The 14 best athletes from Sochi Olympics

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source: AP
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SOCHI, Russia – The largest Winter Olympics in history (98 medal events) were always going to bring records and unprecedented achievements.

In Sochi, marks were set or tied for most career Olympics medals and golds, most medals at a single Games as well as several age records (young and old).

Here’s a list at the top 14 athletes from the Sochi Olympics, in reverse order:

14. Tina Maze (SLO), Alpine Skiing

Two gold medals in five events entered

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The Slovenian singing sensation became the third skier to finish in the top eight of all five Alpine events at one Winter Olympics. She tied for gold in the downhill and won the giant slalom outright, adding to her two silver medals from 2010.

Maze could have become the first skier to be in the top six of all events, but she faltered in her final race, the second slalom run Friday, to drop from third to eighth.

Still, Maze showed her best form all season, which had largely been a struggle up to Sochi that included a coaching change. In 2012-13, Maze put up the greatest World Cup season ever by a man or woman.

She is 30 with four Olympics under her belt and said that she has skied her final Olympic race.

13. Kamil Stoch (POL), Ski Jumping

Two gold medals in three events entered

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Stoch became the third man to sweep the individual ski jumping events, joining legends Matti Nykaenen and Simon Ammann.

Poland had never won more than one gold medal at a single Winter Olympics, so Stoch’s achievement could be considered the greatest in the nation’s Winter Games history.

12. Aleksander Zubkov (RUS), Bobsled

Two gold medals in two events entered

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Zubkov, 39, had a built-in advantage of having six or seven times more runs than Holcomb on the Sanki Sliding Center track than 2010 Olympic four-man champion Steven Holcomb, the American estimated.

Still, Zubkov should be commended for his sweep after Holcomb and Germany’s Max Arndt had been the best drivers over the World Cup season.

He had the fastest sled in six of eight total runs over two- and four-man races and had both gold medals secured before the final run barring major mistakes.

Zubkov became the sixth man to sweep the two- and four-man Olympic events and the second non-German, joining the Italian great Eugenio Monti.

11. Tatyana Volosozhar/Maksim Trankov (RUS), Figure Skating

Two gold medals in two events entered

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Volosozhar and Trankov restored Russian pairs dominance and became the first figure skaters to win multiple golds at one Winter Olympics with the new team event.

They came into Sochi with some doubts over recent flawed performances but were untouchable at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

Volosozhar and Trankov were the final pair to go on the first night of competition in the team event and were 10 points better than the field.

They skipped the free skate in the team event and came back Feb. 11 for the pairs event with an even better short program – a world record score.

One night later, they were nine points better than the field in the free skate to win by 18 points, the margin that separated second from sixth.

10. Tobias Wendl/Tobias Arlt (GER), Luge

Two gold medals in two events entered

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The Germans swept the luge events, and the “Bayern-Express” was at the heart of it. Wendl and Arlt won the doubles by .522, the largest margin in the event’s history.

They then joined a powerhouse team in the relay, anchoring a one-second victory with the fastest doubles time by more than a half-second.

9. Marit Bjorgen (NOR), Cross-Country Skiing

Three gold medals in six events entered

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It’s a testament to her incredible talent that three golds could be considered less than expected from Bjorgen.

She went into the Olympics with a real shot to become the first Winter Olympian to win six medals at a single Games.

She fell short of that, placing fifth in two events and being eliminated in the semifinals of the sprint.

Still, Bjorgen prevailed amid ski wax issues that plagued the Norwegian team.

Bjorgen became the most decorated female Winter Olympian ever with 10 medals and six golds. Others have 10 medals with fewer golds.

She is 33 and is thinking about starting a family, making a run at 2018 appear unlikely.

8. Darya Domracheva (BLR), Biathlon

Three gold medals in five events entered

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Belarus doubled its previous best Winter Olympic output with six medals in Sochi. Half were won by Domracheva, who won three straight individual biathlon events, all by at least 20 seconds.

She became the first female Winter Olympic champion in her nation’s history (since1994).

Domracheva questionably skipped the mixed relay because she didn’t think Belarus had a shot at a medal.

7. Joss Christensen (USA), Ski Slopestyle

One gold medal in one event entered

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Hats off to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association for putting Christensen on the Olympic team over the previous two world champions.

Christensen was the final skier named to the four-man Olympic slopestyle team, but nobody could touch him at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

He posted the best score in each of the two qualifying runs. In the final, both of his runs would have won gold. He led the third U.S. Winter Olympic podium sweep ever and dedicated the win to his father, who had died due to a congenital heart condition in August.

