Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: Day 12 Winners and Losers
Day 12 of the 2014 Winter Olympics was punctuated by a big win for the United States in Alpine skiing and a crushing defeat for Russia in men's hockey.
Elsewhere, Team USA took over the top spot in the overall medal standings on Wednesday, after the women's bobsledding team locked down two spots on the podium—just maybe not the ones they wanted.
In addition, two more of America's most recognizable names—Bode Miller and Lolo Jones—saw their trips to Sochi end in inauspicious fashion.
Here's a look at the biggest winners and losers on Wednesday in Sochi.
Winner: Ted Ligety
Capturing the gold medal in men's giant slalom on Wednesday was doubly sweet for Team USA's Ted Ligety.
Not only did the win make Ligety the first American male Alpine skier with two career golds, but it erased his disappointing memories of 2010 in Vancouver, when he placed ninth overall in the event.
The victory also turned around what otherwise might have been a bitter personal effort in Sochi, including finishing 14th in the men's super-G and 12th in the super combined last week—an event where Ligety said he "choked," via Los Angeles Times' Chris Dufresne.
"I've been wanting to win this medal my whole life, but in a realistic sense the last four years," Ligety said on Wednesday, per USA Today's David Leon Moore. "All season long everybody talks about the Olympics, Olympics, Olympics. At a certain point I was just like, 'Let's do it already.'"
His two-run combined time was 2 minutes, 45.29 seconds, which put him 0.48 seconds ahead of silver medalist Steve Missillier and 0.64 in front of bronze medalist Alexis Pinturault, both of France.
Ligety's first career gold came in the men's combined at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
Losers: Alexander Ovechkin and Russian Men's Hockey
Hopes that the Russian men's hockey team could end the host nation's 22-year gold medal drought in that sport crumbled on Wednesday with a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland.
The powerful Russian team of NHL standouts like Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin crafted an early 1-0 lead, but the Finns stormed back with three unanswered goals. Though the Russians pressed and threatened throughout the final period, they finished the last 52 minutes of action without another goal.
Those offensive struggles typified Russia's efforts during the 2014 Winter Olympics, where the team won three of five games but fell well short of its goals.
Ovechkin, the reigning NHL MVP, scored all of one goal during the Games. That came on his first shot of the team's opening game against Slovenia. Malkin also scored 3 minutes, 54 seconds into that game, and never again.
"Inside, I'm absolutely empty," Datsyuk said, via The Associated Press' Greg Beacham.
The Russians have not won men's hockey gold since the Unified Team did it in 1992.
Finland moved on to the semifinals of the 2014 Winter Olympics men's hockey tournament on Wednesday with a surprising, come-from-behind 3-1 victory over the host Russians.
Decked out in their sharp blue-and-white sweaters, the Finns got goals from Juhamatti Aaltonen, Mikael Granlund and Teemu Selanne as they eclipsed an early 1-0 deficit and held Russia scoreless for the final two periods. Goalie Tuukka Rask made 37 saves.
The win sets up a Friday meeting with top-seeded Sweden. It also continued Finland's steady, long-term success at the Olympics—four medals during the last five games—and dashed Russia's hopes of breaking that its long gold medal draught.
"To be honest, I'm a little bit sad...for them," Selanne said, via the AP's Greg Beacham. "Obviously, they had a big dream to win the gold medal here, and then it doesn't work, so it's kind of disappointing in many ways, because that would be a great story."
Brian Stubits of CBSSports.com offered this take on Finland defeating Russia:
Many are going to look at this as an upset and in some ways it absolutely is. Russia is the host at these Games and was labeled a pre-Olympic co-favorite to win gold. In the truest sense of the word, an entire nation is certainly upset. But Finland is consistently excellent in international tournaments while Russia hasn't been. Finland has had Russia's numbers in recent years.
Loser: Germany's Tim Tscharnke
The men's cross-country team sprint looked like a dead heat between Finland, Germany and Russia on Wednesday as the skiers neared the end of the event's final lap.
Germany was hot on Finland's heels as the leaders traversed the final downhill section into the stadium, with the Russians close behind in third.
That's when disaster struck, as Germany's Tim Tscharnke toppled and fell, nearly knocking over Russia's Nikita Kriukov in the process and allowing Sami Jauhojaervi of Finland to pull away.
Kriukov managed to stay on his skis, but slowed to avoid Tscharnke, and the Russians settled for the silver. Finland captured gold and Sweden slipped into position for the bronze, but Tscharnke's spill doomed the German team's chances.
Germany finished seventh.
Winner: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway
Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen set a new Winter Olympics record for total medals on Wednesday as he and the rest of his country's powerhouse biathlon team stormed to the gold in the inaugural mixed relay competition.
It was Bjoerndalen's stunning 13th overall medal.
The Sochi games mark the sixth Olympics for the 40-year-old winter sports legend and Bjoerndalen has medaled at each of them, save for his first Olympic excursion to Lillehammer in 1994.
The mixed relay win gave Bjoerndalen his second gold of the 2014 Winter Olympics, after his victory in the men's sprint 10-kilometer event on Day 1. That's the most first-place finishes from him since 2002 in Salt Lake City, when he captured four gold medals.
Loser: Dutch Speedskating...Finally
It only speaks to the dominance of the Dutch speedskating team during the 2014 Winter Olympics that Wednesday's silver-medal performance qualifies as a losing moment.
Even still, the rest of the world will take whatever it can get from the powerhouse Netherlands, which has won 21 of the 30 total speedskating medals awarded in Sochi.
