SOCHI, Russia – Did Vladimir Putin score a big win with Sochi's Winter Olympics?
Certainly the Russian president put together a Games that impressed both the International Olympic Committee and United States Olympic Committee chiefs and – after some early teething troubles – pretty much went off without a hitch.
The venues were sleek, modern and well-equipped and the athletes were near universal in acknowledging that the Russians had served as fine hosts. However, the arrival of the Olympics put a glaring spotlight on Russia and some of its social issues and Putin-backed policies and even when the Olympic circus has departed, few will forget that the world's biggest country has a questionable approach to certain human rights, even if there seems little the international community can do about it.
So while Putin might come out of the Sochi Games as both a winner and a loser, for many others it was much more clear-cut. Let's take a look at a few teams and programs whose stock either thrived, or nose-dived, during the Olympics.
Winners: Victor An and Vic Wild
For Wild, a move to Russia from the U.S. was his only realistic option when American officials scrapped funding for the national alpine snowboarding program. He married Russian snowboarder Alena Zavarzina, moved to Moscow and applied for citizenship. Up at Krasnaya Polyana, his international leap of faith paid off spectacularly with gold medals in the parallel slalom and giant slalom, while Mrs. Wild snatched herself a bronze, too.
Losers: U.S. and Russian hockey
The U.S.'s hockey dreams fell apart in the space of a few days, ending up with just one silver when two golds looked possible. For the women, it went sour within a couple of minutes, conceding a late goal to Canada in the final and then another in the opening moments of overtime.
The men got overwhelmed by Canada and destroyed by Finland to finish out of the medals despite a group stage shootout victory over Russia that made T.J. Oshie a household name. Even so, they probably didn't feel as bad as the Russians, who pinned so much hope on Alex Ovechkin and his colleagues and were left devastated by a quarterfinal defeat to the impressive Finns.
Winner: Dutch speedskating
They might as well have dyed the ice orange at Adler Arena in homage to the incredible long trackers from the Netherlands. They didn't quite win everything but it sure felt like it. The Dutch took eight golds out of 12 and 23 medals out of the 32 available to them and swept the podium four times.
Short-track specialist Jorien ter Mors won the 1500 meters and the pursuit despite barely having trained on the oval; Ireen Wust won two golds and three silvers and got a hug from Putin. The men won five events and lost a sixth by three-thousandths of a second, while Sven Kramer, Jan Blokhuijsen, Michel Mulder, Jorrit Bergsma and Koen Verweij all medaled at least twice.
Loser: U.S. speedskating
They didn't like their skinsuits and couldn't win with them. Then they changed to the old ones and couldn't win with those either. Shani Davis was a four-time Olympic medalist but didn't get close to another, while Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe topped the world rankings coming in but were way off the pace.
Anger, bitterness, recriminations and a cavernous rift between some skaters and the national federation contributed to the shutout of a team expected to win up to 10 medals.
Winner: U.S. snowboard and freestyle skiing
The best quote I heard was that the U.S. was winning the X-Games but losing the Olympics, and the "cool" sports indeed provided a glut of gold. The slopestyle didn't need Shaun White, it gave us Sage Kotsenburg, a new word, and a bunch of fun-loving dudes who love life and puppies.
Snowboard came up with five medals, freestyle skiing seven more and a whole lot of entertainment along the way. Maddie Bowman, David Wise, Jamie Andersen, Kaitlyn Farrington and their mountain cohorts all contributed to making the impossible look routine and pushing the boundaries at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Loser: Five doping test fails
After two weeks with nothing amiss, it looked like the Games might pass without a single failed drug test. But then there were five in the closing days, providing a reminder that there are still those willing to risk humiliation by cheating, as well as being prepared to risk being caught by the testers' improved detection methods.
Sweden hockey player Nicklas Backstrom joined Ukraine's cross country skier Marina Lisogor, German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, Italian bobsledder William Frullani and Latvian hockey player Vitalijs Pavlovs on the list of those caught. (It should be noted that Backstrom's test was for an allergy medicine and is not considered a "doping" case, according to the IIHF.)
Winners: Meryl Davis and Charlie White
Ice dance has sometimes been seen as the poor relation among figure skating's disciplines, but it got its place in the spotlight this time thanks to the brilliance of Davis and White and their electrifying rivalry with friends and training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. Between them, the two tandems have taken ice dance to a whole new level of athleticism and technical aptitude.
The Americans say they don't know what comes next, but they have a nice surprise waiting once they get home – everyone loves them. Who knows about four more years, but endorsements and probably a lucrative national tour likely awaits.
Loser: Figure skating's judging system
Ashley Wagner probably didn't endear herself to the sport's hierarchy when she called for an end to anonymous judging, but she is absolutely right and the current method makes a mockery of the competition.
With little clarity for fans, a controversy happens virtually every single time a medal is awarded. South Korea's Yuna Kim had to settle for silver and her national federation felt aggrieved enough to try to appeal. No one wins. Adelina Sotnikova probably deserved her gold medal in the ladies' singles, but for some it will always be tainted by the suspicion of dodgy scoring.
Winner: Women's ski jump
Never has the time-honored phrase of the Olympics being about participation, not winning, rung truer. An Olympic spot was not handed to the women in this event; they had to go out and fight for it by petitioning the IOC and eventually gaining inclusion.
Germany's Carina Vogt won gold and top American Jess Jerome finished in 10th, but the real achievement was just being there. Next time, the women want to have a go on the big hill, too, just like the men. Try stopping them.
Loser: Shaun White
First, there were the reports that his colleagues didn't like him much, then he decided to withdraw from slopestyle at the last minute. None of that would have mattered if he had done what he usually does and taken gold in the halfpipe. Instead, a messy routine saw him bumped to fourth, while his buddy, Iouri Podladtchikov, a Russian competing for Switzerland, won it all.
The athlete formerly known as the Flying Tomato might be as much a businessman as a snowboarder these days but he still expects to win whenever he competes. The pain of losing will linger.
Winner: Norway cross country and biathlon
The Norwegians are simply phenomenal in these two sports, winning eight golds and 17 total medals to push them into contention for victory in the overall medal count. They didn't quite get there but it was still an exceptional showing for a nation of five million.
Ole Einar Bjoerndalen became the most decorated Winter Olympian in history by adding two golds, the 12th and 13th medals of his career, at the ripe old age of 40.
These were the Sochi Olympics, but in reality the events in the coastal cluster were all situated in the little-known suburb of Adler, which received precious little recognition. Adler's future is uncertain, now swamped with new hotels thrown up with indecent haste for these Games.
The question remains as to whether they can possibly be filled in the future or lay empty and abandoned in years to come. Adler was anonymous before and it's not much better known now, even after playing host to the world's winter athletes for nearly three weeks.
Click on the image below for photos from the Closing Ceremony:
- Sports & Recreation
- Vladimir Putin
- Winter Olympics