The 2014 Winter Olympics have concluded in Sochi, Russia, with several countries distinguishing themselves as the most decorated by capturing a plethora of medals to be proud of.
Sunday's action was headlined by men's ice hockey, as Canada secured the final gold medal in the Winter Games by shutting out Sweden, 3-0, in the final. It was a second straight magnificent performance from Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, and Tony Marinaro of TSN figured it should extinguish any lingering doubts about Price's ability to perform in the clutch:
2 biggest games in Carey Price's career and he pitched 2 shutouts. And, a .971 save percentage at the Olympics. Enough said.— Tony Marinaro (@TonyMarinaro) February 23, 2014
Even though hosting Russia had a disappointing quarterfinal loss in men's hockey, it already locked up the overall medal lead and the No. 1 ranking amongst the record 88 nations represented, per Sochi2014.com. Below is a look at the final medal tally, along with analysis into the countries that thrived the most and some of the other notable achievements along the way in what was an outstanding Olympic showcase:
Norway dominated cross-country skiing and most events involving stamina on the slopes. On Saturday in the ladies' 30-kilometer mass-start freestyle, they swept the podium, led by gold medalist Marit Bjoergen, who added a second gold to her sensational effort in Sochi. Sweden tied Norway with 11 medals in cross-country skiing, but the Norwegians had five golds to the Swedes' two.
Also notable was the opening men's biathlon event, which 40-year-old Ole Einar Bjoerndalen won en route to becoming the most decorated Winter Olympian ever with 13 medals:
Nordic combined skiing featured just three medal competitions, but Norway dominated those as well in winning four medals and two golds.
It was a different story on Sunday altogether, though, as the Russians capped off cross-country skiing in style with three medalists. Alexander Legkov edged out compatriot Maxim Vylegzhanin by less than a second to win the men's 50-kilometer mass-start freestyle competition, and Ilia Chernousov was just a tenth of a second behind to secure the bronze.
Stacy St. Clair of the Chicago Tribune noted how Russia president Vladimir Putin commended Legkov's distinguished achievement at the closing ceremony:
A similar effort concluded the biathlon events, with Russia claiming victory in the men's relay over Germany and Austria. It's hard to quantify what to attribute those strong finishes to, but competing in the native country has to help.
The USA was even with Canada entering the final event in freestyle skiing, but Canadians Marielle Thompson and Kelsey Serwa won the gold and silver respectively in the ladies' ski cross finals.
One of the notable standouts from the American contingent was the triumph by David Wise in the men's ski halfpipe final. The 23-year-old Wise is the three-time reigning champion in the event at the Winter X Games and entered as the prohibitive favorite.
He didn't disappoint, prompting ABC's Matt Gutman to give his take on Wise's dominance:
Maddie Bowman secured the women's ski halfpipe gold to give the USA a sweep in that particular competition atop the podium. She told NBC's Today show how much the win meant to her:
Austrian Alpine skier Matthias Mayer kicked off the sport in style for his country, winning gold in the men's downhill, which was the first of an Olympics-high three for the Austrians as they took home nine total medals in that discipline.
But there were plenty of notable individual performances. Tina Maze of Slovenia won two gold medals in the women's downhill and the giant slalom. Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch seized gold in the super combined slalom and another silver, and both she and Maze competed in the concluding women's slalom final.
However, neither formidable competitor was a match for 18-year-old American Mikaela Shiffrin, whose Olympic profile was boosted into a different stratosphere with her gold-medal-winning prowess.
That of course has set off a ton of comparisons to the other stars in women's Alpine skiing. It's something Shiffrin isn't interested in, as she strives to secure her own, unique legacy, per USA Today's Lindsay Jones:
Shiffrin: "I don't want to be the young Tina Maze or the next Lindsey Vonn. I want to be Mikaela Shiffrin." #SochiSMG— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) February 21, 2014
Ski jumping offered plenty of thrills, with Germany edging out the dominant Austrians for gold in the men's team final round. Austria didn't secure one gold in the sport, while the Germans and Poland had two apiece.
