Here’s what I will remember from the 2014 Sochi games:
U.S. Failure: I don’t mean to be harsh. I realize that most of the athletes are amateurs. I understand that they are doing their best, that sports are unpredictable, and that the Olympic spirit is more about competing than winning. And I don’t mean this to be a criticism of the particular athletes. I’m not accusing them of choking or not giving their best. But the fact is, people like Shaun White, Shani Davis, Nate Holland, Lindsey Jacobellis, J.R. Celski, Gracie Gold, and others failed to win the medals we hoped and in many cases expected them to win. Maybe that’s on us. Maybe we expect too much. Again, I’m not ragging on these athletes. Every one of them was gracious in defeat. But they were defeats we weren’t expecting.
Skiing Conditions: I blame this on the IOC. When you hold winter Olympics in climates that aren’t, well, wintery, you have to expect crummy conditions. At almost every alpine event, the announcers and racers commented about the conditions being slushy and hard to navigate. Skiing when it is 50 degrees may be a neat little experience for vacationers at Lake Tahoe, but it is hardly ideal for the world’s best athletes. Sochi was selected to host the 2014 games before warm weather created problems in Vancouver, but maybe we ought to stop having winter games in coastal climates. Just a thought.
Old Names and New Faces: It’s always fun to hear a name and think, “Oh yeah, I remember him from 4 years ago.” In most cases, and especially when they are from other countries, we never hear of these athletes but for at the Olympics. So there’s just something about hearing names like Evgeni Plushenko or Aksel Lund Svindal or David Murdoch again. And of course, there are the Americans like Bode Miller and Julie Chu and Kelly Clark who seem to defy time. You just wonder, who will be back in four more years? Then there are the new faces, like the young Russian figure skater whose name I won’t even try to spell, or America’s Mikaela Shiffrin and Sage Kotsenburg. They’re the names we’ll be remembering in 2018, 2022, etcetera as the future becomes the present becomes the past.
Curling: It captured my heart again, not so much because of the performance of the American teams (pretty lousy) but because of the studio sessions with Fred Roggin and 2006 bronze medalist Pete Fenson. Bring them back in 2018, NBC!
Exuberance: Whether it was iPod (Iouri Podladtchikov) from Switzerland who beat out Shaun White in the halfpipe or Noelle Pikus-Pace climbing into the stands after winning a skeleton silver or Julia Mancuso and her mother going nuts after her bronze medal in the super combined, the Olympics—as always—delivered their share of iconic moments.
Hockey Disappointments: T.J. Oshie’s shootout winner against Russia had the entire country celebrating and hearkening back to Lake Placid in 1980. But for all their promise, Team USA stumbled down the stretch, being shut out in their final two games and not medaling. And the women had perhaps the most heartbreaking loss (and I think my defining moment of the Sochi games) when they played a marvelous game against Team Canada with the gold medal on the line. They scrapped and fought together as a team, coming within minutes of a championship. Alas, they couldn’t quite close the sale, giving up two late goals to tie the game and losing in overtime. I don’t categorize it as a choke or a failure, just a disappointment. Perhaps that is a microcosm of the United States’ overall performance in these games. They had their moments. They so often made us proud. But in the end, they collectively came up just a little bit short of the goal.