In an Olympics that included many highs and lows for Team USA but still ended with the U.S. nearly topping the medal count, Sochi was a mixed bag.
Russia topped the medal table with 33 following a last-day flurry that included a stunning sweep in the cross-country 50-kilometer race and gold in four-man bobsled.
The U.S. finished with 28 medals in second, and Norway was third with 26.
U.S. snowboarders—both slopestyle and halfpipe—soared, while speedskating sank.
Bode Miller and Mikaela Shiffrin provided emotion and success on the ski slopes. The sliding sports gave us an unexpected bounty, including Steve Holcomb's four-man bronze on the final day.
But in other sports where the U.S. team seemed to be on the brink of making history, like cross-country skiing, they fell short.
A Norwegian biathlete made some history of his own, at age 40, no less.
An American-turned-Russian won two golds for the other side, and Bob Costas' eyes finally started to look normal as the Games wound down.
But don't let us spoil the show. Look ahead for Sochi's winners and losers.
She almost made you forget about Lindsey Vonn.
Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, became the youngest-ever Olympic champion in women's slalom, winning the United States' first gold in the event since 1972.
Living up to the pre-Olympic hype, a challenge for many American stars at the Sochi Games, she made it look easy.
Shiffrin led after the first run and wound up winning by more than half a second against a loaded field that included her childhood idol, Austria’s Marlies Schild, who took silver, and Kathrin Zettel, another Austrian, who won bronze.
Defending Olympic slalom champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch was fourth, a huge 1.19 seconds behind.
In just the second race of her Olympic career (she was fifth in the giant slalom), Shiffrin was able to recover after she got back on her heels and one ski kicked into the air. Shiffrin corralled it, made the gate and got on with business.
Two-time Olympic champion snowboarder Shaun White came to Sochi with short hair and high expectations. He left shockingly empty-handed after being favored for gold in his signature event, snowboard halfpipe, and a new one, snowboard slopestyle.
Not only was White, 27, supplanted by Russian-turned-Swiss Iouri Podladtchikov (nickname: I-Pod), but recent injuries and his withdrawal from the slopestyle competition, in which he declared the course too dangerous, revealed a vulnerability not previously seen from the snowboard and skateboard superstar.
As White trudged away from the halfpipe without a medal, the feeling was that we were seeing the end of an era.
The U.S. Alpine veterans took a couple races to warm up but came through with medals.
Bode Miller, 36, won super-G bronze and a place in the record books as the oldest Alpine Olympic medalist. Ted Ligety, 29, captured gold in giant slalom, an event he has dominated on the World Cup circuit, winning the giant slalom overall title four times. Ligety led by nearly a second after the first run and won by about a half second.
Miller may be the first Olympic star to ignite controversy by crying after NBC Sports reporter and former skier Christin Cooper, stationed in the finish area, persisted in asking Miller questions about his younger brother Chelone’s death last April. Miller, emotional after winning a medal, abandoned the interview, walking away from the camera. Some criticized Cooper for not backing off after her initial question on a sensitive topic had been answered.
Ligety, the 2006 Olympic combined (downhill and slalom) champion, was trying to avoid a repeat of the Vancouver Games, when he was shut out after being favored for multiple medals.
It's hard to decide what’s worse—that the American team did not win a single speedskating medal for the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Games, or the fact that nobody saw this coming.
Predictions for a 10-medal haul in Sochi couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did world-best skaters like Shani Davis, Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe fail to medal, skaters didn’t even come close.
The lone medal on an oval came on the short track, where men's relay won silver, led by J.R. Celski. But that was it.
New Under Armour speed suits, which the long-track skaters hadn’t tested, came under fire for creating wind drag, as did the strategy of training at altitude for a sea-level Games. But bottom line, no one really had answers.
A frustrated Maria Lamb blasted the federation for “systematic” failings, per Michael C. Lewis of The Salt Lake Tribune, over the years leading up to the Sochi Games, saying success in recent Olympics before this came in spite of the federation, not because of it.
Under Armour survived the public-relations disaster, saying its suits were not to blame and extending its agreement through the next two Olympics.
Meanwhile, anyone want to buy some skinsuits for cheap?
South Korean-born Victor An changed his name and his nationality, but not his skating. He won four medals for host Russia, his new country that was only too happy to welcome him. Three of those medals were gold: An won the 1,000 meters, 500 meters and team relay, adding bronze in the 1,500 meters.
Formerly a rival of Apolo Ohno, An could give a boost to the sport in his adopted country.
Vic Wild of White Salmon, Wash., won two snowboarding gold medals for Russia in parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom.
Wild, frustrated by the lack of funding given to snowboard racing athletes, married a Russian snowboarder and moved to Moscow three years ago.
Wild and An accounted for five of 13 gold medals won by their other-than-mother country.
It paid off in more ways than one.
The U.S. gives its athletes $25,000 for each gold won. Russia gives $120,000 for gold and $52,000 for bronze, which should help get Wild and his wife, snowboard parallel giant slalom bronze medalist Alena Zavarzina, an upgrade from their 300-square-foot apartment in Moscow.
