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.) At the closing ceremony, the Russians poked fun at the malfunction: 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