Finally, snowboarding saw Switzerland and Russia achieve two golds, but the USA had the most with three, headlined by Jamie Anderson in the ladies' slopestyle finals.
To switch the scene from the slopes to the rink, the inevitable North American rivalry between the U.S. and Canada was a theme across multiple sports at these Olympics.
Ice hockey is among the sports that gets the most attention, and the Canadians have historically had the upper hand. That proved true when the men defended gold successfully on Sunday after beating the Americans in the semifinals, and Canada's women knocked off the USA in the gold-medal game for a fourth consecutive top prize.
Kelli Stack had a chance to clinch it in the final minutes for the U.S., but her empty-net shot attempt hit the post, leading to the equalizer from Marie-Philip Poulin, who also scored the game-winner in overtime for a 3-2 victory.
Another indoor athletic spectacle that garners plenty of acclaim is figure skating, where the Russians delighted the home crowd in taking home the inaugural team competition gold medal. A big contributor was Julia Lipnitskaia, as she won both the short and free programs at the age of 15.
Perhaps even more impressive was the ladies' individual final, which was won by another Russia teen in Adelina Sotnikova over defending champion Yuna Kim. That bodes well for the future of women's Russian figure skating.
Juliet Macur of The New York Times noted how the precocious Sotnikova, like Lipnitskaia, embraced the spotlight instead of wilting:
Adelina Sotnikova eggs the crowd on with her hands, just like an NBA player would. She just finished & flowers are raining onto the ice.— Juliet Macur (@JulietMacur) February 20, 2014
What is to come on the horizon for ice dancing in the USA seems a lot more promising in light of Meryl Davis and Charlie White sweeping the team competition and achieving gold in the ice dance free dance final. It took a world-record performance to knock off 2010 Vancouver Games winners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, but the dynamic duo got it done amid incredible expectations and pressure. White was grateful for the support:
So proud to represent the U.S. on Olympic ice, and then bring home the GOLD with @Meryl_Davis ! Thank you to everyone for the support!!— Charlie White (@CharlieaWhite) February 18, 2014
A changing of the guard in speedskating doesn't seem imminent at all after this year's Winter Olympics, because the Netherlands absolutely creamed everyone, sweeping the podium multiple times and racking up a whopping 23 total medals. At one point, the sport was all the Dutch won medals in, per The New York Times' Christopher Clarey:
Favorite #Sochi stat so far: The Netherlands has won 20 medals here, all of them in speed skating— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) February 19, 2014
To round out the results on the ice, Russia had the most medals in short-track speedskating with five, while Canada continued crushing curling by winning the men's and women's finals. The latter outcome wasn't much of a surprise at all, and the Russians' prowess on the short track was a component of a strong overall effort.
How would you rate the 2014 Winter Olympics?
The Sanki Sliding Center held the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton events. Germany dominated luge, as it won gold in all four competitions, while Russia and Canada won two and one gold respectively in bobsleigh, and the Americans secured bronzes in all three of that sport's fixtures. Alexander Tretjyakov of Russia gave his country another gold in the men's skeleton final.
Looking forward, Sochi was a controversial site to foster the Winter Olympics for various political and legislative reasons, but beyond some concerns about the difficulty of skiing courses, the Winter Games proceeded in a rather seamless manner. Russia proved capable of hosting a big-time sporting event and helped its chances to do so in the future.
It had to be sweet to win the overall medal count, thanks to a magnificent multitude of athletes across every sport putting forth a balanced effort to keep the host nation competitive. That should give Russia a lot of confidence heading into 2018, when the Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
All 12 of the new events introduced in Sochi such as the ski halfpipe and especially the team figure skating competition brought new dynamics to the Olympics, and they should be included on the schedule moving forward. The bold move to stay progressive and seek out ways to include more athletes in the exclusive company that Olympians strive to be in paid off, and it helped create a wonderful viewing experience.