The most interesting moments from Sochi’s final week

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The final week of the Sochi Olympics provided another wave of triumphs, disappointments and astounding athletic achievements … along with more than a few controversial moments. Let’s take a photo-heavy tour through some of the biggest (and oddest) stories from the second week.

For a similar stroll through the first week, click here.

ADELINA ASCENDS

source: AP
Credit: AP

Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova won a surprising gold medal in figure skating over South Korea’s Yuna Kim a day after the host city’s men’s hockey debacle. Understatement: many disagreed with the judges.

Kim announced her retirement shortly after settling for silver.

source: AP
Credit: AP

DAVIS AND WHITE WIN GOLD

Naturally, there was controversy from Canada’s silver side via Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue – including about a coach they shared with the gold winners – but Meryl Davis and Charlie White delivered on significant hype to give the U.S. ice dancing gold for the first time in history. They even got the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes treatment:

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Credit: Kellogg Company

CANADA DOMINATES ON ICE

Yes, there were some figure skating letdowns for the Great White North, but Canada finished incredibly strong in other ice sports. Canada won all four possible medals in ice hockey and curling, culminating with a 3-0 win for the men’s hockey team against Sweden (it’s worth noting that the women’s game was easily more dramatic and ranks as one of the most thrilling contests in all of the Olympics).

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

DISAPPOINTMENT FOR OTHER HOCKEY POWERS

The happiest U.S. men’s hockey image probably came when the Sochi bear was hovering over their oblivious bench. They fell to Canada in the semifinals and were embarrassed by Finland in the bronze-medal game, leading to several sad Patrick Kane sightings:

source: AP
Credit: AP

The Sochi bear expressed Russia’s sadness in losing to Finland during the quarterfinals as well as any human, creature or human/creature:

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Credit: @Sochi2014

At least the bear had fun during the Canada gold game, oddly enough.

RUSSIA HITS 33

Maybe the bear was just excited by the bigger picture victory? Russia won the most gold medals at 13 and the most overall medals at 33.

source: AP
Credit: AP

OLE WINNER

Is Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen the greatest all-time Olympian? It became increasingly reasonable to ask that question as things progressed in Sochi as Bjoerndalen broke the Winter Games record with his 13th overall and tied the all-time mark for golds with eight.

source: AP
Credit: AP

Belorussian Darya Domracheva won three biathlon golds in Sochi on the women’s side.

REMEMBERING SARAH BURKE

Maddie Bowman (U.S.) won gold in the first-ever women’s ski halfpipe event, but the late Sarah Burke was clearly on everyone’s mind. They paid tribute to her in a variety of ways, including spreading her ashes at the Sochi course and this visual display:

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SHIFFRIN TAKES THE STAGE

Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest person to win gold in the slalom when the 18-year-old took the top mark for the U.S. The sense is that she’s just beginning her star turn, and she certainly fed into that feeling by sharing her dream of five golds in 2018.

source: AP
Credit: AP

LIGETY GETS IT, BODE BOWS OUT

One could look at the three biggest names in United States’ skiing as the three phases of a career. Shiffrin represents the promising beginning while Bode Miller grabbed a swansong bronze. Ted Ligety might represent the middle or “prime,” as he shredded his way to slalom gold.

source: AP
Credit: AP

DUTCH DOMINATE WHILE THE U.S. SINKS IN SPEED SKATING

While the Netherlands put together a stunning run in speed skating, the U.S. struggled on tracks both short and long. It makes you wonder what’s next for the fledgling program. To be fair, the rest of the world seems stumped regarding how to keep up with the Dutch, too.

source: AP
Credit: AP

DELICIOUS SLIDERS

While they didn’t win gold, the U.S. fared much better in sliding sports. Along with Noelle Pikus-Pace’s skeleton silver from last week, the United States managed three bronze and one silver medal between the men and women in the bobsled. Men’s bobsledders Steven Holcomb and Steve Langdon were the only U.S. Olympians to gain multiple individual medals in Sochi.

source: AP
Credit: AP

VIC VICTORIOUS

American-born snowboarder Vic Wild competed for Russia and made some history in the process, as he became the first snowboarder to win two gold medals in the same Olympics. Wild grabbed gold in the men’s parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom this week.

source: AP
Credit: AP

WEIRD AND (NON-VIC) WILD STUFF

In the miscellaneous category …

  • The world received a guide to curling at home.

