In retrospect, the haircut might have been a bad idea.
Tonight’s biggest Sochi story: The sad saga of two-time Olympic halfpipe champion Shaun White, which NBC is hoping fervently you hadn’t heard about before primetime. The Flying Tomato came to Russia hoping to add another gold medal to his collection — but will leave instead with a disappointing fourth-place finish. Was White’s downfall telegraphed when he sheared off his glorious, Sampson-esque locks? Could a subpar halfpipe course — riddled with bumps and slushy patches — be to blame? Was snowboard’s elder statesman simply no match for a younger, dashing Swiss-Russian armed with an awesome nickname (I-Pod), a hashtag-inspired signature move (the “YOLO Flip”), and his own striking head of hair?
The world may never know. In the end, all that matters is that White had a killer run in the event’s qualifying round — scoring a spectacular 95.75 — but failed to impress in the finals, handing the victory to 25-year-old Orlando Bloom lookalike Iouri Podladtchikov. The Swiss boarder’s winning run scored a 94.75; if White had flipped and landed as well as he did earlier in the day, he’d have gotten that threepeat. But even if you’re a White fan, it’s tough to grumble about I-Pod’s triumph. Just look how ecstatic he was to snag the gold!
Sochi’s halfpipe: Too uneven for picky American athletes, but perfect for snow angels.
And while the YOLO Flip might have the dumbest name in professional sports — second only to White’s own signature move, the Double McTwist 1260, or perhaps another trick called the Backside Rodeo; seriously, who’s in charge of naming snowboarding stuff? — you’ve got to admit that it looks pretty effing cool. In my book, though, 10th place finisher Danny Davis appeared nearly as graceful as I-Pod when he recovered smoothly from a nasty wipeout — or, as an announcer put it, fell “victim to the slushy flat bottom.” It’s snowboarding meets floor routine!
Elsewhere in and around the Olympic Village Tuesday:
Most helpful slopestyle description: Still not entirely sure what this event is all about? Maybe NBC’s announcer can help you out: “[Variety is] almost imperative, although nothing in free skiing or slopestyle is imperative. They don’t have to do anything in particular.” Glad we cleared that up!
Honorable mention: “Traveling through the air without freaking out is so difficult.”
Best reminder that most Olympians are just incredibly talented adolescents: American Devin Logan’s awesome, childlike “penguin slide,” which mucked up her second slopestyle skiing run — but didn’t prevent her from snagging a silver medal. (Canadians Dara Howell and Kim Lammare took gold and bronze, respectively.) Davis’s wipeout was definitely more graceful, but Logan is clearly having more fun; she’s like a 12-year-old celebrating a surprise snow day.
Most chilling reality check: Howell’s 90-year-old grandfather apparently still skis every day. Wait, is Canada seriously that cold?
Honorable mention: “In order to get admitted to our academy, you must have special talents and abilities,” the dean of Russia’s prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy tells NBC in a segment about dance’s ties to figure skating. “If you don’t, you shouldn’t come here — or else you’ll ruin your life.” In post-Soviet Russia, reality checks you.
Olympic Stud of the Day: I’m tempted to award this to I-Pod and his megawatt “I can’t believe I won” smile. But that would be unfair to Russian pairs skaters Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar, who racked up a record-breaking short program score of 84.17 with their Cinderella-inspired routine — higher than any other couple in skating history. Higher than Kate Moseley and Doug Dorsey, even! But while both Ruskies skated like their nation’s morale depended on it — which, uh, it kinda does — Trankov’s the one who really turned it out. I mean, look at him.
Look at him.
This is the face of a man who knows he is killing it. Though post-skate, his confidence seems to drop by about a thousand percent.
Why so worried, Maxim? You’re fabulous! You skate like an angel! You look like a less creepy Cillian Murphy! You’re dressed like a life-sized Madame Alexander doll, and you’re pulling it off! Your homework: Embrace your inner (and outer) studliness. In tomorrow’s long program, I want you to own it.
Most literal costume/music duo: German pairs skaters Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy performed their short program to the smooth sounds of Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme. (Much classier than Americans Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who skated to the smooth sounds of Santana’s “Smooth.”) And naturally, Savchenko wore a hot pink catsuit covered in spangles. Think that sounds terribly cheesy? Don’t worry, it was — but it was also athletically impressive enough to net the pair a second-place finish. Moral of the story: Don’t underestimate the lady doing the Brady Bunch peek-around.
Bob Costas Matt Lauer comment: After days of battling the nastiest infection this side of World War Z, Costas finally decided to ditch his Fortress of Solitude for a little R&R. Stepping into his snarky shoes: Matt Lauer, a worthy replacement. Exhibit A: Lauer’s initial assessment of Costas’s condition: “He looked a little like a loser in a prize fight.” Exhibit B: The way Lauer welcomed viewers at the top of the night’s second hour of coverage: ”I keep expecting Costas to follow in the footsteps of Willis Reed and hobble heroically in and take us through the second half, but so far no action in the wings — so we will move forward.” No wonder he’s the most beloved personality on morning TV.
Top five burning questions inspired by tonight’s events:
5. According to Wikipedia, I-Pod rides “goofy stance” when he boards. Seriously, who is in charge of naming snowboarding stuff?
4. What’s inside the giant Russian nesting doll on the Slopestyle course? (Putin’s shirts, maybe?)
3. Did Canada mean to place a maple leaf directly on Dara Howell’s butt?
2. Does proud skating dad Boris Shnapir ever take off his Uncle Sam getup?
1. And finally, is there a gold medal in getting pumped up? Because if so, American luger Kate Hansen definitely wins. (Unfortunately, she’s better at pre-luge popping-and-locking than she is at the sport itself; Hansen took 10th in women’s singles. But her teammate Erin Hamlin finished third, making her the first American singles luge athlete to medal at the Olympics — behind a pair of Germans, silver medalist Tatjana Huefner and Natalie Geisenbeger.)