in which the unexpected is a feature, not a bug. And a sport thoroughly dominated by Canadian women.

Osmond caps a great games for Canadian figure skaters

Still out of breath from her skate, Kaetlyn Osmond looked genuinely surprised when the number was read. The 22-year-old Canadian had just wrapped an elegant, clean skate in Thursday’s long program. It was a terrific performance. She deserved a high score, but maybe she wasn’t quite ready to believe it until she heard it.

The score was 152.15. A total of 231.01 including her short program. Enough to guarantee her Canada’s first women’s singles figure skating medal since Joannie Rochette won bronze at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. With one skater to go — teenaged Russian world champion Evgenia Medvedeva — all that was left to decide was the colour.

It ended up bronze, as Medvedeva claimed silver behind her 15-year-old teammate and gold medallist Alina Zagitova. As Osmond stood on the podium after all was said and done, she looked like she could barely stand still.

It was Canada’s fourth figure skating medal at these Games, and its eighth top-10 finish across five events. That’s a great result for a team that was a blend of veterans like Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir and Patrick Chan, and the future of the sport in Canada like Osmond, Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau.

Unfortunately, another part of that bright future, 2017 World Championship bronze medallist Gabrielle Daleman, had a nightmare of an evening, falling several times during her skate and leaving the ice in tears. She finished a disappointing 15th with a combined score of 172.46. Safe to say this isn’t how Daleman envisioned her second Olympics coming to an end, but she still has the gold medal she won earlier in these Games during the team event. And, at only 20, she has plenty of skating ahead of her.

Disappointment on ice

Kevin Koe’s Calgary-based rink crashed out of the Olympics Thursday at the hands of Switzerland, a strong curling nation but not one you’d expect to beat Canada in a medal-deciding game. And yet:

What a strange Olympics this was for Canada’s curlers. It began with gold in mixed doubles, the first ever awarded at an Olympics and went to Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris, a pair who had only curled together for about 45 minutes prior.

But then Rachel Homan’s rink, the defending world champions and considered one of the best women’s teams ever assembled, suffered a disastrous 0-3 start and ultimately missed the medal round altogether. Koe at least made it out of the round robin, but promptly dropped both the semifinal and bronze medal game.

Who’s to say what to make of it all. The rest of the world is getting better, and Canada may want to assess its qualification process, which takes place awfully close to the Games, and is, according to those who participate in it, perhaps more stressful and difficult than competing at the Olympics itself. Canadian lead Ben Hebert called Friday morning’s result “rock bottom,” which seems a little strong, but he’s the guy with the broom in his hands.

Oh, and perhaps you heard Canada’s men’s hockey team fell to Germany in the semifinals. Is this not how you were expecting to begin your Friday?

Good for the Germans, who are on a remarkable run in this tournament and, frankly, should be everyone’s rooting interest when they take on the Olympic Athletes from Russia for gold come Sunday.

As for the Canadians, well, not a whole lot to be said right now. This game, and the Canadian effort overall, will be well scrutinized and dissected in many places. We’ll spare you the specifics. What’s important is there’s still a bronze medal to be won. That is, if a disheartened Canada can get up for a game that begins less than 24 hours after this exceptionally disappointing one ended.

Prominent Canadians in action on Day 15 (all times Eastern):

• Snowboarding, men’s parallel giant slalom — Feb. 23, 7:27pm

Six-time Olympian — six! — Jasey Jay Anderson first competed on this stage at Nagano in 1998 when he was only 23. Now 42, and turning 43 in April (sorry, Jasey), Anderson is back for another ride in the parallel giant slalom. He’s a long way removed from his gold-medal performance in this event at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, and even further from his four consecutive World Cup overall titles in the early 2000s. But he’s not far removed at all from winning gold in this event at a World Cup stop in Bansko, Bulgaria just last month. It was Anderson’s first win on the circuit in eight years, and he had to defeat World Cup leader Nevin Galmarini to do it. Having proven he’s still got it — and becoming the oldest rider to ever win a World Cup in the process — Anderson will look to recapture that magic in Pyeongchang Friday night. Joining Anderson in the field is a snowboarder 15 years his junior, Burlington, Ont.,’s Darren Gardner, who finished No. 27 in last season’s World Cup parallel snowboard standings. Canada has not entered an athlete into the women’s side of this event.

• Bobsleigh, four-man — Feb. 23, 7:30pm

After winning gold in the two-man competition last week, Canadian pilot Justin Kripps will look to make it a double when the four-man competition kicks off with its first two runs Friday night. The Germans dominate this event — they took all three medals at the 2017 World Championships — but the 31-year-old Kripps has given them a run for their money now and again, picking up a pair of silver medals as part of five top-five finishes in four-man competition on the World Cup circuit this season. Fellow Canadian pilots Chris Spring and Nick Poloniato will also race, giving Canada three sleds in the field. Spring — who survived a harrowing crash racing for Canada in 2012 — has won a pair of World Cup four-man bronze medals this season.



