VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The 2010 Winter Games have come to a close, but we can't forget these top moments from the past few weeks:
The "Night Train:" They said they were the best in the world this past summer when no one was paying attention, and they said it when the Games began, and proved it when the world was finally watching. The USA-I four-man bobsled crew of Steven Holcomb, Steve Mesler, Justin Olsen and Curt Tomasevicz obliterated the field -- including great German champion Andre Lange, who had won four consecutive gold medals -- for the first USA gold medal in the event since 1948. "No more 62 years," Holcomb said. "We can start the count over."
Apolo Ohno: In the whirling-dervish roller derby that is short-track speedskating, Apolo Ohno won three medals, a silver and two bronze, the silver tying him with Bonnie Blair for the most medals by one Winter Olympics athlete. Ohno did not win gold -- he was at once criticized for being "the king of the bronze" -- and was disqualified in his final race. But during his races, Ohno was the one to watch, the star of the sport who provided the electricity to every event whenever he was on the ice.
Julia Mancuso: Early in the Games, it was hard to be at Whistler Creekside and not think the United States women's ski team was a solo act, what with all the attention being paid to Lindsey Vonn, her ailments and her destiny. In a wonderfully determined two days, Mancuso put herself on the map, not only by winning consecutive silver medals, but by also medaling with an attacking, energetic style that made her a winner, and a star.
Women's downhill: Vonn won the gold that day, edging out Mancuso and Elisabeth Goergl of Austria, but the course at Franz Downhill stole the show. The Whistler luge track was clearly the most notorious venue of the Olympics, but the combination of the athletes' desire to win and the breakneck speed of the Franz course will not soon be forgotten. In one crash, Anja Paerson of Sweden flew 60 meters in the air, severely bruised several bones and suffered internal bleeding in her calf -- and won a bronze medal in her next match.
Victory cigars: The Canadian women's hockey team's spontaneous expression of joy at beating the U.S. to win the gold medal turned into a controversial moment for both the IOC and the team. The photos of Team Canada drinking beer and smoking cigars prompted an "investigation" and later an apology from the victorious women, but the sight of the winners sitting on the ice puffing away in enjoyment was nothing to be ashamed of.
The luge: The Olympics' most haunting moments were at the luge track the two days after Nodar Kumaritashvili's horrifying fatal accident. Ruben Gonzalez of Argentina slid in the spot that would have gone to Kumaritashvili's teammate Levan Gureshidze, who chose not to compete. "I saw the crash run through my mind a couple times at the top of the track while I was waiting to go," Gonzalez said. "I was here when Nodar crashed and I saw it, so I was reliving that. I haven't seen the replays of the crash and I don't want to ever look at it again. I don't have to. I can see it in mind."
Bode's first medal: It was four years later than expected, but Bode Miller won three medals, including his first gold. I was there for two, but I'll remember the first one best, the bronze in the downhill. It isn't the race itself I recall, but Bode walking off the course, a cell phone in his left hand while doing an interview with a European network, and a pen in his right, with which he signed autographs for a crowd that kept telling him how proud they were of him. This was a much different and much better way to see Bode than 2006, when I last saw him walking off the course beyond the athlete/media mixed zone so he didn't have to answer any more questions about his poor performance there.
Kris Freeman's sugar crash: A good friend has been telling me about Kris Freeman for years, insisting I needed to write about him. And for good reason. Freeman is America's best distance cross-country skier despite having Type 1 Diabetes, which requires constant monitoring of his diet, calories and blood-sugar level. So I looked forward to writing about him in the 30K pursuit. Freeman has been inspirational in proving a person can do anything with diabetes, but in the race he miscalculated his levels beforehand and suffered a sugar crash after 12 kilometers that left him lying in the snow and watching the lead pack ski away from him. A German coach came to his rescue with a bottle of Gatorade and an energy gel, allowing Freeman to get up and finish the race. "I'm crushed," Freeman said after the race. "I don't know what's happening. I've been gearing toward this for four years and in my worst nightmares, I couldn't imagine these races going any worse."
Nordic combined: I've covered sports for more than a quarter-century, so it takes a lot to get me excited during a competition. But Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong had my heart racing when they won America's first medals in their sport (silver in team event and gold in large hill). The three have been in 12 Olympics combined, almost as many as Jim McKay and Bob Costas combined, and they finally came up huge. "You put in so many hours and so much effort and time and energy into trying to be the best in the world," Lodwick said after earning the silver medal. "To hang an Olympic medal around your neck on the biggest stage, it's beyond words. I can't wait to go to bed with it tonight."
