It is still far too early for doom, gloom and specific, overly pessimistic predictions. But one week into the 2018 PyeongChang Games, the United States is on pace for its worst Winter Olympic medal output since last century.
Twenty years ago in Nagano, Japan, the U.S. placed sixth in the medal table, with just 13 in 68 events – or 6.4 percent of available medals. Since, it has never finished outside the top two in the table, and never claimed fewer than 9.5 percent of podium spots.
With the 2018 Games almost halfway complete, however, the U.S. is lagging behind its customary pace. After Friday, it sits tied for fifth in the medal table, and five behind fourth-place Canada. Americans have won just eight medals in 46 events. If that form holds, their 2018 haul will be even more frail than 1998, relative to the number of events.
TEAM USA WINTER OLYMPIC MEDALS BY YEAR
U.S. % of available medals
*46 of 102 events complete
Their current form might not hold, of course. The U.S. will have several medal favorites throughout the second week of competition. But a few high-profile flops have Team USA in an unexpectedly poor position.
Mikaela Shiffrin got one gold, but failed to medal in her best event on Friday, and has chosen not to compete in one of her other five. Lindsey Jacobellis missed the podium in snowboard cross. Teenage figure skating sensation Nathan Chen will as well. Speed skater Heather Bergsma finished eighth in her two best races. And predictions of groundbreaking cross-country skiing or biathlon success have so far proven to be ill-advised.
The one sport in which the U.S. has excelled is snowboarding, with Shaun White, Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson and Chloe Kim all winning golds. But even in Kim’s halfpipe event, there was talk of an American podium sweep; Arielle Gold did take bronze, but China’s Jiayu Liu took silver.
Most pre-Olympics projections had the U.S. finishing third or fourth in the medal table, with around 28 or 29 from 102 events. With the number of events rising every year, and 2018 the first time that number rose past the century mark, 28 already would have been the worst output since 1998. But with the Games almost 50 percent complete, and the Americans underperforming, they look set to miss that already underwhelming mark.
So where can the U.S. make up ground? There will be plenty of opportunities. Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn could still combine for up to five more medals on the alpine slopes, and should get at least two or three.
In various freestyle skiing events, McRae Williams, Maggie Voisin (both slopestyle), Aaron Blunck, Alex Ferreira, David Wise, Maddie Bowman and Brita Sigourney (all halfpipe) are among the U.S. medal contenders.
There are still chances for cross-country skiing and speed skating medals. Women’s bobsled is also a possibility. Ice dancing is a possibility as well. And big air snowboarding offers hope on both the men’s and women’s side.
In team sports, the women’s hockey squad is expected to finish in the top three. Men’s hockey, men’s curling and women’s curling could all sneak into medal position, but none are favored.
There is always room for a surprise or two, but it appears Team USA will fall shy of its 2014 total (28). It could even fall shy of its 2006 total (25), despite the 2018 Olympics featuring 18 more events than the 2006 Games. It will almost certainly come up well short of 2002 (34) and 2010 (37).
The U.S. is by no means losing its status as a sporting power. After all, it has topped every Summer Olympics medal table since 1992 – when the Unified Team of former Soviet republics barely beat out Team USA. But it isn’t moving toward emulating its summer dominance in the winter, and PyeongChang is on track to be the Americans’ worst Games in a while.