SOCHI, Russia – The 2014 Winter Olympics won’t officially close until the giant shoehorn-shaped cauldron is extinguished on Sunday night 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), the 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 the 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.’’
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Losers/Winners: Stray dogs
Loose dogs roam everywhere in this coastal resort town, and for the most part, they seem healthy and friendly. Word is many of them were abandoned when families were displaced for Olympic construction, and some were brought by construction workers and left behind. There were reports before the Games that Olympic organizers had hired a contractor to round the dogs up and poison them. Once the Games began, some puppy-loving Olympians took on the case. Silver medalist free skier Gus Kenworthy of Telluride, Colo., is adopting five puppies. Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis plans to bring one home. And hockey player David Backes is arranging an adoption program for Sochi dogs through his Athletes for Animals charity.
Winner: Dutch speedskating
The Dutch have always been a speedskating power, but their numbers at these Olympics are staggering. They have 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.
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 girl 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 Final games. Canada won 3-2 in overtime after the U.S. squandered a 2-0 lead in the final three minutes of regulation.
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: 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: Ole Einar Bjorndalen
The 40-year-old Norwegian biathlete won two golds, and has now won 13 medals, most ever by a Winter Olympian.
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: Bob Costas’ eyes
The veteran broadcaster had to take a few days off with a bad case of pink-eye.