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source: AP
Credit: AP

World Athletics Athletes of the Year: Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Mondo Duplantis

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Mondo Duplantis were named World Athletics Athletes of the Year after world record-breaking performances in 2022.

McLaughlin-Levrone, who lowered her 400m hurdles world record twice this year, won the award for the first time. She became the first American to win Athlete of the Year since fellow 400m hurdler Dalilah Muhammad in 2019.

“I would describe 2022 for myself by just saying incredible,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “Everything that we aimed to do we were able to accomplish.”

The other finalists were Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan, who broke the 100m hurdles world record en route to the world title; Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won her fifth world 100m title; Peru’s Kimberly Garcia, who swept the 20km and 35km race walk world titles, and Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas, who broke her own triple jump world record and swept the indoor and outdoor world titles.

McLaughlin-Levrone has said she wants to add the flat 400m to her program in the coming years. She has never run that event at a senior championship meet, but showed her flat potential in the 4x400m relay at worlds in July. Her split — 47.91 seconds — made her the seventh-fastest relay performer in history and second-fastest in the last 33 years behind Allyson Felix.

At next summer’s world championships, the women’s 400m hurdles first round heats start 2 hours and 20 minutes before the women’s 400m semifinals. Top-level pros rarely race multiple times in one session in a distance longer than 200 meters at any meet.

Duplantis, the Louisiana-raised Swede, won the men’s award for the second time in three years. He upped his pole vault world record three times in 2022 and swept the world indoor and outdoor and Diamond League titles in the event.

“It’s probably been by far the best year that I’ve ever had,” Duplantis said.

The other men’s finalists were Moroccan steeplechaser Soufiane El Bakkali, who went undefeated in 2022; Norwegian runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the world outdoor 5000m champion who ran the world’s fastest mile in 21 years; Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own marathon world record by 30 seconds, and American Noah Lyles, who broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old national record in the 200m.

Duplantis will likely try to continue upping his world record one centimeter at a time like Ukraine legend Sergey Bubka did on an almost annual basis from 1984 through 1994. Duplantis’ current record is 6.21 meters. The next significant milestone is 6.25 meters, or 20 feet, 6 inches.

“We’ll so how high, but I want to push it higher than people think is even possible,” he said.

Erriyon Knighton became the first athlete to twice win the Rising Star award, given to the top U20 track and field athlete.

Knighton, 18, took 200m bronze at the world championships on July 21 in Eugene, Oregon, becoming the youngest individual sprint medalist in championships history. He was part of a U.S. medals sweep with Lyles and Kenny Bednarek.

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A wild Grand Prix Final has a quadruple Axel, the Brits and a figure skating tale for the ages

Ilia Malinin
Getty
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The world’s best figure skaters gather for the first time this season at this week’s Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy. The Who’s Who is a very different group than from February’s Olympics, as expected, with the fall Grand Prix Series also producing some unpredictable stories.

Of the 18 skaters who won Olympic medals outside of the team event, just two of them competed internationally this fall. As was known before the season, all Russians are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. China’s top skaters didn’t enter the Grand Prix Series. Nathan Chen and the French ice dance couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are on indefinite, possibly permanent breaks after winning long-awaited golds.

It is time for new stars to emerge. That happened. American Ilia Malinin, last year’s world junior champion at age 17, became the first skater to land a quadruple Axel in competition in September. Then he did it again in October, and again in November.

It is time for new stories to emerge. The Grand Prix Final is the most exclusive event in figure skating — taking the top six per discipline from the Grand Prix Series — since it was introduced in 1996. This year, Belgium and Great Britain qualified skaters for the first time in more than a decade. Japanese men who were seventh and eighth at their national championships last season are in the field. As is a 39-year-old pairs’ skater from Canada who competed against Michelle Kwan in the 6.0 scoring era.

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Broadcast Schedule

The U.S. qualified skaters into the Final in every discipline for the first time in 15 years. The team is led statistically by Malinin, the world No. 1 bidding to be the second-youngest man to win a Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko.

Malinin, whose mom won the 1999 Grand Prix Final, is one half of the most anticipated head-to-head showdown this week. He takes on Japan’s Shoma Uno for the first time since the world championships in March, when Uno won and Malinin placed ninth in his debut on that stage. This season, Malinin and Uno each won their two separate Grand Prix starts, with Malinin having the best total score by a scant 61 hundredths of a point.

NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir called Malinin the favorite for the Final and for March’s worlds (which could include Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan, who has been sidelined this fall due to leg and ankle injuries). But Weir also said that if Malinin and Uno skate clean this week, the 24-year-old Uno has the advantage.

“He’s had the longevity. He’s had the time in front of these top judges. And artistically, he’s so excellent,” Weir said.

The world’s highest-scoring women’s singles skater this season will compete at the Final, but in the junior division. Japan’s Mao Shimada won both of her junior Grand Prix starts. She is 14 years old, and with the age limit being raised in coming seasons will not be old enough for the next Olympics in 2026 (reminiscent of countrywoman Mao Asada, who was too young the last time Italy hosted the Winter Games in 2006).

Without Shimada, and without the Russians who dominated recent seasons, the women’s field is the most closely bunched at the Final. Mai Mihara, who missed the Olympics after placing fourth at Japan’s Nationals last December, was the lone woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this fall. Kaori Sakamoto, last season’s world champion in the Russians’ absence, has the top score this season among senior women (and a shout out from Janet Jackson). But the six skaters at the Final are separated by just 4.47 points in best scores this fall.

American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, is the youngest woman in the field by four years. NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said that Levito has a total package of jumps, artistry and competitive fire not seen in U.S. skating in many years. Levito, who has made short films, including “The Pickle Murder,” is reminiscent of Sasha Cohen, the last U.S. women’s singles skater to win an Olympic medal in 2006.

“There’s never a hand, finger, hair out of place when it comes to Isabeau’s skating,” Lipinski said. “Looking back at my first year as a senior, I was terrified. I looked like a junior coming up to the senior ranks. Isabeau, she’s gone past that phase.”

Pairs’ skating saw the highest turnover. The top five teams at the Olympics were Russian and Chinese, and none have competed internationally since. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier took advantage at March’s worlds, becoming the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Knierim and Frazier won both of their Grand Prix starts this fall, but were flawed. Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who took silver at worlds, averaged 10 more points in their separate Grand Prix victories.

“Comparing people based on the scores that they accrue in different competitions is a nice way to see how people are faring in front of international panels, but it’s not a direct comparison between the two at all,” Weir said. “They’re very evenly matched.”

But the coolest story in pairs, and arguably in all of figure skating, is 39-year-old Canadian Deanna Stellato-Dudek. With partner Maxime Deschamps, she became the oldest Grand Prix podium finisher in October and the oldest champion in November. Stellato-Dudek, the 2000 World junior silver medalist in singles from Chicagoland, retired from figure skating in 2001 due to injuries, then came back in 2016 in pairs and switched nationality.

Weir recently came across photos of him with Stellato-Dudek when they competed at the same junior Grand Prix event in Norway in 1999.

“I’m pretty sure she was skating when I was skating, so that is a crazy feat in itself,” said Lipinski, whose last competition was winning the 1998 Olympics.

Ice dance, usually the most predictable of the four disciplines, sprung surprises this fall. Three-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates were the top returning couple based on results from last season’s Olympics and worlds, but the Americans rank outside the top three this fall by results and best total score.

Still, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Ben Agosto said they’re looking better than ever, having improved from their first Grand Prix to their second Grand Prix.

“The challenge for them is they’ve been so good for so long that they don’t want to get stale,” Agosto said of a couple that’s in their 12th season together. “They don’t want people to start to think, well, you know, two seasons ago was better than this, or five seasons ago was better than this. They want to always be reinventing, but then also capitalizing on their biggest strengths.”

Canadian veterans Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, ranked third among returning couples going into the fall, won both of their Grand Prix starts with the world’s top two scores across all events. Agosto believes that the field is closer than the point totals suggest and that some couples have been underscored, including Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who qualified into the Final in the sixth and last spot.

Agosto said that Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, Great Britain’s first Grand Prix Final qualifiers since 2009, can “blow the roof off” with their Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez rhythm dance and Lady Gaga free dance.

“You can just feel the the intensity that everyone is bringing after their Olympic experience and coming back and feeling rejuvenated and maybe feeling the adrenaline effect of having a little bit more of an opportunity because Papadakis and Cizeron are not there, because the Russians are not there,” Agosto said. “I’ve really seen across the board this group stepping up from last season, so I don’t think that it would just be a clear OK, well, if those other teams were in the game this year, they would, by default, be on top.”

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