The Sochi Games were peppered with moments of triumph and despair that will be remembered long after the Games move on to the next host city. Here are nine of the most unforgettable:
Historic Victory Uplifts Struggling Figure Skating Team
When Meryl Davis and Charlie White laced up their skates for the Olympic ice dancing competition, the U.S. team was sorely in need of good news. Two figure skating pairs and two men's skaters had already failed to make the podium with none getting farther than 9th place. The women's skaters hadn't yet competed but none was a shoo-in for the gold. If the U.S. was to salvage any part of its fraying reputation as a strong figure skating competitor, Davis and White would have to uphold theirs as the top skaters on the team.
And they did with a pair of stunningly flawless gold medal performances that finally pulled the Sochi favorites from the shadow of their training partners, Vancouver gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
A Tear Jerker at the Finish Line
Alpine skier Bode Miller made history when he won the bronze in the Super-G. The 36-year-old became the oldest skier to win a medal in the event and the most decorated American Alpine skier. But it was what happened after his run that will most likely stick in the minds of those who saw it. In a finish line interview, Miller broke down in tears remembering his late brother, who had recently passed away.
A Jaw-Dropping Tumble Silences an Arena
One of the more unfortunate moments of the Olympics came in the men's figure skating competition when American Jeremy Abbott, who had fallen during a team competition, wiped out again, crashing into the ice, then into the boards in the worst figure skating spill of the Games. He remained down on the ice for an excruciating few seconds before finally standing up and responding to rallying calls from the audience to finish his routine. The spectacle continued at a press conference following the event, where he told critics that he'd like to put his "middle finger in the air" and "say a big F-you to them."
Squandered Chance Leaves Team With Heavy Hearts
Team USA was minutes away from finally beating Canada for the first time for gold — and blew it. Those final moments that saw a 2-0 U.S. lead evaporate and the team suffer elimination in overtime will go down as one of the biggest American disappointments of the Games.
Russian Figure Skating Icon Shocks the World From Center Ice
Russia's legendary figure skater Evgeni Plushenko stunned his country when he announced his withdrawal from the men's figure skating competition — and retirement — seconds before he was supposed to take the ice and cap off his illustrious career with a fifth Olympic medal. He was the only Russian in the men's competition and his last-minute departure over an injury left the home crowd stunned.
In Plushenko's absence, pressure mounted on 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaya who was suddenly anointed as Russia's best figure skating hope for a medal. Yet it was someone else, a 17-year-old with an inconsistent record, who wound up clinching Russia's gold. Fans in the Iceberg Skating Palace roared for Adelina Sotnikova as she approached the end of her free-skating routine and it became clear that Russia was destined for the podium, after all.
A Little-Known Snowboarder's Impromptu Run for the Gold
Sage Kotsenburg, a 20-year-old from Park City, Utah, won one of the most unexpected and exhilarating Sochi golds. On a final run down Rosa Khutor's heavily criticized slopestyle course he decided to try out a new move — a quadruple-rotation jump he called the "Holy Crail." He nailed the landing and won the first gold medal of the Games in the debut Olympic event. The victory set the tone for the rest of the snowboarding competition and emphasized that the U.S. would not need snowboarding star Shaun White, who had withdrawn from the event, to win.
An Embattled Icon Shows a Human Side
Snowboarding star Shaun White, under a barrage of criticism for withdrawing from the slopestyle event, took a moment to step away from the competition and give a few fans a memory they will never forget. After qualifying for the halfpipe final he leapt a barrier to give out hugs and high fives to 10-year-old Ben Hughes and 19-year-old Kaitlyn Lyle, who had fought cancer and were in Sochi courtesy of the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
A Redemptive Final Act for Japanese Figure Skater
Though Japanese figure skater Mao Asada never made it to the medal podium in women's figure skating, the 23-year-old's stunning and redemptive free skate will go down as one of the most memorable performances of the Sochi Games.
Asada entered the Winter Olympics under massive pressure to outdo her 2010 silver medal before skating into retirement. But her priorities quickly changed after she blew her signature move, the triple axel — which only she has landed in a women's competition — in both a team event and on the first night of the women's individual competition in Sochi. Practically overnight her Olympic task transitioned from winning the gold to saving face and proving she was still one of the best. She did just that, resuscitating her fading reputation with a masterful triple axel and routine that NBC commentators Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski said was among the best Olympic acts they'd ever seen. Asada knew it too and was crying before she skated off the ice.
An Epic Shootout Win Over an Old Rival
The Russians suffered their own game-end disappointment in a shootout against their top "Miracle on Ice" rivals. The Russians lost to the Americans on home ice, in front of President Vladimir Putin and a roaring crowd that gave the preliminary match-up the feel of a gold medal game. American T.J. Oshie dominated the shootout round by scoring four of six attempted goals, and become a household name.
His team couldn't rally against Canada to make the finals, though, which leaves open the possibility of a U.S.-Canada hockey re-match in 2018 when the Winter Games kick off once again.
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