6. Vic Wild (RUS), Alpine Snowboarding

Two gold medals in two events entered

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Coming in, many hoped an American would become the first person to win two snowboarding gold medals at one Winter Olympics in Sochi.

They expected Shaun White. They got Vic Wild.

Wild was born and raised in the U.S. but became frustrated with a lack of support from U.S. Snowboarding, so he married his Russian girlfriend and became a Russian citizen.

He had a better medal haul than any U.S. Olympian in Sochi, which must be quite satisfying. Even better, his wife, Alena Zavarzina, won a bronze medal in parallel giant slalom within minutes of Wild’s first gold on the same course.

5. Eva Samkova (CZE), Snowboard Cross

One gold medal in one event entered

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Both snowboard cross champions were dominant, sweeping quarterfinals, semifinals and finals, but Samkova gets the edge because she also won the seeding races by .59.

The 20-year-old who draws moustaches on her faces before races was not considered the favorite going in, but she became the must-see boarder in the final after Lindsey Jacobellis crashed out.

She delivered, too, leading just about from start to finish in all three rounds.

Samkova, the junior world champion in 2010, 2011 and 2013, had taken silver behind Jacobellis at the 2014 Winter X Games.

4. Jennifer Jones (CAN), Curling

One gold medal in one event entered

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Jones, 39, skipped the first women’s rink to go undefeated through the Olympics, winning all 11 matches en route to the Canadian women’s first gold since 2002.

Interestingly enough, her rink was pushed hardest by the last-place U.S. team, forcing an extra end in round-robin play.

Jones’ shots for the tournament were graded at an 86 percent success rate, seven percentage points better than the next best skip.

The difference between the second-best skip and the ninth-best skip was four percentage points. That gives an indication of Jones’ domination.

3. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR), Biathlon

Two gold medals in six events entered

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The Biathlon King was expected to break the record for most career Winter Olympic medals as part of deep Norwegian relay teams in the final week.

But he did half of it on his own, winning the first individual biathlon event for medal No. 12 and gold No. 7. At 40, he became the oldest individual Winter Olympic champion.

The record holder for medals and golds coming into the Olympics was retired Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie, who was on hand at the Laura Biathlon Complex.

Bjoerndalen went on to break the record for total medals and tie the record for golds in the new Olympic mixed relay event.

At 40, he finished his Olympic career with 13 medals and eight golds in another Olympic record – 27 events entered.

2. Ireen Wuest (NED), Speed Skating

Two gold medals, three silver in five events entered

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No nation was as dominant in an individual sport as the Dutch speed skaters. It was a team effort, but if one person must be singled out, make it Wuest.

She won her second Olympic title in the 3000m and helped the Netherlands to its first Olympic medal in the women’s team pursuit, a gold.

She also collected silvers in the 1000m, 1500m and 5000m, displaying the talent that’s made her the three-time reigning World Allround champion.

Wuest, the most decorated athlete at these Games, became the eighth athlete to win five medals at one Winter Olympics. It’s now been done at three straight Olympics, more commonplace with events being added to the program every four years.

Wuest, 27, said before the Olympics that she was hoping to compete in 2018. She is two medals away from the career Winter Olympic record for women.

1. Viktor Ahn (RUS), Short Track Speed Skating

Three gold medals, one silver medal in four events entered

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Ahn was one of the leading international stories going into the Games. He had won three golds and one bronze while skating for South Korea as Ahn Hyun-Soo at the 2006 Olympics.

Ahn did not qualify for the 2010 Olympics, and subsequent fallout with the Korea Skating Union led him to acquire Russian citizenship.

He flourished with his new nation in Sochi, astonishingly bettering his 2006 Olympic medal haul. Ahn was .077 away from becoming the first person to sweep all four short track golds.

He became the most decorated Olympic short track skater of all time, matching Apolo Ohno in medals but with more golds.

South Korean fans were irate over his success, especially compared with the South Korean men’s failure to win a medal.

Ahn, 28, is considering the 2018 Olympics, which are in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Oh boy.

Katie Ledecky leads loaded 200m freestyle final at nationals

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Katie Ledecky easily had the top time in the 200m freestyle heats at the USA Swimming National Championships on Wednesday morning, setting up a loaded final at night.

Ledecky, already qualified for worlds in the 800m and 1500m frees, swam 1:55.87 on Wednesday morning in Indianapolis.

