US Olympic Team 2014: Highlights from the Sochi Games

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2014

US Olympic Team 2014: Highlights from the Sochi Games

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    What a two weeks it was in Sochi for the U.S. Olympians.

    From the surprise gold medal by snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg on opening day to the history-making bronze by bobsledder Steven Holcomb on the final day, Team USA had a great run at these Olympic Games, winning at least one medal every day of competition except for one.

    The United States finished the Games with 28 medals—nine gold, seven silver and 12 bronze. USA trailed only Russia's 33 in the overall medal count.

    There were disappointments, of course, such as the medal shutout in long-track speedskating, Shaun White going home empty-handed and the late collapse of the men's hockey team, but there were also plenty of victories along the way.

    Here's a look at the greatest moments from Team USA's time in Sochi.

Sage Kotsenburg Wins 1st Gold of the Games in Snowboarding Slopestyle

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    Andy Wong/Associated Press

    The first medal event of the 2014 Games was the Olympic debut of snowboarding slopestyle. After Shaun White's late withdrawal, Canadians Maxence Parrot or Mark McMorris were supposed to take home the gold.

    Instead, it was Sage Kotsenburg, whose innovative run down the slopestyle course and laid-back, fun-loving personality made him the first breakout superstar of the Games.

    His victory was a huge surprise. Prior to January, he hadn't been on top of a podium in his entire snowboarding career. But judges favored his creative style over more technical runs by his competitors, and the 20-year-old kicked off the Sochi Games with a gold for Team USA.

Jeremy Abbott Takes a Bad Fall During Short Program, Gets Back Up to Finish

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Not all Olympic moments are about medals, and Jeremy Abbott was able to prove that with his triumphant perseverance in his short program in the men's figure skating singles competition.

    In his final Olympics, 28-year-old Abbott hoped to redeem himself after a disastrous short program in the team competition and a career full of falls during international tournaments. But on his first quad attempt just seconds into his skate, he took a bad fall and plummeted into the sideboards.

    He stayed on the ground for what felt like minutes, and as his music played on, it seemed he would have to withdraw. Instead, the four-time national champion got up, caught up with his music and continued skating his program.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White Overcome Rivals, Win USA's 1st Ice-Dancing Gold

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    Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

    The United States didn't get many wins over Canada during these Games, but Meryl Davis and Charlie White provided a big one when they took out rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to win the gold medal in ice dancing.

    The U.S. had never had much success in ice dancing before Davis and White came along, but they have been dominating international competitions since winning their silver medal in Vancouver. Without major American medal contenders in the men's, ladies' or pairs' competition, all eyes were on Davis and White to deliver a gold medal.

    The pair did not disappoint. They performed flawlessly every time they stepped out onto the ice, leading the team to a bronze medal despite lackluster performances by teammates and capturing the gold in ice dancing. It was a medal that put ice dancing on the map and gave a nation reason to cheer.

Erin Hamlin Wins the 1st Luge Medal for America in Olympic History

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    Somehow, in 50 years of Winter Olympic competition, no American of either gender had ever won a medal in luge.

    Thankfully, 27-year-old Erin Hamlin saved the day in Sochi.

    The 2009 world champion kept the event from being yet another German sweep by grabbing the bronze medal with a cumulative time of 3 minutes, 21.145 seconds.

    It was a historic moment for the low-profile sport, and Hamlin told reporters she hopes it will make the sledding sport more popular in the United States, per USA Today.

    "Luge isn't the biggest sport at home. Hopefully this gives it a boost, I'm happy to pave the way to the future," Hamlin said. "Hopefully, it means we get a little more attention, some more funding so we can spread the numbers and get a lot more kids involved and going forward just get stronger."

An Emotional Bode Miller Wins 6th Olympic Medal, a Bronze in the Super-G

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Bode Miller has had a lifetime's worth of Olympic moments since he first came onto the Alpine scene, but perhaps none was as poignant as his bronze in the super-G in Sochi.

    This is the fifth Olympic Games for the 36-year-old, and he came into Sochi in great form. After taking a year off for knee surgery, he came back at the beginning of this season and set himself up as a medal contender in multiple events.

    He had disappointing runs in both the downhill and the super combined, but an aggressive run in the super-G saved the day and won him the bronze, his record-setting sixth Olympic medal.

    After his win—which was actually a tie for bronze with Canada's Jan Hudec—Miller was overcome with emotion. It's been a rough few years for Miller, who had to endure the loss of his younger brother Chelone, a bitter custody battle and his wife's miscarriage. On Twitter, he shared his emotions, saying, "I miss my brother."

Julia Mancuso Becomes Most Decorated U.S. Female Alpine Skier in Olympics

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Julia Mancuso has long been in the shadow of Lindsey Vonn, but with Vonn sitting out of these Games, Mancuso got her moment to shine.

    The outgoing Mancuso started off the Games in style, winning the only American Alpine medal in the first week, a bronze in the super combined. Her display of emotion when she crossed the finish line and saw that she was a medalist made it obvious that third place was as good as first place for the veteran.

    With that medal, which was the fourth of her Olympic career, she became the most decorated American female Alpine skier. Her enthusiasm throughout her time in Sochi was contagious, and she says she's not counting out competing in the 2018 Games.