Ireen Wust looked to add one more gold to the tally, as she led most of the way during her heat opposite Czech Republic's Martina Sablikova in the women's 5,000 meters.
Wust had defeated Sablikova last week in the 3,000 meters, but on Wednesday, it was not to be. She set a fast early pace but faded down the stretch, eventually conceding the gold to Sablikova and finishing nearly three seconds behind the Czech skater's time of 6:51.54.
Don't feel too badly for Wust, though. The silver she won was her fourth Olympic medal this year and her seventh overall.
Winners: Canadian Women's Bobsledding
Team Canada came into the final round of the women's bobsledding competition in second place on Wednesday, sandwiched between two American teams in first and third.
When it was all said and done, the Canadians reigned supreme.
Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse trailed the United States' Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams by about a quarter-second as the day began, but they rallied for victory during Wednesday's two runs. In the end, they took the gold medal by 0.10 seconds.
It was the second straight Olympic women's bobsledding gold medal for Humphries and Moyse.
Losers: Lolo and Co.
Gold in women's bobsledding was there for the taking on Wednesday, as Team USA began the final round of competition holding two of the top three spots in the standings.
After Tuesday's auspicious start, silver and bronze were probably not what the United States had in mind.
But Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams of United States 1 faltered, giving up their lead with skids during runs three and four, ultimately settling for the silver behind Team Canada. United States 2's Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans turned in solid runs, but they weren't good enough for anything better than the bronze.
Things ended worst for Lolo Jones, who joined USA bobsledding after medal-less trips to the Summer Olympics as a hurdler in 2008 and 2012. She brought some publicity to the United States' women's bobsledding team, but again didn't come through in competition.
Jones and United States 3 pilot Jazmine Fenlator finished in 11th place.
Silver lining: The Sochi games marked the first time two American sleds have medaled in women's bobsledding.
Winners: United States Men's Hockey
Team USA trounced the Czech Republic on Wednesday, advancing to the semifinals of the 2014 Winter Olympics men's hockey tournament with a 5-2 victory.
The Americans took an early 3-1 lead after goals from James van Riemsdyk, Dustin Brown and David Backes. Zach Parise and Phil Kessel each added goals for Team USA, extending the lead to 5-1, before the Czech Republic's Ales Hemsky cut it by one with just over seven minutes to play.
The victory vaulted the United States into a semifinal matchup with Canada, after our neighbors to the north survived a scare from Latvia. That game on Friday is expected to be a pitched battle, as both Team Canada and Team USA have designs on the gold.
Loser: Bode Miller
The world may have witnessed the end of Bode Miller's career as an Olympian on Wednesday, as the 36-year-old skier injured his left knee during the men's giant slalom.
Miller missed all of last season after having surgery on the knee, and the U.S. Ski Team tweeted that he'll now skip Saturday's men's slalom, the final Alpine race at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
If it ends here for Miller, his six total Olympic medals mean he'll go down as the Untied States' most decorated men's Alpine racer. Last weekend, he took bronze in the men's super-G, becoming the oldest ski racer to win a medal at the Winter Olympics, according to the AP's Howard Fendrich.
Winner: Latvian Goalie Kristers Gudlevskis
Latvia was already something of a Cinderella entrant into the quarterfinals of the 2014 Winter Olympics men's hockey tournament after stunning Switzerland on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, goalie Kristers Gudlevskis put forth a Herculean effort to keep the Latvian magic alive, stopping 55 shots, but he came up just short in a 2-1 loss to Canada.
After giving up an early goal to Patrick Sharp, Gudlevskis stopped the gold-medal threat Canadian team for the next 40 minutes. Thanks to a first-period goal from Lauris Darzins, Latvia skated well into the third locked in an unlikely 1-1 tie with its powerhouse opponent.
The visibly exhausted Gudlevskis turned away try after try from the Canadian attack, until defenseman Shea Weber finally got a shot past him during a power play with seven minutes left.
Latvia's surprising Olympic campaign ended, but count Gudlevskis among the big winners of the day.
Loser: Mao Asada
After winning the silver medal in Vancouver in 2010, Japan's Mao Asada coasted into Sochi as one of the favorites to capture gold in women's figure skating.
A disappointing showing during Wednesday's short program, however, means Asada will need a lot of help during tomorrow's free skate to be a factor.
The 23-year-old was the final skater of the day and fell while attempting a triple Axel. Her score of 55.51 left her in 16th place.
The 24 skaters with the best scores advanced to free skate on Thursday.
At the top of the leaderboard, Yuna Kim of Korea, Russia's Adelina Sotnikova and Italy's Carolina Kostner are all separated by less than a point.
Winner: Yuna Kim
For those competitors who would seek to usurp her as the reigning Olympic champion in women's figure skating, Yuna Kim had a message on Wednesday—she's still the woman to beat on the ice.
Kim sparkled during the short program, looking flawless en route to a first-place finish with a score of 74.92. The 2010 gold medalist in Vancouver now sits atop a tightly packed trio of top skaters headed into Thursday's free skate.
"I was really nervous when I was in the warm-up," Kim said, per USA Today's Nancy Armour. "I just said, 'Let's believe in myself' and that's how I tried to relax. I'm satisfied that I did everything well without a mistake."
Russia's Adelina Sotnikova and Italy's Carolina Kostner are still breathing down Kim's neck—and all three American skaters are in the top seven—but she managed to put some distance between herself and 15-year-old Russian Julia Lipnitskaia.
Lipnitskaia was thought to be Kim's biggest competition headed into the Olympics, but she faltered on Wednesday and now sits more than 9.5 points back.