Sochi’s most interesting (and odd) moments so far


A foggy course might be the image of early Monday, but there were plenty of scary, scintillating and silly moments from the first nine days of the 2014 Olympics.

You can check out a great rundown at NBC News and a video reel from NBC Olympics, but here are some highlights from Olympic Talk’s perspective as well.

Oshie’s Island

There is plenty of hockey left, but the Olympics produced at least one breakout name in the sport, and it wasn’t someone expected like Patrick Kane, Zach Parise or Phil Kessel. Instead, it was T.J. Oshie, who clearly became the U.S. go-to guy in the shootout.

source: AP
Credit: AP

Julia rules

Julia Lipnitskaya, 15, put on quite a show for her home crowd in the team figure skating performance. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin was impressed.

source: AP
Credit: AP

I-Pod, injuries shuffle Shaun White’s plans

As Sochi approached, White wasn’t just attempting to set a record by becoming the first U.S. Winter Olympian to gain gold in the same event three straight times. The snowboarding icon was also trying to stretch his limits by shooting for a medal in snowboard slopestyle. Those ambitions faded dramatically as a wrist injury prompted him to drop slopestyle and some halfpipe struggles left him without a 2014 medal altogether. Iouri “I-Pod” Podladtchikov instead won halfpipe gold with his “YOLO” trick.

source: AP
Credit: AP

Everyone wants to be Sage-like

While White’s snowboarding run ended in disappointment, snowboarding saw new faces emerge (not to mention the explosion of the term “spoice”). Kaitlyn Farrington and Jamie Anderson captivated audiences, but Sage Kotsenburg blew minds.


Highs and lows in skiing

Julia Mancuso and Bode Miller experienced emotional (and performance) highs and lows in collecting their respective bronze medals.

Pikus-Pace’s resilient race to silver

After suffering serious injuries and even a personal tragedy, it seemed like Noelle Pikus-Pace would move on from skeleton and retire. Instead, her journey ended with tears and a silver medal.

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Triumph and turmoil for Pluschenko

After victorious moments in the team competition, Yevgeny Plushenko ultimately ended his Olympic swan song early because of injury concerns. NBC’s Nick McCarvel captured the scene:

Without skating a single moment Thursday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace, Yevgeny Plushenko was once again the talk of Sochi. Actually, the talk of the Olympic sporting world.

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Credit: AP

Plenty of other injuries

Plushenko was far from the only athlete who experienced an ending that foiled a storybook ending, as issues plagued plenty of others, including skicross athlete Maria Komissarova breaking her back, prompting a visit from Putin.

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Credit: AP

Arielle Gold went as far as to upload a video of the fall that dislocated her shoulder, providing an example of how social media is opening up another avenue of “access.”

Weird weather

When you think “Winter Olympics,” palm trees and fog don’t really come to mind. Those are some of the many images that people will associate with Sochi, however.

source: AP
Credit: AP
source: AP
Credit: AP

Hanyu hangs on in figure skating

It wasn’t a perfect performance by Yuzuru Hanyu, but he won Japan’s first men’s figure skating title nonetheless (and continuing the “Canadian Curse” in the process, as Patrick Chan finished with silver).

source: AP
Credit: AP

Dutch domination, U.S. disappointment in speed skating

Dutch speed skaters are on a record-setting run in Sochi. After Sunday’s 1-2-3-4 finish in the women’s 1500m, the Netherlands has swept three different speed skating events (also men’s 5000m and men’s 500m) and won 16 medals in the process, the most in one sport by any country at one Games.

source: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

Meanwhile, the United States has experienced significant disappointments from speed skating to short track. Shani Davis came up short in his attempt to win the men’s 1000m for the third consecutive Oympics. JR Celski’s short track bids didn’t happen. On the women’s side, audiences became used to seeing photos of a disappointed Heather Richardson.

source: AP
Credit: AP

Whichever suit was being worn in a given speed skating event, it seemed like it was being accompanied by an unhappy face.

