Best and worst from the Sochi Olympics
By FRANK FITZPATRICK | The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT) | Published: February 24, 2014
SOCHI, Russia — I hereby declare the Games of the XXII Winter Olympiad to be over (and pretty darn good).
No logistical nightmares. No tragedies. No major turmoil — save a figure-skating controversy, which doesn’t really count since figure-skating controversy is a tautology.
The events produced worthy and notable winners, though no breakout star like a Michael Phelps at Beijing. The new sports were a hit. The venues were both striking and functional. The Russians made their fans happy, winning the medal count. The Americans didn’t flame out.
Here’s a look at some highlights and lowlights from the 2014 Winter Games that ended with Sunday night’s closing ceremonies at Fisht Olympic Stadium:
Biggest winner. Vladimir Putin. “He really put his stamp on this Olympics,” said U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst. The Russian leader promised he’d pull them off safely and efficiently, and he did. So what if he spent $51 billion and alienated both the United States and the world’s LGBT community?
Biggest loser. Figure skating. The analog-era sport was already slipping in this digital age, its fans skewing older. The last thing it needed was another judging scandal. But Adelina Sotnikova’s head-scratching, seemingly home-cooked victory — five of the nine judges were from Russia and former Soviet-bloc nations — validated all the old complaints about subjective scoring.
Best non-American athlete. Short-track speedskater Victor Ahn, who may be the first and only South Korean to defect to Russia. Ahn won three golds and a bronze for the host country. He did the same in Turin in 2006. “He’s the greatest skater to ever skate,” said Canadian skater Charle Cournoyer, who also skates.
Best American athlete. Mikaela Shiffrin. The 18-year-old’s slalom win, punctuated by her miraculous recovery from a near-fall, was electric. Intelligent, attractive, and super-talented, the teenager should be America’s next winter-sports superstar.
Biggest non-American bust. The Russian hockey team. What a difference a week makes. Exalted on their Sochi arrival, they were run out of town after a premature elimination.
Biggest American bust (team). The inaptly named speedskaters. Expected to match or surpass their Vancouver total of 10, they instead got just one, a silver in the 19th of 19 events.
Biggest American bust (individual). Jeremy Abbott. In a wide-open men’s figure-skating field, the U.S. champ fell from contention early when he checked himself hard into the boards during his short program. He ended the competition in 12th place.
Best American performance (team). The Alpine skiers. They got golds from Shiffrin and Ted Ligety and won five overall medals, even with Bode Miller banged up and no Lindsey Vonn.
Most scorned athlete. Shaun White. The venom directed at the U.S. snowboard icon in this undisciplined discipline, often by U.S. teammates, was surprising. Some of that can be attributed to White’s breakout success and his weaseling out of an event here. But the disrespect appeared to run deeper.
Most revealing performance. After winning Russia’s first medal, speedskater Olga Graf unzipped her uniform to her waist. Nothing wrong with that, if you’re wearing anything at all underneath. Graf wasn’t. “I totally forgot,” she said.
Best quote (snowboard/freestyle skiing division). Extremely tough competition here. But I’ve got to go with Swedish slopestyle-ski judge Simon Tjern stroem explaining what gold-medalist Joss Christenson had done to impress him: “Switch right-side gap 270 on, pretzel 270 out on the down-flat-down; switch on, 450 out of the up rail, to left side 270 on, pretzel 270 off on the down; to a butter, switch slide to corked 450 off on the cannon feature. Then, left side double corked 1,260 double Japan on the first booter, to switch right side dub 1,080 tail grab, and a switch right side triple corked 1,260 Japan on the big booter.”
Fastest moving object. The bobsleds.
Slowest moving object. The Latvian hockey team’s defense.
Best fashion statement. A tie between the Norwegian curlers’ pants and Johnny Weir’s hot-pink blazer.
Worst fashion statement. Another tie, between French figure skater Mae Berenice Meite, who as if out for a morning jog performed her free-skate in long black spandex pants, and Al Roker in a luge outfit.
Event that most resembled a Robert Redford family reunion. Any cross-country race. It’s like 80 Aryans hustling to a Wagner festival.
Most appealing visual. The snowcapped mountains at Krasnaya Polyana.
Least appealing visual. Bob Costas with pinkeye.
Best gag. Producer Konstantin Ernst, whose opening ceremonies were marred by a snowflake that failed to morph into the fifth Olympic ring, showed up at a Sunday news conference in a white T-shirt that displayed four Olympic rings and a snowflake where the fifth should have been.
Worst gag. The U.S. women’s hockey team coughing up a late two-goal lead to Canada and losing the gold-medal game in overtime.
Best new sport. Snowboard slopestyle. Had me stoked, dude.
Worst old sport. Curling. Had me snoring, dude.
Most overreported theme. A tie between the unfinished hotel rooms and stray dogs.
Most underreported theme. Norway, a country whose population is equivalent to South Carolina’s, continues to be a Winter Olympic powerhouse. It won 26 medals, just two fewer than the United States, with over 60 times its population.
Nicest touch. The four large news-conference rooms in the Main Press Center were called Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Chekhov. A pretty good literary infield.