PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — They came to Pyeongchang with mountains of accolades, heaps of expectations and more airtime than an Olympic ski jumper.
But several US star athletes have slipped, skidded or fallen down the ranks, failing to medal in events where they were expected to win hardware.
Team USA sent a record 244 winter Olympians to this year’s Games. As of Sunday night — more than halfway through these Olympics — the US had earned 10 medals.
At this rate, Team USA is on track to fall far short of its 2014 Olympics haul of 28 medals and could have its lowest Winter Olympics medal count in two decades.
“I don’t think it’s so much about these athletes ‘choking’ as it is athletes from other countries just getting better,” sports psychologist Dr. Eric Margenau said.
But there have been subpar and even disastrous performances by some of the most hyped and commercialized athletes. And that might not be a coincidence.
‘A whole new level of pressure’
Before he set foot on Olympic ice, Nathan Chen was touted as a virtual lock for the gold medal. He kept smoking the competition with his jaw-dropping quads. Reporters and promoters couldn’t get enough of him. Chen even starred in a Super Bowl commercial set to James Brown’s “The Boss.”
Then he got to the Olympics and gave the most catastrophic performance of his life.
“As much as I tried to deny it, I did feel the pressure a lot,” Chen said after his calamitous men’s short program.
While all athletes handle pressure differently, Margenau said, hype and commercialization can add “a whole new level of pressure.”
“You don’t want to let your family down. You don’t want to be embarrassed. You don’t want to let down your sponsors,” Margenau said. “Well the sponsors are big boys. They can handle it.”
Some commercialized athletes have thrived in spite of (or maybe because of) the hype. Snowboarders Shaun White and Chloe Kim, ages 31 and 17, had plenty of pre-Olympics publicity. And each won a gold medal.
‘Tomorrow is another day’
The same hasn’t been true for heavily endorsed skier Lindsey Vonn this Olympics, at least not yet.
The 2010 Olympic downhill champion finished sixth in the super giant slalom, though she has another shot at a medal in this week’s downhill competition.
Vonn, who previously said she would not visit the White House if invited, got bombarded with tweets from Trump supporters saying her disappointing performance was karma.
But Vonn said she refused to let her critics bother her.
“Not everyone has to like me but my family loves me and I sleep well at night,” Vonn tweeted.
She followed that with an optimistic message: “Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to become better.”
Forget the medals
Two-time Olympic champion Ted Ligety also came to these Olympics with hopes of more glory. But the famed skier veered off course in the super-G and finished fifth in the men’s combined Sunday.
But Olympic medals don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Ligety’s baby son Jax made that point without saying a word.
“He is the bright spot on the day,” Ligety posted with a photo of Jax on Instagram. “Jax could give two ____s that daddy sucked at work today.”