PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – When freestyle skier David Wise arrived at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, he knew this was his one chance every four years to mingle with competitors from other sports in the snow and ice spectrum.
“Whenever you’re interacting with other athletes, there’s usually this shoulder-shrugging thing like ‘Who’s the bigger guy in the room?’” he said. “My first experience this trip was walking in and seeing some of the massive men’s bobsled team, and they said, ‘Yo, man! What up? How you doin’? What sport are you in?’
“That just set the tone for the whole Games for me. ‘Man, there is no need to prove yourself.’ We’re all here and we’re all part of Team USA and it’s just been such an honor to be part of this amazing victory crew.”
Wise defended his title in men’s halfpipe to win his second Olympic gold medal. He was one of the nine gold medalists for Team USA, which also won eight silver and six bronze for a total of 23 medals.
There were several Team USA milestones that punctuated PyeongChang 2018.
Shaun White’s win in snowboard halfpipe was the historic 100th gold medal for Team USA dating back to 1924 in Chamonix. Men’s curling captured the first Olympic gold in U.S. history, Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall -- in her fifth Games -- teamed up in the sprint for the first gold in women's cross country skiing, the U.S. women’s ice hockey team won its first gold in 20 years, Chris Mazdzer secured the first medal, a silver, in men’s singles luge and the women’s speedskating team took the bronze medal in team pursuit for the first long track medal in eight years.
Team USA also won nine gold medals four years ago in Sochi, but finished with 28 total at those Games thanks to 12 bronze medals.
While Team USA did not make the podium as often as it has in the past, it showed an amazing amount of depth with 35 near-misses.
Team USA had 12 fourth places, 14 fifths and nine sixths.
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The fourths included Mikaela Shiffrin in Slalom, Lindsey Jacobellis and Nick Baumgartner in snowboard cross, the luge team relay, Annalisa Drew in halfpipe, Maggie Voisin in slopestyle and Joey Mantia and Brittany Bowe in 1,000 meters long track speedskating.
Nathan Chen was a notable fifth in men’s figure skating, while teammate Vincent Zhou was sixth. Diggins had two fifths and a sixth in cross country skiing before she won the team sprint gold. Maddie Olsen was a surprise finalist in women's aerials, went big with a trick she'd never done before in competition and nearly landed it. She placed sixth.
“We had some incredibly close calls,” said Alan Ashley, the U.S. Olympic Committee Chief of High Performance. “I want to look at this and say this is opportunity for us. We have this amazing depth, we have these incredible medalists, how do we basically continue to compete at a higher level and give them what they need going forward?
“It’s not as though we were in situations where we were saying we’re going to do this great achievement, then we were 20th, 40th, 70th. Instead we had this huge group of athletes that was this far away from being on the podium. That looks like opportunity to me. I think we can take those 4th through 6th places and help convert them into somebody’s dream of standing on the podium.”
Ashley said he and his staff will take “a hard look” at what happened in PyeongChang. He will study other countries, particularly Norway, which had 37 total medals to lead the medal count – and potentially more in the cross country 30K mass start.
“Norway’s had a runaway success here,” he said. “They’ve really done a great job of preparing their athletes, and I admire them for that and admire their athletes.”
He also said he’d get feedback from athletes about how the USOC can better provide resources, whether it’s in the area of coaching, training, technology or innovation.
Women accounted for 57 percent of the Team USA medals.
“Part of it is erasing a societal stigma that for women being strong is something that should be frowned upon,” said Elana Meyers Taylor, who won her second straight silver medal and third medal overall in women’s bobsled. “Now we’re in society where being strong is embraced, and having muscles is a wonderful thing.
“And I feel like that’s encouraging more and more young women to get into sport. I feel like all the women in Team USA really take that to heart and really go out there knowing that and trying to perform to represent women as best we can. And hopefully the little girls will look to us and say they can achieve anything.”