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Winners, losers abound at Sochi

Michelle Kaufman McClatchy-Tribune

SOCHI, Russia – The 2014 Winter Olympics won’t officially close until the giant shoehorn-shaped cauldron is extinguished tonight and the smiling army of Russian volunteers put away their colorful uniforms and resume wearing normal clothing. But with just one day of competition left, it isn’t too early to declare the biggest winners and losers of these Games.

The medal table will show that, as of Saturday night, Russia (29 medals), United States (27) and Norway (25) are the biggest winners, with Canada (24) and Netherlands (24) not far behind. But there were plenty of other winners (and losers) at these games.

Winner: Sochi Organizing Committee. They did it. They pulled it off. Take that, world. OK, so there were a few glitches early on – media hotel rooms weren’t ready, the Gorki mountain village was still under construction, and the fifth Olympic ring didn’t light up at Opening Ceremonies. But considering the amount of hand-wringing and criticism that went on in the months, weeks and days leading into these Olympics, things went surprisingly well from an organizational standpoint. The venues were state-of-the-art, buses were on time, and, most important of all, security held up and the games were terrorism-free. “It was a race to the finish for Sochi,” said U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun. “I was here more than a year ago, and it is amazing what they have done, not just the volume of construction. If you look at the bridges and roads, it is really quality construction and we are very impressed.”

Loser: Russian hockey. There was no medal that meant more to this host country than men’s hockey, so when the Russians lost to Finland in the quarterfinals, there was a period of national mourning. The former Soviet Union team won seven of eight golds between 1964 and 1992, but in the past three Olympics, the Russians finished third, fourth and sixth.

Winner: Dutch speedskating. The Dutch have always been a speedskating power, but their numbers at these Olympics are staggering. As of Saturday afternoon, they had won 21 long track medals, six of them gold. They swept four events and set three Olympic records. The countries with the next-highest number were Czech Republic, Canada and Russia with two each. The previous best for the Dutch was 11 medals in 1998.

Loser: U.S. speedskating. For the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Games, U.S. long-track speedskaters were shut out. Not even world record holders Shani Davis and Brittney Bowe got close to a medal. The U.S. had no top-six finishes. There was much hubbub over their new racing suits, which they ditched midway through. Made no difference. “We weren’t the only nation that got smoked by the Netherlands,” Blackmun said. “In terms of what happened to us, we’re fairly certain it was not the suits.”

Winner: UnderArmour. For about 24 to 48 hours there, sportswear company UnderArmour was facing a public relations nightmare because its much-hyped Mach 39 speedskating suits were being blamed for the Americans’ unusually poor performances. But UA was vindicated when the skaters changed suits and still went slow.

Winner: Tinder. The smartphone dating app was a hit in the athletes village. Subscribers can check out bios and photos of people nearby, click “like,” and if that person likes them back, they get notified and can text each other. Word is, there were a lot of matches made at the village.

Winner: Mikaela Shiffrin. The 18-year-old American skiing phenom lived up to the hype. With injured Lindsey Vonn out of the Olympics, Shiffrin became the alpine “It Girl,” and she delivered with a gold medal in the slalom. Her poise in front of cameras was equally impressive for a woman her age. The other U.S. alpine skiers stepped up, too: a gold medal for Ted Ligety, silver for Andrew Weibrecht, and bronzes for Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso.

Winner: Women’s hockey. NBC’s live stream of the thrilling gold-medal women’s hockey game between Team USA and Canada drew 4.9 million viewers, the most for any hockey game since 2010 with the exception of Stanley Cup finals games. Canada won 3-2 in overtime after the U.S. squandered a 2-0 lead in the final three minutes of regulation.

Loser: USA men’s hockey. The Americans lost to Finland in Saturday’s bronze medal game and go home without a medal for the fourth time in the past six Olympics.

Winner/Loser: U.S. figure skating. Charlie White and Meryl Davis won the first-ever ice dancing gold medal for the United States, and they were spectacular. But the men and women were shut out for the first time since 1936. After a long string of gold medalists – Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes, Evan Lysacek – the U.S. is desperate for a star.

Loser: Figure skating judges. It wouldn’t be a skating competition without a judging controversy. Suspicions were raised when reigning champion Yuna Kim finished second behind Russian newcomer Adelina Sotnikova. The Russian’s program was harder, Kim is more balletic. You make the call.

Winner: Slopestyle skiing. This new sport looks great on TV and a U.S. medal sweep – Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy, Nick Goepper – was welcome back home.

Losers: Ukraine cross-country skier Marina Lisogor, German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle and Italian bobsledder William Frullani, all of whom were busted for failing drug tests.

Winner: Curling. Between Norway’s flamboyant pants and Russian lingerie model/curler Anna Sidorova, the Ice Cube was sizzling.

Winner: Marit Bjoergen. The 33-year-old Norwegian cross-country skier won three gold medals in Sochi, bringing her total to six career golds, which equals the Olympic Winter Games record of Soviet speedskater Lidia Skoblikova and Russian cross-country skier Lyobov Yegorova. She also has won three silvers and one bronze, making her the most successful woman in Winter Olympic history.

Winner: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. The 40-year-old Norwegian biathlete won two golds and has now won 13 medals, the most ever by a Winter Olympian.

Loser: Shaun White. The snowboard favorite failed to medal, disappointing his legion of fans young and old.

Winner: Extreme park volunteers. A group of volunteers skied down the halfpipe in the shape of a heart as a tribute to Sarah Burke, the Canadian freestyle skier who died in a 2012 crash while training. It was later revealed that Burke’s ashes were brought to Sochi and spread over the halfpipe course.

Winner: Women’s ski jumping. Turns out women can fly, just like men, and nobody’s uterus fell out (critics of female jumpers suggested their reproductive organs would be damaged). Next time, they want to do the large hill, too.

Loser: Johnny Quinn’s bathroom door. The U.S. bobsledder got stuck in his bathroom and had to bust it down to get out. The photo will remain a lasting image of the Sochi Games.

Spassiba for the memories, Sochi. Next up: Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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