She’s joined in the final by Olympians Melanie Margalis (1:57.27), Leah Smith (1:57.61) and Simone Manuel (1:58.00) and Mallory Comerford (1:58.39), the surprise 100m free winner Tuesday night.

USA Swimming Nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, determines the U.S. team for the world championships in Budapest next month. The top two per individual event are in line to make the team, plus up to the top six in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

Wednesday finals are at 6 p.m. ET. NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air coverage from 7-8 p.m.

SWIM NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Event Schedule/Results

Ledecky is down to her last two events of nationals, a meet for which she did not fully taper. She’s already on the world team in the 800m and 1500m frees by winning the 800m free by nearly nine seconds on Tuesday. She will likely be on the 4x100m free relay, too.

If Ledecky finishes top two in the 200m free and the 400m free (Friday), she will be in line to contest six events in Budapest, her busiest schedule yet at an Olympics or worlds. In 15 career Olympic/world events, she brought home 14 golds and one silver.

In the men’s 200m free, Olympic bronze medalist Conor Dwyer barely made the final in the eighth and last spot by .12. Townley Haas, who had the fastest split time in the Rio 4x200m free, led the qualifiers, which also included Olympic 100m freestyler Caeleb Dressel in third.

Olympic 100m breast champion Lilly King led the qualifiers into the 200m breast final. King, who failed to make the Rio 200m breast final, clocked 2:24.68, ranking her 13th in the world this year. Olympians Katie Meili and Breeja Larson join King in the final.

Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot and eighth-place finisher Kevin Cordes highlight the men’s 200m breast finalists.

Kathleen Baker, a Rio 100m back silver medalist, set a personal best in the 200m back by eight tenths to lead the qualifiers into that final. The two Rio Olympians in the event — Maya DiRado and Missy Franklin — are not competing at nationals.

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy and fifth-place finisher Jacob Pebley safely made the men’s 200m back final.

MORE: Missy Franklin: ‘What if I’m never as good as I was?’

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Danell Leyva’s gymnastics streak ends as he pursues acting

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When Danell Leyva trained gymnastics, he needed to devote 100 percent of his time and effort to become a triple Olympic medalist.

“Now that I’m acting, I’m doing the same,” Leyva said recently. “One hundred percent of my time and effort and focus is surrounding acting and the acting world.”

That leaves no time for gymnastics.

Danell Leyva‘s run of 10 straight years competing at the senior U.S. Gymnastics Championships comes to end this summer. Leyva doesn’t really see himself returning to the sport, but he’s also not ruling out.

“It’s hard. It’s hard on the body, a lot of different factors,” Leyva said. “But I feel like [pursuing acting] is what I should be doing now. I feel really happy doing what I’m doing right now.”

Leyva moved from Miami to California in December, four months after bagging two silver medals in Rio. He signed up for acting classes, filmed two commercials (one already aired), appeared in a Nickelodeon show and was a choreography consultant for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

Biggest of all, Leyva bought and opened a production company with one of his managers.

It’s called “Parallel Entertainment,” an obvious homage to Leyva’s best gymnastics event — the parallel bars — where he won the 2011 World title and a 2016 Olympic silver medal.

They have a few shows in development stages already.

“The dream is to definitely make movies,” Leyva said. “I have to set big, lofty goals. Otherwise I can’t keep myself motivated.”

He found similarities between athletic and dramatic pursuits.

“Gymnastics is hard for the sake of being, in my opinion, the hardest sport in the world,” he said. “To make an Olympic team is insane, and to be able to say that you’re part of the few percent that actually won a medal is definitely even harder. That goes exactly the same with acting. Do you know how many actors there are in the world? Just to be in a movie is an immense accomplishment. Imagine being nominated for an award, any award.”

If Leyva does return to the gym, the Cuban-American will resume one of the greatest careers in U.S. history.

Leyva’s accomplishments include a world parallel bars title, an Olympic all-around bronze medal in 2012 and then Olympic silver medals on parallel bars and high bar in a 90-minute span in Rio. He has everything except for an Olympic title.

Which does he savor most? He can’t choose.

“The all-around medal was bittersweet because it wasn’t higher than what I thought it could be, but it was my first Olympic medal,” he said. “The world title was bittersweet because of the fact I was doing so well in the all-around [two days earlier], and I decided to see what the high bar tasted like. Then the two [silver] medals back-to-back [in Rio]. High bar I will say was a little disappointed in myself because I should have stuck that landing [Leyva had a small hop [usually a one tenth deduction] and lost by .266 to Fabian Hambuechen].”

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