Sochi, Russia — These have been terrific Games, as most Olympics are.
The people make them. The athletes, primarily, but also the volunteers, the residents and organizers; sometimes regardless of what organizations and governments do, sometimes because of what organizations and governments do.
But it is always the human experience of striving for goals in sport and life that plays out, often dramatically, on a world stage.
Great victories were celebrated. Enormous losses acknowledged.
Russia succeeded in showing a new face to the world, even as some remnants of the Cold War played out over the border, 800 miles away.
Perhaps most importantly, the world came together, once again, in a festival of sport.
Winning soothes pain for splintered country - for now
Blood ran on the streets of Kiev as a Moscow-backed government sought to suppress citizens struggling for democracy, when four Ukrainian women on skis with rifles strapped to their backs approached a summit in the western Caucasus.
They harbored no violent intent, but were on a mission.
Skiing and shooting their way to a major upset in the 4x6km biathlon relay, they won the first gold medal in the Winter Games in 20 years for their hemorrhaging country.
“Our dream and the dream of the whole of Ukraine has come true,” Vita Semerenko said. “It’s the dream of a lifetime.”
The husband of another, Olena Pidhrushna, is an opposition leader. At the medals ceremony, Pidhrushna asked everyone to bow their heads in silence to remember the dead.
The next day, the Ukrainian government and protesters reached an agreement, no matter how tenuous. Then, the long-jailed opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, walked free.
Putin's promise pays off
Russian Olympic officials said their president was involved in every preparation for the Games, and Vladimir Putin proclaimed his intention to show a new Russia to the world.
The Games earned unanimous praise from athletes, officials of other nations and even the hard-boiled media, as among the best organized and most-easily accessible in recent history.
“They’ve done a phenomenal job,” said Larry Probst, chairman of the United States Olympic Committee, who praised Putin for his availability and even attending USOC meetings.
“The venues have been spectacular, the volunteers have been amazingly helpful and friendly and the transportation system has worked extremely well.
“Security has been great: Not particularly oppressive, but obviously everybody feels safe and secure.”
Red Wings and Canadian hockey coach Mike Babcock, whose team won gold Sunday, complimented the Russians several times publicly.
“The Russians are a special people,” he said. “The hospitality they’ve showed us at the rink and in the village has been outstanding.”
Historic Olympics as women join ski jumping ranks
They had to campaign for the better part of a decade and eventually sued to try to get it done. But women ski jumpers finally participated in the Games, for the first time in history.
And when it was done the United States crowned a 15th-place champion.
In an absorbing, impromptu press conference after the competition. Lindsey Van, of Grosse Pointe, did not say that if the first women’s ski jump had been held four years earlier, she probably would have won the gold medal.
“It actually feels for the first time in my entire life like I am living now, and not talking about what I’m going to do,” Van said.
“I’m here. And that’s all I really care about. And I’m going forward. And our sport’s going forward.”
Pain followed by pride
It was arguably the bitterest defeat for the USA in the Games.
Benefitting from amazingly fortunate bounces and amazingly bad officiating, Canada won the gold medal in women’s hockey, again — this time, coming back from two goals down with 3:26 left.
Players were devastated. Some cried and wondered how they could ever make it through the long flower ceremony.
Then, one skated among them, bucking-up her teammates. It was their veteran sniper, Julie Chu.
“We still have belief in each other and how proud we are,” she told her teammates. “That defines us — not just one game.”
Dancing their way into hearts, and history
Meryl Davis and Charlie White lived up to enormous expectations and took the gold in ice dancing, skating a haunting, nearly transcendent program to Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”
“The music and the story of Scheherazade are something we connect with and have been in love with for a long time,” White said. “But it was a process of being able to embody those characters and the music, and to be bigger than the music and not let it overcome us.”
When it was over, Davis said it was hard even to know what to do.
“We prepared so well for what it was that we wanted to put on the ice that we don’t even know how to react, now,” she said. “We’re like, ‘Where do we go? What do we do?’ ”
They examined and re-examined Mike Babcock a million times in Canada. But when he delivered his team to the gold medal game, beating the USA, the Red Wings coach did anything but gloat.
“I think that’s all part of the process in Canada,” he said. “I think the last time we played in the Olympics we had 27 of 33 million people watching the last game.
“Everybody’s interested, everyone’s vested.
“I had a function to raise money with a bunch of plumbers. They picked the team, they knew everybody. They knew everything about it.
“Why wouldn’t they second guess what you’re doing, and question what you’re doing?”
Teenager defies odds, makes Olympic slalom history
Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion, 20 days short of her 19th birthday.
“I’m not really sure this is reality now,” Shiffrin said. “I did envision this moment so many times.
“On the chairlift to the second run, I started crying, started tearing up because I started to think, `This could happen.’
“You can visualize it in your head and mentally prepare. And, when it does happen, it’s hard to put into words how incredible it is.”
Leaving as a champion
Some, especially in Russia, believe he is the greatest men’s figure skater in history.
But when the 2006 gold medalist and 2010 silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko seemed on the verge of another gold, his bad back gave out on him once again.
His coach, the legendary Alexei Mishin, a vision of somber compassion, spoke at length with reporters, answering every question, pleading for his great student.
“I am with Evgeni for 20 years,” Mishin said, his eyes hooded and red. “Many, many good times. Remember the good. Be nice to him.
U.S. goes bust ... except for X Games athletes
It was all starting to feel a bit like a nightmare.
Injuries had cost the USA gold medal possibilities coming into the Games, and then in the first several days of competition some absolute sure bets dissolved.
But when three shredders showed up for slopestyle skiing, they swept a podium for the third time in U.S. Olympic history.
Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper went gold, silver, bronze, and the three flags behind the podium were all stars and stripes.
“America,” Christensen said, “we did it.”
Political statements made, Putin takes some punches
Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to define his country as different from the Western regimes by making gender choice an issue in legislation banning its promotion.
Athletes, including Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings, criticized the notion as early as last autumn.
The best protest here was a huge sign “CANADA” hanging from a balcony in the Olympic Village for all the days of the Games, in a high-profile spot, easily visible from the access road to all the venues.
The letters were in the rainbow colors of gay pride.
Although he criticizes the politicization of the Games, as president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach used his greeting at the opening ceremony to hit the issue head on.
NBC was bitterly criticized for not broadcasting Bach’s assertion.
“Yes, it is possible, even as competitors,” he said, “to live under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reasons.”