They marched in as a team — 211 American athletes promoted as perhaps the best Winter Games' team ever. Two messy weeks later, the U.S. team is seen by many as not just a group of under-achievers, but as not much of a team at all.
The reasons, says veteran sportswriter Roy Johnson, are “the selfishness, the childishness, the churlishness, the lack of esprit de corps.”
Johnson points to skier Bode Miller's 0-for-everything Olympics, so far.
“He has to go down as the biggest bust in Olympic history,” Johnson says.
And there were the barbs traded by medal-winning speedskaters Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis.
“Would have been nice,” Davis said, “If, after the 1000 meter, he could have been a good teammate and shook my hand.”
“There's nothing to kiss and hug about," Hedrick replied.
To be fair, Miller and other Americans were projected as medal favorites — including by NBC —because they'd won World Cup and national championships to get here. They'd earned it. But most compete here as individuals, and with huge endorsement money at stake, many of the favorites rely on agents and private trainers to guide them.
Still, Lindsey Jacobellis’ showboating, which cost a snowboard gold, and the public image hits for the heavily hyped athletes remind too many of the disastrous U.S. basketball team in the Athens Games.
“You don't legislate conduct,” says U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel, “but what you do is provide them with a strong understanding of the opportunity and the responsibility that comes with representing your country at the Olympic Games.”
Then there was Sasha Cohen, who recovered bravely to win silver, for an American audience that pined only for gold.
“I didn't think I was going to get any medals, and so it was great to get silver,” Cohen said.
That’s a sentiment even Miller might support.
“It's unbelievably unhealthy,” Miller said before the Games, “the emphasis on winning and getting gold medals at the Olympics.”
That statement from an athlete who has seen the emphasis on his gold medal chances make him both rich and a target of criticism.