With the the team’s crushing collapse in the gold-medal game, you have to wonder: How long are the Americans destined to be Olympic also-rans to our otherwise agreeable neighbors to the north?
A second, less rhetorical question: How long will it take for the program to recover from its gold-medal-game debacle?
With a 2-0 lead and less than four minutes left in the game, the U.S. finally seemed to have the Canadians’ number after they had won the past three Olympics. The U.S. won the inaugural tournament in 1998 but hadn’t won Olympic gold since.
But Canada scored to make it 2-1 and again to tie the game with less than a minute to go, forcing overtime before winning.
It was a crushing defeat for the United States, and one that is bound to linger.
Forward Julie Chu, the four-time Olympian who has known nothing but silver and bronze, was the U.S. flag-bearer for Sunday’s closing ceremony. An honor, but small consolation for a team that has to wait another four years to play in an Olympics against Canada.
The Norwegian quietly became the most decorated Winter Olympian in history, surpassing countryman and legend Bjorn Daehlie by winning his 13th medal in the new mixed relay event, where two women and two men cross-country ski and target shoot.
It was Bjoerndalen's second record of the Games. In the first biathlon event of the Olympics, the 10-kilometer sprint, the 40-year-old won his 12th medal, also a gold, to become the oldest gold-medal winner in Winter Olympics history.
Eight of Bjoerndalen’s record 13 medals have been gold, the first coming in the 10-kilometer sprint at the 1998 Olympics.
Bjoerndalen became one of a handful of 40-somethings to win individual medals in Sochi: ski jumper Noriaki Kasai took large-hill silver, his first since winning team silver in the 1994 Olympics; Russian luger Albert Demchenko won silver; and another luger, 40-year-old luger Armin Zoeggeler, also medaled.
The team created buzz early in the tournament with T.J. Oshie’s shootout heroics but looked flat when it counted against Canada, losing 1-0.
Then it left Sochi without a medal in an embarrassing 5-0 loss to Finland in the bronze-medal game.
That extends the United States' futility in Olympics contested on international ice, a bigger rink than in the NHL.
Canada, on the other side, seems to have little trouble adjusting to the larger sheet. It shut down U.S. scorers, who had tallied 20 goals in games leading up to the semifinal, clogging up passing lanes and limited scoring chances. It also had goaltender Carey Price, who made 31 saves in the shutout.
After a thrilling 2010 gold-medal game, where the U.S. settled for silver after a heartbreaking OT loss to Canada, Sochi was a huge letdown.
Both the men’s and women’s teams swept gold for the second straight Games, and this time no one can even use home-ice advantage as a reason why.
The Canadian men’s team beat Sweden in the final, 3-0, on Sunday.
Two days before, the Canadians downed the U.S., 1-0, in a semifinal game that lacked the intensity and import of the 2010 final in Vancouver, won by Canada in overtime in a game for the ages.
This time, it's the women’s gold-medal game that is destined to go down in history. The Canadian women rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to tie with under a minute left, and then they won in overtime to deliver a blow to the U.S. women's program that will be felt for some time.
The Canadians, who defeated the U.S. in the preliminary round, have now won gold in the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Games.
Skaters left with some promise for the future, but little with regard to the present. American skaters failed to win a men’s or women’s individual medal for the first time since 1936.
Charlie White and Meryl Davis did bring home a historic first gold for the U.S. in ice dance after taking silver to training partners Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue four years ago.
The U.S. was able to take bronze in the new team skating event, and Gracie Gold, 18, and Polina Edmunds, 15, give skating fans hope for the 2018 Games in South Korea.
The sports of luge, skeleton and bobsled accounted for seven of the United States' eventual 28 overall medals in Sochi.
That’s a far cry from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where just two U.S. medals came from the sliding sports.
Erin Hamlin won an unprecedented U.S. medal in individual luge, a bronze, and two medals came from skeleton—Noelle Pikus-Pace in the women's event and Matt Antoine for the men.
Steve Holcomb broke a decades-long medal drought to win bronze in the two-man and managed to rally for bronze in four-man, riding the famed “Night Train” sled on Sunday.
Elana Meyers and Summer Olympic track medalist Lauryn Williams teamed for silver in women’s bobsled, overtaken by the Canadians for gold on the last of four runs. Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans won bronze in USA-2.
Auto manufacturer BMW, a USOC sponsor, redesigned the men's and women's two-man sleds, helping the team achieve success in Sochi.
Russia won the medal count in its host Games with a flurry of medals on the Olympics' final day. Russian men swept the podium in cross-country's 50-kilometer race, and Russia's four-man bobsled barrelled to decisive gold.
Second was the U.S. with 28 medals. Norway was third with 26 and Canada fourth with 25.
It almost made up for the Russian hockey team being ousted in the tournament quarterfinals by eventual bronze medalist Finland. Almost.
Kikkan Randall was supposed to be the one to finally end the U.S. cross-country medal drought, in place since 1976, when Bill Koch won silver in the 30-kilometer race. Randall, the upbeat blonde from Alaska who is known for coloring a swatch of her hair pink, brought color and energy to the team in her fourth Olympics.
