Sochi Olympics 2014: Big Surprises from the Winter Games
They are the hidden gems of the Olympics, the people and events you can't possibly predict.
Before Sochi, who knew the name Adelina Sotnikova?
Who would have thought that Andrew Weibrecht, who has yet to stand on a World Cup podium, would win an Olympic medal just as he did four years ago?
Who knew that figure skating's team event would be a hit, and that Finland's men's hockey team would win a medal and the U.S. team would not?
Read on for more surprises.
Andrew Weibrecht Wins Second Unlikely Super-G Medal
No one gave him a shot at a medal.
Weibrecht was the surprise 2010 Olympic bronze medalist in super-G, but injuries and recent equipment problems in the four years since Vancouver had him on the brink of retirement, thinking maybe the bronze would be his lightning in a bottle.
Some call him the Warhorse, but coach Sasha Rearick, considering Weibrecht's 5'7" fireplug frame, nicknamed him the Wombat.
Still, Weibrecht was thinking retirement as recently as the day before Sochi’s super-G. But then came race day, and even though he was 29th to start—when the snow would surely be too soft for fast skiing—he thought he’d throw it down one more time.
Rearick implored him to free the Wombat, and he did with a spirited attack on the upper part of the course, and hung on for the ride.
Weibrecht wound up with stunning silver, beating out teammate Bode Miller, who took bronze. He now owns two Olympic medals, yet no World Cup podium.
He caught his lightning twice.
Adelina Sotnikova Delivers Upset for Home Crowd
In the Sochi Games’ biggest upset, 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova beat Kim Yuna for gold in the free skate in front of a wildly cheering hometown crowd in the Iceberg Skating Palace.
She was Russia’s forgotten skater, passed over for the even younger Julia Lipnitskaia (15) for the team event, despite Sotnikova’s 2011 junior world title and early promise.
Too bad the victory, in the best skate of Sotnikova’s life (so far), will also be remembered for suspiciously high scoring and a winning margin that seemed too large to be true.
Hopes are that history won’t forget Sotnikova’s seven triples, her combinations and her speed throughout the program.
Tina Maze and Dominique Gisin Tie for Gold in Women's Downhill
A first in Olympic history, two Alpine skiers tied for a gold medal when Slovenia’s Tina Maze and Dominique Gisin of Switzerland won the women’s downhill with a time of one minute, 41.57 seconds.
Unlike speedskating, where times are extended to the thousandth of a second, skiing’s official times go only as far as hundredths.
The good friends held hands on the podium. It was the eighth time an Olympic title was awarded to two people at the Winter Olympics, but the first time in Alpine.
Ties are rare in skiing. At the 1998 Games in Nagano, Didier Cuche and Hermann Maier each won silver in the men’s super-G, the last tie in Olympic skiing.
New Figure Skating Team Event a Hit
At first, the new event seemed an awkward add-on, a contrived way to sell Olympic tickets and boost TV ratings.
It might have been that, sure. But it also proved to be a surprise hit not only to fans, who got to see more skating, but to the skaters themselves.
Officials braced for complaints about skaters suffering from a crammed schedule. But that didn’t happen. Instead, you saw skaters enjoying themselves in a team atmosphere in an otherwise isolating sport.
Russia won gold, Canada took silver and the U.S. won bronze.
Teams sat together to cheer on and sympathize with their teammates. Ashley Wagner's unhappy face after an unexpectedly low score in the short program became a meme.
You saw who took on leadership roles and who provided support when another faltered. You watched Meryl Davis place a sympathetic hand on Jeremy Abbott’s shoulder after his poor short program, Evgeni Plushenko shoulder to shoulder with his countrymates and Julia Lipnitskaia wearing a Russian baseball hat.
You saw them stand on the podium together, and it didn’t look the least bit contrived.
Kaitlyn Farrington Wins Snowboard Gold, Beating Two Olympic Champions
Farrington, 24, wasn’t talked about much as a gold-medal prospect going into the Games, mostly because snowboarders like teammate Kelly Clark and defending champion Torah Bright eclipsed her in star power and accomplishments.
