By: Chris Bendel – Asst. Sports Editor
During the last two-plus weeks, American media coverage of the 2014 Sochi Olympics centered on issues outside the realm of sport. Journalists tweeted, Instagrammed, blogged and posted on Facebook, stories of leaky hotel ceilings, the Russian political landscape, and a technical malfunction in the opening ceremonies involving a rather large illumination of the five-ringed Olympic mark.
As the world moves away from the games, the American media’s focus now turns to documenting the success and failures of our nation’s world-class athletes.
In 20 years, how will our nation judge America’s performance in the Sochi games?
With another round of ceremonies drawing the 22nd Winter Olympics to a close Sunday, Feb. 23, the United States Olympic Team departed from Sochi sitting second in total medals with 28, behind only Russia.
With nine, the U.S. Olympic team placed fourth in total gold medals behind Canada, Norway and Russia.
Their 2014 performance pales in comparison to the team’s display at Vancouver in 2010. With 37 total medals, the Americans delivered their best performance ever in terms of quantity of medals and were looking for similar numbers in Sochi.
The men’s hockey team floundered, the speed skaters failed to medal, and big names like snowboarder Shaun White and speed skater Shani Davis failed pull through as well. Memorable moments and the emergence of new and up-coming athletes characterized the U.S. team’s 2014 Olympic performance.
With the help of the United States Olympic committee, who has narrowed down the finalists for a set of awards set to be announced April 7 on NBCSN, I have my picks for the “Best of U.S.” – Sochi edition.
Top Moment: T.J. Oshie against Russia
While many U.S. athletes produced memorable moments in Sochi, none were as unforgettable as T.J. Oshie’s shootout performance against the Russians. Under international hockey rules, a player can skate on goal an unlimited number of times, after the team’s first three shooters have attempted a shot. U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma showed no qualms in putting Oshie on the ice for a total of six shootout attempts. In all, Oshie finished the day 4 for 6.
After Oshie matched his Russian counterparts to keep the national team’s hopes alive, U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick stopped the Russian’s shooter, Ilya Kovalchuk, in the eighth round of the shootout, giving Oshie the chance to put the game away with a goal.
Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky waited patiently in net for his all-too-familiar foe. Slowly and methodically, Oshie weaved in front of the Russian goalie and snuck the puck through the five-hole to win in epic fashion.
Top Male Athlete: Ted Ligety
With the gold in men’s giant slalom, Ligety became the first American skier to win the event. The 29-year-old last won gold in the 2006 Torino Olympics, but failed to medal in 2010. Bode Miller, the face of the old-guard of downhill skiers, is entering his late thirties, so look for Ligety to continue to remain relevant in the alpine skiing scene well beyond the Sochi games.
Top Female Athlete: Mikaela Shiffrin
The youngest gold medalist ever in women’s slalom, the 18-year-old surprised many en route to a relatively lopsided victory in the event. She becomes the first U.S. woman to win the event since 1972. That’s not too bad, considering she would fit right in living in Founders Hall. Shiffrin could quickly develop into a star headed into the 2018 games that will be hosted in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Top Team: Meryl Davis/Charlie White
Seventeen years of practice and team chemistry led to the figure skating duo of Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s gold medal performance at the Sochi games. The duo recorded world-record scores in winning the U.S. its first ice dancing gold medal in Olympic history. In the team competition, they played an integral role in bringing home a bronze.