- Associated Press - Sunday, February 18, 2018

It was, perhaps, the defining moment for the U.S. team at this Olympics.

Not Shaun White blitzing the halfpipe in a final run to win gold, a win that came with some baggage by itself. Or Chloe Kim delighting fans from two countries when she won her halfpipe, either.

No, it came on Friday when — within 20 seconds of each other — Nathan Chen skated his way out of medal contention and Mikaela Shiffrin faltered in the slalom she had been expected to ski away with.

And with it went any chance the U.S. had of redeeming itself in what is shaping up as a frustrating Olympics for an American team that had hopes of ending up near the top of the medal table.

The biggest team in the Olympics — 241 athletes — has been a flop so far, winning so few medals that you can count them on both hands. Take away the new wave of snowboarding events, and you can count them with one hand.

But if those waving the red, white and blue want a statistic that really stuns, consider this one: Norway, a nation of 5.3 million people is leading with 26 medals so far, or one for every 212,000 Norwegians.

The U.S., a nation of some 320 million people, has 10 medals or one for every 32 million Americans.

It could be worse. Russia — which won the medal count in Sochi four years ago — is still waiting for its first gold medal. But at least the Russians — who are not an official team here — have an excuse because some of its best dopers from Sochi were banned from these games. Even the partial Russian team has 10 medals overall, same as the U.S.

The U.S. runs an extensive winter training program with millions of dollars spent every year to train top athletes just for this occasion. The U.S. Olympic Committee took in more than $300 million in 2016 alone, with a big chunk of that used to train elite athletes.

That’s a lot of money with very little to show for it. Through Sunday, American athletes were fifth on the medal list. The Associated Press had projected the U.S. to have 20 medals at this point, and Team USA has averaged 30 medals total over the last three Winter Olympics.

With the dismal performance have come dismal ratings for NBC, which paid $963 million for the games, up from $775 million for Sochi. While the Olympics still win the prime-time battle in the U.S., the total audience tuning in was down 16 percent Thursday night, with the viewership on NBC alone down 29 percent.

U.S. teenagers have a lot of potential. Kim dominated in the halfpipe and could be a favorite in future Olympics, and fellow 17-year-old Red Gerard, who won gold in men’s snowboard slopestyle. But former gold medalists Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety have so far failed to deliver.

Add in the lackluster performance of the U.S. hockey team — which lost 4-0 to Russia on Saturday — and the absence of any medals in (non-short track) speed skating and there’s not a lot to cheer about.

The games could still be salvaged somewhat by some of the stars with more events left. Shiffrin has an outside shot at two golds in the combined and downhill and Vonn is one of the favorites in the downhill.

Gold medals

Two events, two gold medals for Marcel Hirscher. The 28-year-old Austrian has a good chance to leave the Pyeongchang Olympics with one more.

Hirscher won the men’s giant slalom Sunday, finishing in 2 minutes, 18.04 seconds, and beating Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen by 1.27 seconds — the largest victory in the event at an Olympics in 50 years. He also won the alpine combined last Tuesday, and still has the slalom — his best event — to come.

One for the Ukraine

Oleksandr Abramenko was the winner of the men’s aerials, giving Ukraine its first medal of these games and just its third gold ever at the Winter Games.

An LGBT moment

At Phoenix Snow Park, all eyes were on American slopestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, who came out as gay about two years after capturing the silver medal in Russia. Kenworthy failed to land any of his three runs and finished last.

“It didn’t work out for me, which is a bummer,” said Kenworthy, who has become a strong, steady voice in the LGBT community.

Before the start of the contest, a screen grab of NBC showing Kenworthy sharing a kiss with his boyfriend, Matt Wilkas, at the bottom of the hill went viral.

“To be able to do that, to give him a kiss, to have that affection broadcast to the world, is incredible,” Kenworthy said.


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