German’s sweep the luge

German lugers swept all of their events in Sochi. That included putting an exclamation point on that impressive run by winning the first-ever team relay.

source: AP
Credit: AP

Ole’s historic run

“Boring” or not, Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen solidified himself as one of the all-time great Olympians by tying a Winter Olympics record with his 12th medal thanks to gold in the biathlon 10km sprint. He still has a chance to stand alone at 13 and almost hit that mark before.

source: AP
Credit: AP

Viktor Ahn’s unusual path

Viktor Ahn became the first man to win gold for two distinct countries in 2014, as he notched that speed skating medal for Russia after representing South Korea. South Korea is … displeased.

source: AP
Credit: AP

Johnny Quinn breaks through

Plenty of athletes generate laughs and drew eyeballs to their Twitter feeds already (Oshie’s follower increase has been healthy, to say the least), but few did it quite like Johnny Quinn:

Wild sliders

The sliding sports seemed to generate some of the most unusual moments. That included a shocking averted crash in training for luger Shiva Keshavan:


An Irish bobsledder and Brazilian bobsledders either avoiding or surviving near-disastrous accidents of their own:

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But luger (Dancin’) Kate Hansen provided plenty of Beyonce-loving comic relief, too.

Even Al Roker and Matt Lauer got in on the action.

Olga’s oops

Russian skater Olga Graf got a little too wrapped up in the moment after winning bronze in the women’s 3000m, nearly flashing the audience in the process.

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Credit: AP

Bearly fitting

Sochi’s polar bear mascot provided two bits of comedy recently, beginning with a moment in which it could not fit into a mini-van:


While Keith Jones celebrated happier times for the fuzzy beast:


Opening Ceremony

For all the majesty on display at Sochi’s Opening Ceremony, The Police Choir of Russia’s rendition of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” was the highlight for many.

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

More to come

Of course, there is plenty of Olympic action to come, which you can follow through our watch live updates alongside Olympic Talk and From Yuna Kim’s star power to more hockey to Mikaela Shiffrin’s debut, there should be plenty of other unforgettable sights … whether they are hilarious, triumphant or some sublime combination.

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Credit: AP

World figure skating championships the latest chapter of Deanna Stellato-Dudek’s comeback


There are so many improbabilities in the story of how Canadian pair team Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps got to this week’s world figure skating championships that the whole thing reads like a flight of fancy.

You start with a talented junior singles skater from suburban Chicago named Deanna Stellato, whose skates had sat in a closet at her mother’s home for 16 years after injuries pushed her from the sport.

You bring her back to the skating world in 2016 as a married woman of 33 with a different name, Deanna Stellato-Dudek, and in a different event, pairs, making the switch on the recommendation of U.S. Figure Skating high performance director Mitch Moyer.

You have Moyer able to make that suggestion because he coincidentally was visiting a Florida rink the day Stellato-Dudek went there to sound out her old singles coach, Cindy Caprel, about the idea of a comeback.

You end her 12-year career as an aesthetician in a plastic surgery practice and have her go back to the ice, keeping her apart for long stretches from her husband of nine years, Michael Dudek, a Chicago-based turnover management specialist.

You have her begin a pairs’ career in summer 2016 as the partner of a 2014 Olympian, Nathan Bartholomay, with whom she would win bronze medals at the 2018 and 2019 U.S. Championships before the partnership ended when a bum knee made Bartholomay’s competitive future uncertain.

“I was still gung-ho on continuing until 2022,” Stellato-Dudek said.


You hear her talk of having messaged everyone she ever had met in skating to see if they knew of a possible new partner and have one reply, from 2018 Olympic pairs’ bronze medalist Meagan Duhamel and her husband, Bruno Marcotte, a pairs’ coach, tell Stellato-Dudek they had the perfect guy for her.

You have it be a guy she had never heard of, Maxime Deschamps, a French-Canadian from suburban Montreal who had skated with eight previous partners, finished no higher than fifth at the senior level at the Canadian Championships with any of them and thought of ending his competitive career many times.

