This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
I don't get it. Speed skaters, as is true with Olympic swimming and Track & Field, compete for medals at a wide range of distances, from the 500-meter sprint all the way up to the 10,000-meter endurance grind. Perhaps to the lay observer, it looks like they're doing the exact same thing at all these distances. The legs cross over each other around the curves, while the inside arm tucks across the back and the outside arm takes a full swing, and then both arms come into action down the straightaway. The back is perpendicular to the ice and the thighs are built to abnormally huge proportions. But each distance is a medal race. Gold, silver and bronze awarded for each of the five individual events.
Same with alpine skiing. Again, we the non-skiers may not know just what varying skills are required for the Downhill, the Slalom, the Giant Slalom, the Super Giant Slalom, or what they call the Combined races, but we do know that each of the alpine events is considered a separate discipline and, again, there are medals given out for each of those.
Phenom speed-skater Eric Heiden went home from Lake Placid in 1980 with five gold medals, as he won what was then….and now….considered a mind-boggling feat in winning all the distances around the oval.
The alpine skiers in Vancouver have five possibilities at medals.
There are many different medal races in short-track speed skating and in cross-country skiing as well.
So I just plain do not get it.
How could the jewel of the Winter Games, figure skating, offer their individual elite only one medal? When we watch the short or the long programs, for both the men and the women, the experts tell us, "Oh, she is not terribly confident in her short program. Her talents and focus are on the long program." Well, if there are two completely different programs, at different lengths, which supposedly require different skills, why in the world don't these athletes deserve medals for both the short and the long?
The women's figure skating is scheduled now, as the Games reach their denouement, because it is considered the showcase of all the Olympic events. The women skated the short program on Tuesday evening and that surely felt like a medal event to me. To an individual, the best in the world came out with their unbelievable skills and skated their hearts out. Inspired, near-perfection performances among the top ten….for almost all of them, the best performances of their careers. South Korean Kim Yu-Na was point-blank glorious. Athletic, dynamic, elegant, confident, sublimely gifted. Kim's was called the greatest women's short program ever skated in the history of the sport…and she deserved a gold medal for it. Japan's Mao Asada's performance was considered the second greatest ever skated and she deserved a silver medal. And the Canadian Joannie Rochette, her emotions flooding the ice after the recent death of her mother, skated above her head to glide into third place. But when they skate the long program tonight, if Rochette's scores don't give her a combined third place, she won't win that bronze medal. If either Kim or Asada falter tonight, their combined short and long programs may not bring them the medals they should have won on Tuesday night.
These skaters work on the ice eight hours a day for four years, come to the Games and compete in two separate events, yet have the chance for only one medal.
I just plain don't get it.
And, by the way, another thing I just don't get is the daily drum roll before the comparative count of the medals won by various nations. Back during the Cold War, numbers and colors of medals going to the Soviet Union and East Germany, versus the U.S. and Western European countries, was relevant. Today, it's a non-issue.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Banner image: (L-R) Mao Asada of Japan celebrates the silver medal, Kim Yu-Na of South Korea the gold medal and Joannie Rochette of Canada the bronze medal during the medal ceremony for the Ladies Free Skating at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images