• Snowboarding, men’s big air final — Feb. 23, 8:00pm

A quarter of the field will be Canadian when the men’s snowboarding big air final is held for the first time in Olympic history Friday night at Alpensia Ski Jumping Center. Two-time Olympic bronze medalist Mark McMorris led the way in the qualifying runs, earning a 95.75 on his second run, the third-highest score of the entire field. Max Parrot (92.50) and Sebastien Toutant (91.00) were right up there with him, and will give Canada a great chance of reaching the podium in this one. You may remember Parrot from his silver medal-winning performance in the slopestyle competition earlier in these Games (McMorris won bronze). Carlos Garcia Knight — a 20-year-old New Zealander — had the best qualifying run (97.50), while Switzerland’s Jonas Bosiger (96.00) placed second ahead of McMorris.

• Men’s hockey bronze medal game, Canada vs. Czech Republic — Feb. 24, 7:10am

Safe to say this isn’t where the Canadian men expected to find themselves coming into these Games, but here we are. After Friday morning’s stunning defeat to Germany, Canada can at least end on something resembling a high note with a victory in the bronze medal game. Of course, you may remember the opponent here, Czech Republic, from their victory over Canada in last week’s round robin. The Czechs played a frustrating, defensive brand of hockey that night, forcing the game to a shootout in which Canada could not solve its goaltender, Pavel Francouz. In the time since, the Czechs have ended USA’s tournament — also in a shootout — before getting shut out by the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the semifinals.

And now, a few words about mass start speed skating

Have you not heard of mass start speed skating? Sometimes referred to as “Nascar on ice,” this interdisciplinary event returns to the Olympics this year for the first time since 1932 in Lake Placid. Here’s how it works: 24 skaters will crowd the ice at once (the course is designed to accommodate only six) and race for a grueling 6.4 kilometres. Endurance is essential. But speed is, too. That’s because the race features three intermediate sprints after laps 4, 8 and 12, in which skaters can earn additional points. While the first three past the finish line win gold, silver and bronze, as per usual, fourth through sixth place is determined by points earned during the three sprints. This mishmash of sprinting and stamina leads to a variety of strategies being deployed across the large field. And with the skaters all operating in such close proximity, fireworks typically ensue. Here’s mass start being contested at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games:

• Speed skating, women’s mass start— Feb. 24, 6:00am
• Speed skating, men’s mass start— Feb. 24, 6:45am

So, now that you know what mass start speed skating is, you can tune in Saturday morning. There will be three semifinals for both the men and women, with the top eight skaters from each advancing to the final, which takes place about an hour later. On the women’s side, Ivanie Blondin and Keri Morrison will represent Canada. Blondin is the favourite to reach the podium, having won mass start gold at the 2016 World Championships, and silver in 2015. On the men’s side, 33-year-old veteran Olivier Jean will be the lone Canadian entrant. You may remember the dreadlocked skater from his gold medal performance as part of Canada’s short-track 5,000m relay team at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Now purely a long track skater, Jean is a legitimate podium contender here, having won mass start bronze at the 2017 World Championships.

Sportsnet dispatches from Korea

Shi Davidi has all the details and reaction from Kaetlyn Osmond’s bronze-medal winning skate Thursday night.

Shi also looks at a passing of the guard in Canadian short-track speed skating.

Kristina Rutherford watched Canada’s one-two ski-cross finish Thursday, and wrote this fun story, which is mostly about the tight bond between Canadian medalists Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan, but also about rocks.

If you dare relive it, Kristina wrote about Thursday morning’s double whammy of defeat at the hands of Americans for both Canada’s women’s hockey players and men’s curlers.

Around the web…

The New York Times attempts to compare figure skaters across eras, and finds the sport may be reaching a breaking point in terms of difficulty.

The Times also looks at the inequality of Olympic bobsleigh, and the push for inclusion of a four-woman event, a cause oft-championed by three-time Canadian medalist Kaillie Humphries.

The Ringer has a good one on curler John Shuster, the US skip who defeated Canada Thursday morning and could finally win an elusive gold medal in this, his fourth Olympics.

Did you know Sweden and Norway share a bitter cross-country skiing rivalry? And that it dates back to the 1880s? As one Norwegian journalist explains, “I was in the world championship in Sweden in 1993. … I was walking behind a small boy one morning and I heard him say to his mother, ‘I hate Noregians, I really hate Norwegians.’”

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