But in her first race, the individual sprint, Randall failed to advance past the quarterfinal round after she faded badly and dropped from contention in the final stretch, and the U.S. never came close to a medal.
The U.S. still has yet to win a Winter Olympic medal in biathlon. Lowell Bailey was the best men’s finisher in eighth.
Nordic combined was perhaps the biggest disappointment because the U.S. won four medals in Vancouver. But Bill Demong and crew, including Opening Ceremony flag-bearer Todd Lodwick, left empty-handed.
With 24 medals won in speedskating, Team Orange was the most successful group in Sochi, but it also makes a case for perhaps the most dominant single-sport team in Olympic history.
Holland has been known for its speedskating prowess, but this was ridiculous. The best Olympic showing before this? Winning 11 medals in Nagano in 1998.
What the Dutch speedskaters accomplished is extraordinary. They swept four races, claiming each spot on the podium in the men's 500, 5,000 and 10,000 and the women's 1,500. They went 2-for-3 in three other events.
The Netherlands won eight gold medals, seven silver and nine bronze overall.
Prior to this, the most speedskating medals won by one nation was 13, by East Germany in 1988.
With the hopes of the host nation riding on the Russian hockey team, eventual bronze medalist Finland dumped it from the tournament in a 3-1 quarterfinal loss.
Expected to win on its home ice by a populace that believed the team had gold-medal potential, Russia does not carry the same intimidation factor it did back in its Iron Curtain days.
Hard to say how much the dramatic shootout loss to the U.S. in pool play took out of the Russians.
Clearer is how their stars let them down, most notably Alexander Ovechkin, who tallied just one goal and one assist in five games. After its opening win against Slovenia, the team had trouble scoring and defending.
The last Olympic gold for the Russians came in 1992, when they were part of the Unified Team.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White won Olympic ice dancing gold for the first time in U.S. history and were the closest thing to a medal certainty for an American skating program that has lost its way.
The pair, who grew up 10 minutes apart in Michigan, have been skating together since elementary school.
They had to defeat rivals and training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, who won gold in Vancouver in 2010. The two pairs have been training at the same rink and with the same coach since before Vancouver.
Davis and White never trailed in their quest for historic gold. The friendly rivalry is likely over, with Virtue and Moir saying they’ll retire sometime after the Games.
We didn’t see him much. And frankly, we don’t know how much he saw us.
Bob Costas, 61, spent the duration of the Games battling an eye infection that temporarily forced him off the air and became a subplot of its own early on in Sochi.
Viewers were surprised to see a bespectacled Costas when the Games started. Then they were startled when camera close-ups showed an angry, reddened left eye.
Despite Costas’ self-deprecating jokes, including the memorable “My eyes can’t get any redder” while downing Russian vodka shots on air with roving reporter Mary Carillo, the infection spread to his other eye, and Costas took a break from host duties. Today show host Matt Lauer filled in for Costas for several days until his return.
Russian figure skating got a huge boost from the start, winning the team skating event with two surprises. A resurgent Evgeni Plushenko held his surgically repaired body together long enough to pull off a stirring short program and free skate in the new team event to open the Games. He announced his retirement soon after withdrawing from the men's competition.
Then came the splashy debut of Julia Lipnitskaia, 15, who won both short and long programs in the team skate and announced her arrival on the world stage.
The duo, along with the Olympic champion pairs, helped Russia to the gold and the start of a history-making Games for the host country.
But that wasn’t even the best part. The biggest moment belonged to Adelina Sotnikova, 17, who upset Yuna Kim for Russia's first gold in ladies' singles.
On the 15th day of Olympic action, the U.S. team finally came up empty.
After attempting to become the first nation to win a medal on each day of the Winter Olympics, the American team was oh-fer.
Blame the men’s hockey team, if you must. Playing for bronze, it lost to Finland, and it wasn’t even close.
Other events on this day included the men’s and women’s speedskating team pursuit. Speedskating? With a dreadful showing in Sochi, you know how that went.
Ted Ligety, probably the U.S.’s best chance at a medal after hockey, failed to finish his second slalom run. Pfft. It’s gone.
Announcers Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir were an early-morning sensation as the Olympics’ most refreshing TV pairing. They did what veteran NBC announcers did not—provided candid analysis for the entire live skating broadcast beamed to U.S. homes from Sochi.
Plus, they did it with unique flair, usually dressed in flamboyant outfits that required many suitcases to bring to Sochi.
They did not have an easy task, one that required both knowledge of the sport and a large amount of preparation to talk about little-known skaters far back in the pack.
Weir and Lipinski knew their sport and were able to explain how to watch it. For instance: They told us to “look for snow” to tell if a skater had under-rotated a jump, because telltale ice chips fly from the landing blade.
They reacted to poor performances either with the sympathy of the former competitors that they are or candid comments that let you know how they really felt about what they just saw.
If NBC is smart, this will be just the beginning for this pair.