But on a day when competitors had to make do with a mushy halfpipe, Farrington topped the scoreboard, her routine highlighted by a backward 900-degree spin.
She edged Bright, who won silver. Clark, who had fallen six times in practice, managed bronze for her third Olympic medal.
Finland's Men's Hockey Team Wallops U.S. for Bronze
The Finns embarrassed a lackluster U.S. men’s team 5-0 to win Olympic bronze, scoring twice in the opening minutes of the second period.
But that wasn’t the Finns' only impressive showing in the Olympic tournament. Finland’s two losses came to Olympic finalists Canada and Sweden, and it defeated Russia in the quarterfinal to bounce the host nation’s highly esteemed team out of the Games.
Finland’s stars included NHL players Teemu Selanne, 43, who plays for the Anaheim Ducks, the Dallas Stars' Kari Lehtonen and the Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask.
Still, the shutout of the U.S. team was stunning, and it came a day after the Americans lost 1-0 to Canada in the semifinal. The U.S. seemed to lack spirit as the Finnish team piled on three goals in the third period in Saturday’s unexpected blowout.
Patrick Kane missed a penalty shot for the U.S., clanging his attempt off the post. That's how the day went for the defending silver medalists as the U.S. team will leave Sochi empty-handed.
Lauryn Williams, Not Lolo Jones, Is Bobsled Star
Summer track Olympian Lolo Jones, a headline-grabbing hurdler, was the presumed celebrity of the U.S. bobsled program when she was named to the national team at season’s start.
But quietly, Olympic gold-medal sprinter Lauryn Williams was earning kudos for her work as a bobsled pusher.
While Jones was a lightning rod for controversy—her selection to the Olympic team was criticized as a publicity stunt by other sledders—Williams went about earning the spot in USA 1’s sled, with top driver Elana Meyers.
In first place after three of four runs, the U.S. sled wound up losing by a whisker, capturing silver. It put an end to Williams' bid to become just the second Winter/Summer Olympic gold medalist.
For now, anyway.
Canada, Marie-Philip Poulin Rally to Win Dramatic Gold over Archrival U.S.
Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin emerged as the cool sniper in the dramatic women’s gold-medal victory over the U.S. She scored both the game-tying goal with 54.6 seconds left and the game-winner in overtime to deliver a crushing loss to American hopes to win Olympic gold for the first time since 1998.
Call Poulin the MVP of the deciding game, twice.
Turns out, Poulin also tallied the winner in the 2010 Olympic title game against the U.S.
The biggest surprise was that Canada was able to rally from a 2-0 deficit, after the Americans dominated for all but the game’s final four minutes. Canada scored to cut the lead to 2-1, then Poulin notched the tying goal to force overtime.
The women's game actually created more excitement in Canadian social media than the men's 1-0 victory over the U.S. in the Olympic semifinal.
Speedskater Jorien Ter Mors Races Short Track and Long Track
One of the most intriguing Dutch speedskaters at Sochi, Ter Mors won two golds, setting an Olympic record in the 1,500-meter race. Her second gold came in team pursuit.
Ter Mors brought multitasking to Olympic proportion, racing not only on the big oval, but as a short-track speedskater as well.
Trying to make Olympic history by medaling in both, Ter Mors came within one spot of doing so, finishing fourth in the 3,000-meter relay in short track.
A short-track devotee, she began her long-track career only last year.
“It is bizarre that I can do this," she told The Associated Press (via The Washington Post).
Logistics helped. The two ovals were located in adjacent buildings, inside the Iceberg Skating Palace and Adler Arena. That meant Ter Mors could walk between the two when her schedule was tight.
And yes, speedskating is speedskating, but the sports are dissimilar and take different gear. Short track is pack-style racing on a hockey rink, described by some as “NASCAR on ice.” Long track is raced in pairs, against the clock on a huge oval with long straightaways.
Don't be surprised if she's back in four years to try and make that history again.