The flame is out, the world has left Vancouver, and life has moved back to reality for everyone associated with the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Obviously, no nation has more to celebrate after 17 days of competition than the United States, with its totally unexpected record haul of 37 medals: nine gold, 15 silver, 13 bronze.
But that performance has been praised and analyzed enough. By now, for those who care, the reactions and explanations are old news.
What we can do here, in one final reflection, is single out 10 special sights worth sharing from the Games. Some you might have seen on TV; some you probably didn't.
Let's go through my list, moving one by one toward the most profound:
10. As the athletes marched in during the opening ceremony, only about eight hours after the death of luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili from the nation of Georgia, more than 60,000 people inside B.C. Place sprang to their feet for a prolonged, heartfelt ovation and outpouring of sympathy. The remaining seven Georgian athletes, looking lost and overwhelmed inside the cavernous domed stadium, could not smile. But they knew the world, and Canada, felt for them. And it pulled everyone together from the start.
9. Perhaps a half-mile from that B.C. Place, alongside one of Vancouver's busiest traffic arteries, at least 200 homeless people set up tents and camped inside a fenced-in area. They put up signs and banners with such messages as "Empty lots, empty promises" alleging that the host city cared more about the Olympics than its own problems. They never disrupted the events, but they did make a strong statement. Thousands of visitors saw them on the bus route to Pacific Coliseum for the figure skating and short-track speedskating events.
8. One media ritual of any Olympics is anointing someone the biggest star of the Games. Here, many thought that person would be skier Lindsey Vonn, or a Canadian hockey player, or even speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno. But the singular star had to be the guy with the singular look; Shaun White dominated the snowboarding halfpipe as few Olympians have dominated any single event. And because of his superstardom, enhanced by the X Games, the "Flying Tomato"-turned-"Animal" couldn't go anywhere or do anything without being engulfed by athletes or fans.
7. This isn't about what the U.S. champion figure skater from Colorado Springs did on the ice, or how she deserved better marks. It's about 17-year-old Rachael Flatt standing alone before a throng of nearly 50 writers from around the nation, calmly and diplomatically answering every question, showing more maturity than many in her sport. Seeing how well she handled that, one could understand better why Flatt conquers the pressure so well on the ice. Hopefully we haven't seen the last of her.
6. For so many years, U.S. long-track speedskaters Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick despised each other and often used the media to express their mutual hard feelings. But after Davis took the gold and Hedrick the bronze in the men's 1,000 meters, they skated around the Richmond oval carrying a U.S. flag together, sharing sincere camaraderie. If those former enemies could mend their fences, anything was possible here.
5. Of all the clutch performances in Vancouver, Hannah Kearney's was the best — and the first, on Feb. 13. Skiing last in ladies' moguls, the 24-year-old had to follow Canada's Jennifer Heil, the 2006 gold medalist who had skied great. But Kearney came through with her own flawless run, beating Heil. "I'm going to savor every moment," she said later, "because it's going to go by faster than I can possibly imagine. I'll be looking back on these soon enough as the 'good old days,' so I'm enjoying it as much as possible now."
4. Less than 30 minutes after the disappointment of having a silver medal stripped away by disqualification, Apolo Anton Ohno, the U.S. short-track speedskating icon, could have allowed an alternate to take his place in the men's 5,000-meter relay. But Ohno came back, pushed himself to the limit one last time and helped the Americans win bronze. And then, instead of boasting about his own accomplishments (he's been known to do that), Ohno talked about his teammates and being honored to compete with them.
3. After losing their gold-medal game to Canada, 2-0, the U.S. women hockey players could have sulked. Instead, the Americans stood together on the ice and watched tearfully as the Canadians celebrated endlessly, making their competitors wait for several minutes before finally shaking hands. But none of the U.S. players said a negative word later, or even following revelations that Canada's players returned after the medal ceremony to enjoy Champagne, beer and cigars on the ice. Many of the U.S. women, however, will return in 2014 and will no doubt remember that.
2. U.S. bobsled driver Steven Holcomb of Colorado Springs didn't get much attention, national or otherwise, going into the Winter Games. But when the American bobsledders met with media, nearly two weeks before the four-man event, the Olympic Training Center resident firmly said, "We believe we can win the gold." In a breathtaking run, Holcomb and Co. shot to victory, and now Holcomb could be at the top of his sport for at least another four years.
1. How could this be anything other than Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette laying down a perfect short program less than 72 hours after her mother's death, then crying before she could leave the ice? Somehow, Rochette also made it through her long program well enough to earn the bronze medal, and if you asked the world's athletes who inspired them the most in Vancouver, the answer might be unanimous.
1A. Sorry, but this Top 10 became a Top 11 after the men’s hockey gold-medal game Sunday afternoon. As amazing as that atmosphere was, the game was even better (see the “Perfect ending to the Winter Olympics” blog entry), and the hugs between the Canadian and U.S. players in the handshake line afterward showcased everything that’s special about hockey ... and how much the Olympics still can mean in today’s world.
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