SOCHI, Russia — The terror threats thankfully never materialized. The gripes about unfinished hotel rooms and yellow tap water quickly became old news. And the Sochi Games came to be remembered — like all Olympics ultimately are — for the wonderful and the weird feats on and off the field.
Here’s a look, in no particular order, of the 15 most memorable moments of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia:
1. The stubborn snowflake
The opening ceremony always gives the host nation a chance to show off its past, present and future. And one of the grandest points of an already dramatic Sochi opening came when five mammoth snowflakes morphed into the interlocking Olympic rings. Except one of them didn’t — stubbornly staying a snowflake. It was a minor glitch in what was otherwise a terrific show. (Not that everyone noticed, though. Russian TV didn’t air the ring error; it snuck in pre-recorded footage.) And the snowflake snafu became the butt of joke in closing ceremony when actors portraying silver fish huddled in a group making a big dot as others sprung into the shape of rings. Eventually the fifth ring opened, and there was much rejoicing and laughter.
2. The face that launched a thousand tweets
The first full day of action wasn’t even over and we had our first meme: American Ashley Wagner’s expression. Making her Olympic debut, Wagner clearly expected a much higher score after her Figure Skating Ladies Short Program routine. But then she looked up at the board. A measly 63.10??!! The disbelief! The anger! The look!
3. The spirit of sportsmanship
When Russian Anton Gafarov crashed hard during the finals of the men’s cross-country skiing sprint, he tried to finish the race with a broken ski. He was struggling badly — until the coach trucked out on the course and, without saying a word, replaced the snapped ski with a new one. The Russian coach? Nope. It was Justin Wadsworth, the coach for the Canadian team. “I wanted him to have the dignity as he crossed the finish line,” he said. That, right there, is what the Olympics are all about.
4. The Riot grrrls
This is definitely not the image Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted associated with the Sochi Games. But there it was, televised for the world to see. When punk rockers/political activists Pussy Riot began lip-synching their anti-government anthem, “Putin Will Teach You To Love Your Country,” in the Olympic city, they were flogged – yes, flogged — by pro-Kremlin types.
5. The most interesting man in the world
He speaks five languages, he’s released eight albums and, at 55, he was the oldest athlete competing in Sochi. Move over, Dos Equis beer guy, Hubertus von Hohenlohe is truly the most interesting man in the world. The German nobleman was Mexico’s only entrant at the Games, competing in skiing. And while he didn’t medal, he most definitely won the title of “best dressed” with his mariachi-themed ski costume.
6. The gentlemanly Bode Miller
That Bode Miller, what a guy. When the Internet pounced on NBC reporter Christin Cooper, who pushed him so far during a post-race interview that he doubled over and cried, he came to her defense. Cooper asked him about his emotions and stuck with the questions even after Miller teared up talking about his brother, Chelone. (Chelone, a snowboarder with his own Olympic aspirations, died last year at age 29.)
7. When reality intervened
Peace and the Olympics have always gone hand in hand. But sometimes, the real world gets in the way. So, while Russia was peaceful, Ukraine — its southern neighbor — was not. A tidal wave of change washed over Ukraine, sweeping away its president, setting free a beloved opposition leader, and leaving an altered political landscape. Still, as this was all going on, Ukrainian athletes competed in Sochi.
8. Those figure-skating judges
It wasn’t supposed to be close. South Korea’s Yuna Kim was the runaway favorite in women’s figure skating entering Sochi. When she skated two clean performances, gold was a given, right? Wrong. Instead, Adelina Sotnikova — who wasn’t even Russia’s top medal hope entering the games — emerged victorious. Fans and journalists ripped the result. It didn’t help that one of the judges had been suspended for a year for trying to fix an event at the Winter Olympics 16 years ago. Or that another is married to the head of the Russian figure-skating federation.
9. Bob Costas’ eye infection
For five days, he gamely anchored NBC’s coverage of the games. But Bob Costas’ eye infection just kept getting worse. So when he was finally forced to hand over the reins — temporarily — to Matt Lauer, it was something. Why? Because it broke Costas’ 14-year Olympic anchoring streak.
10. Those Sochi strays
The Olympic city had a dog problem: Thousands of stray canines wandering the streets. When reports circulated that the animals were being rounded up and killed, activists were furious. The Russian government responded by setting up shelters to take in the animals. The world took notice, with everyone from CNN to E! News doing stories . And some took action like Gus Kenworthy — an American freestyle skier and silver medalist — who spent some of his spare time trying to save the furry creatures.
11. The sad bear
Sports are big in Russia. And they don’t come any bigger than hockey. And that’s why this person in a giant white bear costume — head in hands, alone in the stands — so perfectly captured what a big deal it was when its men’s hockey team flamed out miserably. First, it lost a nail-biter to the United States in the prelims. Then, in the quarterfinals, it got sent home by Finland, 3-1. (The Finns then went on to crush the Americans 5-0)
12. Johnny Quinn’s breakthrough performance
Even though Johnny Quinn didn’t medal Sunday in the four-man bobsled, we’ll remember him for his Hulk-like feat of busting down the hotel bathroom door when it jammed on him … and then tweeting a picture of it. Oh and two days later, he got stuck in an elevator. “On race day,” he told CNN’s Piers Morgan, “I’ll make sure that I shower with the door open and probably take the stairs.”
13. The girl who cried wolf
No one on the Internet knows you’re a dog. Apparently, that goes for wolves as well. American luger Kate Hansen didn’t really spy a wolf wandering the halls of her hotel room. It was a stunt by late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. (His crew filmed the American wolf and had Hansen post it on her Twitter and YouTube feeds.)
And while we’re at it: That picture of Putin, bummed that Finland booted out the Russian hockey team? Fake!
14. That time when Jacky Chamoun posed topless
The Lebanese skier, Jacky Chamoun, had hoped to cause a stir on the slopes, not off it. But then surfaced photos of her topless from a fashion shoot she did three years ago when she was 19. Lebanon’s youth and sports minister ordered the country’s Olympic committee to investigate — prompting a new kind of Arab revolt: men and women rallying to her defense by stripping in solidarity.
15. The sub-tropical games
You packed your warmest hat and coziest jacket for the Winter Olympics, only to look out your hotel window and see a palm tree, swaying in a gentle spring-like breeze. That’s Sochi for you, folks. People think of Russia in winter and picture the snow-covered cathedrals in Moscow. But Sochi is way down south — with the warmest climate of any Winter Games host city. Oh, and also — the games weren’t really in Sochi. They were in Adler, its next-door microdistrict neighbor.
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