“Yes, it’s kind of an unusual pairing,” said their coach, Josée Picard.

You have their tryout in June 2019 be the skating version of love at first sight, leading Stellato-Dudek to cancel scheduled sessions with other potential partners.

You have their getting-to-know-you workouts in Montreal stopped cold by the Covid pandemic, forcing them to train outside whenever there was ice for much of a year.

“We made the best of what we could do,” Deschamps said. “It was a really hard time. We questioned ourselves a lot. The goals we were setting up as markers keep us going and able to pass through those hard times.”

You have them begin this season after the first extensive offseason training of their partnership and watch them win a silver medal at Skate America that makes Stellato-Dudek, 39, the oldest medalist in the 25-season history of the Grand Prix Series.

You have them win their second Grand Prix event before Stellato-Dudek comes down with a respiratory virus (RSV, not Covid) that has her coughing, feverish and listless and eventually paralyzes her left vocal cord, inhibiting her swallowing, breathing and speech to the point she needs ongoing work with a speech pathologist to relearn how to talk.

“It was a big setback,” Picard said of the lingering sickness. “It was three months, and we had to adjust a lot of things and diminish the amount of training and do everything very, very carefully.”

You have doctors tell her there is no risk in continuing to train and compete (other than the risks that come with pairs’ skating, in which the woman is flung across the rink and carried some seven feet above a hard and slippery surface), but it isn’t easy training while constantly out of breath and having difficulty swallowing water. That Stellato-Dudek would keep at it impressed her coach.

“Just to come back at 30-some years old and do a totally different discipline in the first place shows that somebody has a lot of ambitions and a lot of goals and a lot of guts,” Picard said. “This just amplifies it, you know, to show that she’s not giving up, and she has all the willpower, and she wants to succeed.”

You have her fight through the Canadian national championships out of her desire to give Deschamps, 31, a shot at his first national title – and have them win.

“I really had a strong will,” Stellato-Dudek said. “I thought to myself, ‘If this was the Olympic Games, I would be skating.’

“Max really stepped up in our partnership during that time. Often, it’s not both partners who are able to give 100 percent. For those three months, I was able to give 80 percent, and Max was making up for that 20 percent and still giving his 100 percent, so he was giving 120.”

You have her healthy as they go to the world championships beginning Wednesday in Saitama, Japan, with a decent chance for Stellato-Dudek, now 39, to win her second world medal, the other a silver from the world junior championships 23 years ago.

And, finally, you have them looking toward the 2026 Olympics where she could, at the age of 42 years and 229 days, be the oldest woman to compete in Olympic figure skating since 1928 and the third oldest in history, according to (That’s assuming Stellato-Dudek gets Canadian citizenship in time for a chance at the team; it is required for her to represent Canada at the Olympics, but not at other international competitions after U.S. Figure Skating granted her a release.)

“I think I’ve lasted a lot longer than anybody thought I could — even now,” Stellato-Dudek said.

How prophetic it seems that her mother, Ann, told me in an interview for a 2000 Chicago Tribune story, “Deanna is a worker, not a child prodigy.”

Among all the unlikely parts of this tale, Stellato-Dudek’s age has attracted the most attention. The subject has become amusing to her, so much so that when Canadian figure skating press officer Karine Bedard tells Stellato-Dudek about an interview request, she will answer lightheartedly, “What do they want to interview me about? Skating while old?”

The truth is Stellato-Dudek has come to embrace such questions after a family member told her, “I think what you are doing is bigger than you.”

Stellato-Dudek began to gain that perspective in reading the hundreds of messages she said she has received from people who say they have been encouraged by her comeback to return to something they also loved.

“They will say, ‘I’ve always wanted to go back, but I’ve been too busy or too afraid to kind of step foot back in the rink, but I know that you started from somewhere so I can start from somewhere, too,’” Stellato-Dudek said. “And I thought maybe what I’m doing has a bigger meaning than even just what I’m doing for myself. It takes myself out of it a little bit and brings it back to something even bigger than just my personal goals.”

