Early issues aside, not a bad start in Sochi

February 13, 2014 

Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey Women

Kanae Aoki of Japan slides to a stop after chasing the goal shot by Franziska Busch of Germany during the closing seconds of the women's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Germany defeated Japan 4-0. (AP Photo/Brian Snyder, Pool)

BRIAN SNYDER — AP

From time to time, sports columnists are accused of climbing on board too high of a soapbox and pitching the negative about things.

A lot of writers, myself included, jumped right on that soapbox last week when stories of ill-prepared facilities trickled out of Sochi, stories that some believed would foreshadow an Olympics that would turn into a logistical nightmare.

Fortunately, we haven’t heard any stories of bus delays or major facility malfunctions. In fact, save for Bob Costas’ eye infection and some warm weather, this has played out to be a normal Olympics so far. And that’s a good thing.

In terms of competition, it has been a mixed bag for the U.S. so far. Freestylers and snowboarders, with the exception of Shaun White, have scored big. Speed skating has been a struggle. The men’s hockey team opened with a big win Thursday over Slovakia, while the women’s hockey team is comfortably through to the semifinals despite a loss to Canada.

Three takeaways so far:

Freestyle is fun: Sure, White missed the podium on the halfpipe. But several other American skiiers and snowboarders have stepped up in slopestyle and halfpipe. The combination of big air and bigger wipeouts have become the centerpiece of NBC’s Olympics coverage, making for some enjoyable television -- even on tape.

Russians have a heart: After a poor showing four years ago, the Russians set out to rack up the medals on home turf, just like Canadians did with their “own the podium” program in Vancouver. They are one of six countries to reach double figures in the medal count, although their only golds have come in figure skating. One of the golds was claimed in pairs competition by Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar, who were not shy in putting their emotions on display on and off the ice. They completely shattered the stereotype that Russians, and Russian athletes in particular, are emotionless.

Curling, we have a problem: As much as curling is a once-every-four-years curiosity for most of the U.S., the American curling program needs a big, big push. After crashing in Vancouver, both the U.S. men and women started poorly in Sochi. Granted, the U.S. men had to start against Norway, who can back up their flamboyant pants with some extremely smart play, but the 1-3 U.S. start leaves the Americans 1½ games back of the medal round with five games to go. The women, ­meanwhile, yielded the curling equivalent of a 15-run inning to Great Britain early in the tournament, giving up seven rocks in one end. Still, the 1-4 American women are only 1½ games out of a playoff for the medal round with four games remaining.

There’s much more to come from Sochi. The men’s hockey tournament is just getting started, and the women likely will have a rematch with Canada for the gold medal. There’s a lot of skiing and snowboarding remaining, with the U.S. looking to add to its medal count. And Lolo Jones will make her Winter Olympics debut in women’s bobsled.

As long as the focus remains on competition instead of security and logistical issues, and if the biggest problem at these Olympics remains a television host’s eye infection, then we should be in for an entertaining second week in Sochi.

Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or rseibel@macon.com.

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