Thursday's epic women's hockey showdown between Team USA and Canada served as a perfect microcosm of the American experience at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Despite holding a 2-0 lead late into the third period, the American women suffered an epic collapse and lost 3-2 in overtime to their arch-rivals on the sport's biggest stage.
Adding insult to injury was this open-net shot by Team USA that bounced off the goal post and could have given the Americans a 3-1 lead in the third period.
Like many other parts of the United States' Olympic team, the women's hockey squad entered with lofty expectations but crumbled under the pressure and left with an undesired result. While there's nothing wrong with earning a silver medal against the four-time reigning Olympic champions, Team USA will surely look back on this as the one that got away.
It's been a recurring theme for the United States since these Winter Games started about two weeks ago. Still, the U.S. is tops among all countries with 25 total medals through 13 days of action—their eight golds matching Germany as second-best behind Norway (10).
The Americans entered the opening ceremonies with a record-setting contingent of 230 athletes littered with high-profile stars and decorated Olympians.
While the women's hockey team was the latest to fall short of its goal of a gold medal, those athletes were hardly the only ones who will be leaving Sochi disappointed. Back in the States, we're often taught if you're not first, you're last.
Perhaps no group is beating itself up more than the speedskating team, which failed to medal in any of the 10 individual events despite boasting a talented crop of athletes.
Shani Davis? Heather Richardson? Brittany Bowe? None of them reached the podium?
In fact, none of them were even close. Richardson's seventh-place standing in both the 1,000- and 1,500-meter events stand as the best individual finish in any event between the trio.
On Tuesday, USA speedskater Maria Lamb made interesting comments to the Chicago Tribune's Jared S. Hopkins about the team's struggles:
Maria Lamb didn't race until the women's 5,000 Wednesday, the last individual event. So what she said may have been building for nearly two weeks as she sat and saw her teammates struggle.
“I know we're all capable of so much more than these Games have shown,” the three-time Olympian said. “To have to watch (my teammates) be defeated — not so much by the fact that they're not capable of more — but by some of the leadership in the organization is really heartbreaking to me.”
It will be interesting to see how the poor performance in Sochi shakes up the U.S. speedskating team going forward.
Another high-profile competitor who didn't live up to the hype was snowboarder Shaun White. After making a controversial 11th-hour decision to back out of the slopestyle to focus on the halfpipe, he went on to finish fourth in his marquee event.
These are just a couple of the high-profile examples of where things went wrong, but plenty of things went right for Team USA as well.
The Americans took five medals in the men's and women's snowboarding competitions, including three golds. Snowboard cross champion Sage Kotsenburg brought home the first U.S. gold medal of the Winter Games in Sochi before he famously declared he wanted one made out of bacon.
Team USA has also been very strong in the freestyle skiing competitions with seven total medals, the most in any sport. The highlight of these accomplishments was the clean sweep by Joss Christensen (gold), Gus Kenworthy (silver) and Nick Goepper (bronze).
Other gold-medal winners include Ted Ligety (men's giant slalom) and the longtime ice dance duo of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who also helped USA earn bronze in the team figure skating competition.
There are only three days left of the XXII Winter Games, but Team USA has a good chance to add to its total in sports like men's hockey. Friday will mark the much-anticipated semifinal between the Americans and the Canadians at noon ET, which will be broadcast live on USA and NBC Live Extra.
No matter where the United States ends up in the medal count, many of these athletes will look back wistfully.
Which begs the question—how will these Olympics be remembered by American fans?
My guess is it will be a mixed reaction. While the optimist will point out the overall success of the nation across a wide range of sports, the pessimist will say, "Yeah, well that's what we should have done. We need more golds."
There are good arguments for both sides, but in the end, we place higher expectations on our athletes because this is America, and in America we want to win everything. Fair or not, some of those aforementioned U.S. Olympians will carry that burden of "failure" around for the rest of their careers.
Still, nothing should take away from the remarkable achievements made by all athletes in Sochi, in what's turned out to be another fantastic display of sport on a global scale.
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