A similar desire to keep doing something he loved – and the dream of getting to the Olympics – is what led Deschamps to continue skating when progress was elusive and push came to shove, forcing him to interrupt his studies for a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology after two years because he couldn’t afford both the sport and school.

When asked to give more than 100 percent this season, which is impossible physically, he found the extra contribution by remaining upbeat as his partner struggled to train.

“It was mostly the mental part, (giving extra) to keep it positive because it was way harder (without) the physical capacity for the things,” Deschamps said. “And that’s how we were able to keep going.”

The interruptions caused by the pandemic mean that their four years together have included just two full competitive seasons. That has dramatically reduced the time each has had to learn the nuances of a new partner – and for Stellato-Dudek to master different techniques she has learned in Canada, like her hand placement on throws, in which she used to place both hands on her right shoulder but now has her left arm wrapped around the front of her body and the right arm around the back.

“There was a lot I had to do control-alt-delete and restart for,” she said.

“(Our skating) has just been evolving and evolving,” Deschamps said. “And we’re just trying to push our limits every single time, trying new elements, trying to even improve the sport by doing new stuff.”

One such element is the forward outside death spiral, hardest of the four types of death spirals (with the highest base value.) According to, only 11 pair teams have done it internationally over the 19 seasons of the current judging system, including two Olympic champions: Chinese pairs Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo and Sui Wenjing and Han Cong. Only one other team, Alisa Efimova and Ruben Blommaert of Germany, has done it internationally this season.

In the absence of the long-dominant Russian pairs, barred from international competition since their country’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago, Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps have the fourth-best score this season of the 23 teams in the world championships field.

From last season to now, their personal bests in the short program, free skate and total have improved by 28 percent, 12 percent, and 16 percent, respectively. They have won medals at four of their five international events this season, finishing fourth at the Grand Prix Final, when Stellato-Dudek began to feel the effects of the virus.

“We always believed that (the success) was a possibility, but this season has surprised both of us,” she said. “When it began, we were getting a lot of positive feedback from everyone who had seen us, but you know, you don’t really believe that until you go to an event, and you get a new high score you’ve never received before.”

The high international scores and medals would send them to the Canadian Championships in the unexpected and potentially discomfiting position of being heavy favorites. They overcame the psychological and physical burdens to win the national title, a crowning achievement for many elite skaters.

“That was a brand-new place for us to be,” Stellato-Dudek said. “We’ve never been chased. We’ve always been chasing.

“We’re gaining a lot of very valuable experience. Because it’s a very new place to be mentally.”

It’s the place she always wanted to be. And there, truth be told, you have the plot of a neverending story that is no longer a fantasy.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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Kanak Jha, U.S.’ top table tennis player, banned for missed drug tests

Kanak Jha

Kanak Jha, the U.S.’ highest-ranked singles table tennis player, was given a backdated one-year ban for missing drug tests.

Jha, No. 23 in the world, was banned for missing three drug tests last year: March 18, June 2 and Sept. 4.

Athletes in Olympic sports face bans if they miss three drug tests in a 12-month span.

Jha, a two-time Olympian who has never tested positive for a banned substance, was given a reduced ban of one year, backdated to last Dec. 1, the date his provisional suspension was imposed.

First-time bans for missed drug tests can be as long as two years, but Jha was deemed by an arbitrator to have a light amount of fault and wasn’t trying to evade testing.

Jha disputed his third missed test, hoping it would be thrown out to avoid a ban.

During his one-hour testing window on Sept. 4, he was not present at the German address he listed on his doping-control forms, though he was at a nearby address.

The drug tester attempted to call Jha before his one-hour testing window was up, but the call did not go through as the tester did not dial the “+1” country code for a U.S. phone. Jha did not include the country code on his contact information and testified that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency never informed that he had to list a country code.

However, drug testers are not required to call athletes who do not answer their doors for random, out-of-competition tests.

Jha, who in 2016 became the first American born in the 2000s to qualify for an Olympics, lost his opening match in singles at the Rio and Tokyo Games.

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