SOCHI, Russia — The first Winter Olympics by the Black Sea ended Sunday after 98 events, abundant sunshine, occasional fog and one more gold medalist than expected because of a tie in the women’s downhill between Tina Maze and Dominique Gisin.
There are, at least for now, no more medals available, but as usual in this post-Olympic space, there are plenty of prizes:
Best Performance on Snow
We liked Maze’s two gold medals and two other top-five finishes. We liked Charlotte Kalla’s anchor leg for Sweden in the women’s cross-country relay, when she made up nearly 26 seconds on the leaders and held off the formidable Norwegian Marit Bjorgen on her way to gold. We also liked Bjorgen, who is in the remarkable position of having three gold medals feel like a letdown. And which stone-hearted soul could not be touched by the Canadian cross-country coach Justin Wadsworth, who ran onto the racecourse and provided a spare ski to the Russian competitor Anton Gafarov, who had broken one of his own.
But the nod here goes to the American expatriate Vic Wild, the snowboarder who converted on both of his opportunities to win gold for his adopted country, Russia.
The United States ski team did not give him the financing he felt he needed or deserved, so Wild followed love and money and ended up winning more gold medals than any American Olympian in Sochi. He swept the parallel giant slalom and the slalom, the latter by a slim margin. His Russian wife, Alena Zavarzina, won a bronze, too, and the couple will reportedly be $250,000 richer because of bonuses. Now all Wild has to do is learn to speak Russian.
Worst Performance on Snow
When you choose to wear a mariachi ski racing suit, you have a certain obligation to ski with style. Instead, Hubertus von Hohenlohe’s sixth Olympics lasted less than a minute as he picked his way down the first run of the men’s slalom course and soon lost a ski and crashed ingloriously.
Von Hohenlohe, a flamboyant Mexican, did have excuses. He had been unable to train because of a broken leg. He also was the oldest competitor in the Sochi Games, at 55.
“I think this is it, unless I find some pills that make me younger,” he said after his crash.
The good news on a rough night: he did not have put himself through the second run of the slalom, where a hellish course set by Ante Kostelic made a lot of world-class skiers look rather like von Hohenlohe (minus the mariachi suit).
Best Performance on Ice
The German lugers knew no equal, sweeping the four gold medals available. That included the one in the inaugural team competition, which was not only about the sliding but about sitting up straight for a change and swatting the dangling timing mechanism at the bottom of the run.
Viktor Ahn, another disgruntled athlete who found a home in Russia, nearly knew no equal, winning three gold medals and a silver in four short-track events.
Yet for day-in, day-out domination in Sochi there was simply no trumping Ireen Wust and the Dutch long-track speedskaters, who won 23 medals — five went to Wust — and left other nations scrambling for solutions and dignity. Perhaps it is time to split the Netherlands into provinces for the speedskating in 2018. It might even be time for them to start winning an event or two on snow.
Worst Performance on Ice
The American speedskaters (see above) deserve consideration. Eric Heiden, Bonnie Blair and Shani Davis were distant memories, even though Davis was still competing in Sochi. The Russian men’s hockey team certainly deserves consideration after failing to make the medal round, a failure that still rankles despite Russia’s topping the medal table over all.
But for collective underachievement, it was hard to match the final group on the final night of men’s figure skating. Looking trapped in the floodlights, the best in the world made the ice seem more slippery than usual. Down went Patrick Chan, the reigning world champion. Down went 19-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu (twice), which turned out to be enough for gold on this unenchanted evening.
Best Performance on Air
Plenty took the bait when the American luger Kate Hansen posted a short video clip on her Twitter account of a wolf prowling the halls outside her room in the Olympic Village. If you thought Sochi had a stray dog problem, how about its stray wolf problem? But this was no Russian predator. It was an American timber wolf named Rugby, filmed in a mock Olympic Village hallway in the United States by the comedian Jimmy Kimmel. Hansen said the video prompted something of a security scramble, but the International Olympic Committee took no action.
“It made me kind of laugh as an individual, not as an I.O.C. spokesman,” said Mark Adams, the I.O.C. spokesman.
Worst Performance on Air
NBC and its reporter Christin Cooper took flak for appearing to milk an interview with the skier Bode Miller for tears and sentiment. But Miller, who was becoming emotional before the interview started as he reflected on his deceased brother, Chelone, later defended Cooper.
Let’s see who defends the impolitic speedskating coach Jillert Anema of the Netherlands for turning a CNBC interview into a diatribe against American priorities, specifically their greater interest in football than speedskating.
“You have a lot of attention on a foolish sport like American football and you waste a lot of talent, athletic talent, on a sport that is meant to kill each other, to injure each other,” Anema said, adding that narrow-minded Americans want to compete against the world but waste a lot of time and good talent on a lousy sport like football.
Clearly, it is time to ask Rex Ryan for his views on speedskating, and to remind Anema that the Dutch have American football teams, too, including the Amsterdam Crusaders.
Best Performance in Thin Air
Big picture, it’s hard to look past those who thwarted a hijacker trying to divert a flight to Sochi on the night of the opening ceremony. But if we are sticking to on-site candidates, best to look at the ski jumps, where Kamil Stoch swept both individual events, or, better yet, to look at the halfpipe.
This was Shaun White’s playground in the last two Winter Olympics. Not this time. In a soggy-bottomed pipe that left plenty to be desired, Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland managed to rise above, claiming the gold and nailing the trick he created: a switch frontside double cork called the YOLO flip. Yolo stands for You Only Live Once, which is actually a good reason not to try it.
Worst Performance in Thin Air
The opening ceremony was a technical marvel with one exception. At one point, five artificial snowflakes hovered high above the stadium floor. They were supposed to open into the Olympic rings, but one failed to complete the journey. That left the spectators at Fisht Stadium staring at four rings and a snowflake. Not that Russian television viewers were any the wiser. Thanks to the use of recorded footage, they saw five perfectly formed rings, leaving one wondering how often Russian television deploys this kind of technology for coverage of everyday events.
But the Russians did reassure us about their sense of humor. In the closing ceremony, dancers formed the Olympic rings and intentionally left one of them a snowflake.
Best Performance on Thin Ice
Sochi’s Olympic organizers could have won this considering that they had to build a resort, Olympic venues and so much else from scratch and in a hurry. But $51 billion will buy you a lot of overtime.
While we’re talking overtime, we’re going with T. J. Oshie, who calmly, methodically, took the last five shootout attempts for the United States men’s hockey team and beat the Russians in a preliminary game that felt like a classic.
Worst Performance on Thin Ice
After chasing Olympic gold and Canada for 16 years, the United States women’s hockey team had its archrival in a headlock of a 2-0 lead with 3 minutes 30 seconds left. But the Americans could not maintain their grip, giving up goals to Brianne Jenner and Marie-Philip Poulin in the waning minutes and then the winner to Poulin in overtime. It was a great story for Canada, a sob story for the United States, one the Americans had the power to rewrite.
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