Ted Ligety Proves He Is the Master of Giant Slalom with Gold Medal

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    Gero Breloer/Associated Press

    Speaking of overlooked American Alpine skiers, Ted Ligety has certainly been in the shadow of Bode Miller for most of his career. But after a very successful 2013 World Championships, Ligety came into Sochi with some hype.

    He started out with disappointing showings though, finishing in 12th place in the super combined and 14th place in the downhill, and there were whispers that Sochi would be a bust for him just like Vancouver was.

    But Ligety put his world-class giant slalom skills into action and was able to get the gold in his signature event. This is his second Olympic gold medal—his first came in the Turin super combined—which makes him the only American man to win two Olympic Alpine gold medals.

T.J. Oshie Scores 4 Goals in OT Shootout to Lift the USA over Russia in Hockey

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    There were a lot of American heroes in Sochi, but none completely took over the mainstream media for a moment the way T.J. Oshie did.

    All eyes were on the USA vs. Russia hockey game during the preliminary rounds, and the teams did not disappoint. It was a captivating game locked at 2-2 after three periods and a five-minute sudden-death overtime, so the game went to a shootout.

    Coach Dan Bylsma kept putting the game into Oshie's hands time and time again, and he kept on delivering. He scored on four out of six shootout attempts to launch Team USA to the victory over Russia and stun the home crowd.

    Unfortunately for the U.S., this was the highlight of the men's hockey tournament since the Americans failed to medal, but this victory won't soon be forgotten.

2 Women's Bobsled Teams Make the Podium, Lauryn Williams Makes History

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The U.S. lacked success on the speedskating track during the Sochi Olympics, but Team USA made up for it at the Sanki Sliding Center.

    The women in particular were impressive, with two of the three teams making it onto the podium with a medal. Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams in USA-1 won silver, while USA-2's Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans captured the bronze. The only team that didn't medal was Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones, who finished 11th.

    While this was the first time two U.S. teams have been on an Olympic bobsled podium, Williams made special history. The track star, who Jones recruited to bobsled, added this silver to her two Summer Olympic medals to become only the fifth athlete to ever medal in both Games.

Noelle Pikus-Pace Finally Wins Her Olympic Medal in the Skeleton

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The long wait for an Olympic medal was worth it for Noelle Pikus-Pace.

    The skeleton star has been a medal favorite in the sport for a decade but has never been able to turn that into Olympic success. In 2006 an injury forced her to miss the Turin Games after a runaway bobsled ran into her in training and broke her leg. Four years later in Vancouver, she came in fourth place.

    She retired after the heartbreak in Vancouver, but the mother of two decided to come back to the sport after suffering through a miscarriage and realizing how much she missed competing. With her family traveling with her, she was able to slide back into form as a podium favorite heading into Sochi.

    Pikus-Pace suffered through a bad back and concussion-like symptoms in the lead-up to Sochi, but she persevered to win the silver medal and get her fairytale ending.

American Men Sweep the Freestyle Skiing Slopestyle Podium

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    Andy Wong/Associated Press

    It was all stars and stripes on the podium in the Olympic debut of freestyle skiing slopestyle, as Americans Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper went gold-silver-bronze for the only Team USA podium sweep in Sochi.

    All three guys had great stories. Christensen, 22, was a last-minute and controversial addition to the U.S. freestyle skiing team, and he was competing only a few months after losing his father. Kenworthy made noise in Sochi for trying to save all the stray puppies he possibly could. Goepper, meanwhile, was the gold-medal favorite before the Games began.

    The podium sweep highlighted how dominant the U.S. has been in the new Olympic sports.

Mikaela Shiffrin Becomes the Youngest Slalom Winner in Olympic History

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Her event didn't occur until the end of the Games, but that didn't keep Mikaela Shiffrin from stealing the spotlight in Sochi.

    The 18-year-old came into these Games surrounded by hype, especially after Lindsey Vonn's withdrawal. She had taken the Alpine skiing world by storm over the past two seasons, and her world championship title in slalom made her a gold-medal favorite heading into her first Olympics.

    She was able to use veteran savvy to recover from a scary moment in the middle of her second and final run, where she nearly ran into a gate and one of her skis came up off the slope. She talked to the press about the bobble afterward, per The Associated Press (h/t ESPN).

    "There I was, I'm like, 'Grrreat. I'm just going to go win my first medal.' And then in the middle of the run, I'm like, 'Guess not,'" Shiffrin said. "So like, 'No. Don't do that. Do not give up. You see this through.' My whole goal was to just keep my skis moving."

    She kept skiing and ended up with a historic gold. The sky is the limit for Shiffrin for the rest of her career.

Steven Holcomb Wins 2 Bronze Medals, Ends More U.S. Bobsled Droughts

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Sixty-two certainly is a lucky number for bobsled driver Steven Holcomb and Team USA.

    Four years ago in Vancouver, Holcomb and his "Night Train" crew made history as the first Americans in 62 years to win an Olympic gold medal in the four-man bobsled.

    In Sochi, he added to that feat by winning two bronze medals—one in the two-man and one in the four-man.

    His two-man bronze, with pusher Steven Langton, snapped another 62-year-long Olympic medal drought for the Americans in that event. His bronze in the four-man with Langton, Christopher Fogt and Curt Tomasevicz made Holcomb and Langton the first Americans in 62 years to win two bobsled medals in a single Games.

    On the final day of competition, Holcomb and Langton joined ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White as the only American athletes to leave these Olympics with multiple medals. It was a great way for Team USA to say goodbye to Sochi.