Best and worst of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver

The Vancouver Winter Olympics wrap up today with the men's gold medal hockey game and the closing ceremony. Today, we look back at the past two weeks and ahead to the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

Five best stories that you might have missed

1 American Billy Demong had quite a week. On Thursday afternoon, he won the first gold medal by an American in Nordic combined, an event that combines ski jumping with cross country skiing. On Thursday night, his girlfriend accepted his marriage proposal. And, today, he will carry the American flag in the closing ceremony.

2 Speaking of Nordic combined, American Johnny Spillane won a silver medal last Sunday in the Nordic combined normal hill — the first American medal in Nordic combined and just the third American medal in any Nordic sport. He wasn't done. He ended the Games with three silver medals.

3 Norway's Marit Bjorgen might have been the MVP of these Olympics, and you probably don't know much about her. The 29-year-old cross country skier won three gold medals, a silver and a bronze and now has seven Olympic medals.

4 Switzerland's Simon Ammann took home two gold medals in ski jumping to go with the two golds he won at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, making him the most decorated Swiss Olympic athlete of all time.

5 South Korea has always been great in short-track speed skating, but now the country has started to flex its muscle in traditional speed skating. Lee Sang-Hwa, above, won gold in the women's 500 meters last week, just one day after colleague Mo Tae-Bum won the men's 500 meters. Mo also took a silver in the 1,000 meters.

Five not-so-great stories

1 How cool that Canada gathered four superstars — Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, Catriona Le May Doan and Nancy Greene — to light the Olympic flame. Too bad Doan was left out in the cold because of a malfunction with the cauldron. Still, it was the only missed note of an understated, yet classy, opening ceremony.

2 No American reached the medal podium in women's figure skating, the first time that has happened since 1964.

3 How do you say, "bellyaching, poor-sport, baby" in Russian? Figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, left, whined away after finishing second to American Evan Lysacek.

4 Before the Olympics started, Canada, in its quest to "Own the Podium," came under fire from many non-Canadian athletes for denying practice time on the various courses, including the luge and speed skating tracks, as well as the ski slopes.

5 Dutch speed skater Sven Kramer already had won gold in the 5,000 meters and was on his way to gold in the 10,000 when his coach, Gerard Kemkers, goofed and told Kramer it was time to switch lanes. Kramer finished the race with the winning time, but he was disqualified for his lane switch, potentially costing him an awful lot of euros in endorsements.

Breakout sport

Thanks to wall-to-wall coverage, we know now what an "end" is, and what "having the hammer" means, and we now fully understand why curling is so cool. We also learned enough to know that the Americans have some explaining to do.

Sport under the microscope

The International Olympic Committee killed women's softball in the Summer Games because there weren't enough competitive teams. Now one must wonder if women's hockey is in trouble because the United States and Canada are so dominant. Canada outscored opponents 41-2 in the preliminary round and won by such scores as 18-0 and 13-1. The U.S. team had victories of 13-0 and 12-1 and outscored opponents 31-1 in the preliminary round.

Most disappointing country, part I

Canada pumped millions of dollars into its "Own The Podium" program in an effort to win the most medals. Well, technically, the Canadians own the actual podiums — they built them from the wood purchased at Home Depot or whatever. But their aim of winning the most medals didn't work out too swell; the Canadians officially admitted by the second week that they weren't going to do that. Having said that, they do have the most gold medals (13), and if they can win the gold in men's hockey, Canada will consider the Vancouver Games an overwhelming success.

Most disappointing country, part II

Russia went into today with only 15 medals — half of what Germany had won and about a third of the United States' total. Most embarrassing was a dreadful performance by the men's hockey team in a 7-3 loss to Canada in the quarterfinals. That was previewed as, perhaps, the game of the tournament but instead was a dog because the Russians played like dogs.

Will the NHL return to the 2014 Olympics?

Well, much of this discussion will take place in future collective bargaining negotiations between the league and the players union. Know this: The Russian players want to go because, one, the 2014 Games are in Russia and, two, the Russians want to make up for their awful performance this year. There's already talk that the Russian players will leave their NHL teams to play in Sochi whether they have league permission or not. By not going, the NHL could run into future hassles with Russian hockey officials when it comes to getting Russian players to come to the NHL The downside of sending NHL players to the 2014 Olympics is that the Games will be played at odd hours in North America and the league will have to take a longer break to allow for travel. But the boost the league gets is just too good to pass up. Prediction: NHL players will return in 2014.

Which U.S. stars will return in 2014?

Snowboard superstar Shaun White is only 23. Skiers Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso are only 25. Skaters Apolo Anton Ohno and Shani Davis are both 27. It's reasonable to assume that, barring injury, all could return in four years. American women did not medal in figure skating, but Mirai Nagasu is only 16 and finished fourth, while Rachael Flatt finished seventh and is 17. Both could return in four years.

Best story

Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette, above, won a bronze medal a mere four days after her mother, Therese, died from a heart attack. To compete at all was courageous. To compete that well was truly inspirational.

Worst story

The Olympic flame had not even been lighted when tragedy struck the Games. Just hours before the opening ceremony, Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old luger from the tiny country of Georgia, was killed in a training run when he slid off course and crashed into an unprotected steel support pole. The IOC blamed driver error for the crash and death, but it put up a barrier in front of the steel poles and moved the start of the track to slow down the lugers on what was considered one of the fastest tracks in history.

Best and worst of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver 02/27/10 [Last modified: Sunday, February 28, 2010 12:04am]

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