Sochi After Dark: The End

Spectators look at the Olympic flame during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

It happens every time.

The Olympics end abruptly, without the fanfare that accompanied the opening ceremonies. People go back to their lives, the athletes go home and the journalists finally get to leave the Sochi equivalent of the Hanoi Hilton.

So where do we stand? For all of the hand wringing and jokes made at the expense of the Olympic village, these games went smoothly. It seems the Olympics usually do, regardless of how bad things seem.

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Ukraine's relay team celebrate after crossing finish line to win women's biathlon 4x6 km relay at Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

The Olympics are a time for celebration. The best athletes in the world get together to show us what years of dedication can result in.

Every four years we’re reminded that sports like skeleton require a special mindset (read: crazy). We’re reminded that the few things are as beautiful to see as a well executed triple cork off a big jump.

As the 2014 Olympics draw to a close it’s time to look back on the best moments from the past two weeks. Not the best performances, but the moments that left you with smile on your face, a lump in your throat or tears in your eyes.

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Whether it’s the fault of exploitative media outlets hungry for viewers and readers or merely the result of our own curiosity over what happens in Sochi beyond the actual competitions, the Winter Olympics are as much about the ephemera vaguely associated with the Games, as they are the events themselves.

We love stories of contraband Starbucks cups, cross-country ski coaches lending out equipment to competitors from other nations and Olympians using Tinder, just as much as we love cheering on the athletes themselves. The Olympics are more of a cultural phenomenon than a sporting event.

One story that has transcended the transitory nature of so much of the non-Olympic Olympic coverage has been the tributes to Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke, who died tragically two years ago due to complications stemming from a tragic crash while training for the ski halfpipe.

It started at the beginning of these Winter Games, when it was announced that the International Olympic Committee would not allow Canadian athletes to wear stickers to honor their fallen teammate. Competitions, according to the IOC, are a place for celebration, not mourning. It seems that competitions are also a place for corporate sponsorship, and national stereotypes, as well, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Canadian contingent wasn’t surprised by this type of heartless bureaucracy from the IOC. They expected it. What the IOC didn’t account for was the fact that some things aren’t only worth fighting for, they’re impossible to effectively stop.

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Olympics: Short Track Speed Skating-Men's 500m

The Olympics in Sochi are almost done. In a few days the winter vanguard of the International Olympic Committee will set their sights on Pyeongchang.

It says here the accommodations will be better. The food will be better. Just about everything you can imagine, services, the officials; they’ll be better in South Korea.

I say this with a definite bias. I haven’t spent time in Russia, though it’s definitely on the list of places I would like to go.

I have, however, spent quite a bit of time in South Korea.

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The expectations were impossible to meet. Four years ago in Vancouver, Canada and the United States played for a Winter Olympic gold medal in the most competitive, most intense hockey game contested, perhaps since Game 8 of the (in)famous Summit Series in 1972.

On Friday, the two nations met again.

The stakes weren’t quite as high, but the hype surrounding the semifinal matchup did a perfect job of masking such an irrelevant truth.

The final score was 1-0, perhaps more of a credit to good manners and Canadian subtlety than an accurate way of measuring the proximity of performances from the two teams. Canada shut down the United States by throwing everything at them.

Reading the boxscore of the game, it seems unimaginable that the United States managed 31 shots on Canadian goaltender Carey Price, as the flow of play could easily be described as an onslaught of vulcanized rubber on the poor Americans. The Canadians didn’t play a defensive style so much as they overwhelmed the United States to a point where they were on the heels the entire game.

Their style of play reminded me of Rocky Marciano, an undefeated pugilist who would batter his opponent’s arms until they couldn’t throw a punch, then attack the rest of their body and head to inflict damage. Canada’s attack was so staggering it rendered the Americans incapable of offense.

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Canada’s women completed a stunning comeback to shock the United States in overtime on Thursday. Women’s ice hockey gold is Canada’s for the fourth time.

The States won’t have to wait long for revenge. The men take center stage on Friday, with a berth in the hockey final on the line.

Canada and the United States have a long history that has intertwined with the sporting world on numerous occasions.

Their ‘off the field’ relations have been mixed. For the most part, the two nations behave cordially. Trade deals, common enemies and shared border interests mean there isn’t much time for histrionics.

There have been moments of intrigue, however. Moments when long-term friends have major disagreements. Here are the top 5 ‘what’s beef’ Canada-U.S feuds.

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Canada's Poulin shakes hands with Team USA's Lamoureux after Canada won the women's ice hockey gold medal game at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games

Listen, there’s a lot to detest about the Olympics, and we’ve covered most of those topics over the last two weeks.

Corrupt institutions, archaic rules, terrible judging, jerks, political bullshit–the list goes on.

But there’s a reason we’re captivated by them. The spectacle they afford, behind the veil of nationalist overtones we secretly embrace, is unique.

Embracing strangers on the street is normally grounds for senseless violence, but not when the Olympics are on. It’s cool.

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With a little over a minute remaining in the women’s hockey gold medal game between Canada and the United States, the Canadian team pulled their goalie to add an extra attacker, all in the hope of tying the game at two goals apiece.

Seconds later, this happened:

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Spectators watch a screen showing the men's quarter-finals ice hockey game between Russia and Finland at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games

Is hosting the Olympics a waste if your country fails in the one event everyone cares about?

If the fans filtering out of the Bolshoy Ice Dome following Russia’s 3-1 loss to Finland in men’s hockey were any indication, the answer is yes.

The red machine never got it going in Sochi, struggling to score goals with a lineup stocked with all-world talent up front. Unfortunately luck wasn’t on their side, as indicated by the team’s low shooting percentage in games against the United States, Slovakia, and of course, the Finns.

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Image via the Associated Press

Image via the Associated Press

As the games continue in Sochi it would be hard to blame one group of athletes from being distracted by more important matters.

Kiev is burning. The Ukrainian capital is under siege, as police and anti-government protesters have engaged in violent confrontations following a three month dispute.

Warning: The following video is graphic in nature.

Chances of a peaceful settlement went from possible to unlikely on Tuesday. Government Security Services issued an ultimatum to the thousands of protesters gathered in Independence Square.

The deadline passed with everyone remaining in place. They weren’t leaving. The bloodshed began soon after. At least 18 people have died after police stormed the camp known as ‘The Maidan’ by its locals.

“We will not go anywhere from here,” said opposition leader and former Boxing World Heavyweight champion Vitaly Klitschko. ”This is an island of freedom and we will defend it.” Read the rest of this entry »