Biathlon media center: There is no better reminder of the global nature of the Olympics than by walking into a media tent and seeing 300 reporters/photographers, only five of whom are American, filling every seat available. Biathlon is huge in Europe, and a lesson that others are every bit as passionate about their sports and their athletes as we are about ours.
Bonnie D. Ford
Hannah Kearney's gold medal in women's moguls: Kearney and I sat down at a World Cup event in Park City, Utah, in January and talked about how hard it had been for her to recover from the disappointment of failing to qualify for the finals in Torino after coming in as the favorite. She'd already made the 2010 U.S. Olympic team at that point, but didn't feel she was skiing well and her eyes welled up as she talked about her fears. She had an entirely different expression when her score was posted after her perfect run in the sluicing rain at Cypress Mountain: disbelief quickly giving way to the elation of a seasoned athlete who had just reaped the rewards of training her mind and her body.
Canada's first gold medal on home turf: The night after Kearney's win, moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau raced into history with technically flawless form on the bumps and fell into the arms of his family, including his older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy. That relationship clearly has made the soft-spoken, soulful-eyed Bilodeau grateful for his athletic gifts; his comments and demeanor afterwards were understated and classy and defined humility. Little did Bilodeau -- who knocked off favorite Dale Begg-Smith of Australia -- know his gold would be the first in what would become a record haul for the home country.
Evan Lysacek presents Frank Carroll with lifetime achievement award: Carroll has coached top figure skaters for four decades and knew there were no guarantees he would get to see one of them on the summit of this capricious sport. He urged Lysacek to compete for himself and not take on the added burden of trying to win for him. That's why it was so delightful to see Carroll look slightly giddy in the wake of Lysacek's upset of Russian favorite Evgeni Plushenko. Carroll helped keep Lysacek focused and unperturbed by the quad-or-no-quad flap. To top it off, Carroll's 16-year-old pupil Mirai Nagasu defied nerves and inexperience, skated a stellar long program that saw her finish in fourth place and stamped herself as a future contender.
Dancing up an ice storm: Amid all the inevitable comparisons between the results of American and Canadian athletes, there was one shining example of friendly competition that made both stronger. Ice dancing teams Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada and Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States train in the same Michigan rink under the same coaching tandem. They've pushed and supported each other in equal measure, and together they made history by winning gold and silver with dynamic programs and youthful spirit in a discipline long dominated by Russians.
Joannie Rochette's short program: Not sure I ever have or ever will see anything quite this brave in a sporting arena. Who could have been more alone on the ice than this beautiful young figure skater who'd lost her mother less than three days before? It showed once again that elite athletes are not wired like the rest of us. Rochette was able to perform because of her training and discipline, but she was far from numb, and her emotion enhanced her skating rather than undermining it. When she first spoke publicly after winning the bronze medal, Rochette showed humor, grace, intelligence and perspective. She was obviously raised right.
Speedy Peterson's press conference: The 28-year-old aerials skier has had enough struggle and tragedy for three lifetimes. He can't erase the past, but the silver medal won courtesy of his signature trick, the Hurricane, made his perseverance worthwhile. Peterson was sleep-deprived and emotional when he spoke to reporters the next morning, but his message -- that inner peace is far harder to come by than athletic accomplishment -- was entirely lucid and far more powerful than the nationalistic hype that tends to color the Olympics.
Hockey: Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun
Finns flame out: Miikka Kiprusoff spit up the puck to Ryan Malone a little over two minutes into the men's hockey semifinal match between the U.S. and Finland. Then Malone sent the puck into the open net to start an onslaught that would see the Americans score six times in the first 13 minutes of the game, to send Team USA to its first gold-medal game since 2002.
Canada dominates: Rick Nash scored the third Canadian goal against Evgeni Nabokov at the 12:55 mark of a tournament-changing quarterfinal game. The Canadians went on to eliminate Russia with a 7-3 thrashing and sent the high-powered Russians home without a medal for the second straight Olympic Games.
The hit heard 'round the Games: Alex Ovechkin laid out Jaromir Jagr with a thunderous open-ice hit at center ice during a preliminary-round game between Russia and the Czech Republic. Jagr coughed up the puck and the Russians scored a decisive goal seconds later. The hit was so vicious, it cracked Jagr's visor. Ovechkin, as he did throughout the tournament, declined to discuss the hit with the media.
Sid strikes twice: With an entire country holding its breath, Sidney Crosby came through in two high-pressure situations during the Olympics. First he scored on his second shootout attempt against Switzerland to give Canada a narrow 3-2 victory in the preliminary round. Crosby snapped a shot to beat heroic Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller to the stick side for the win. Then in the gold-medal game against the United States, Crosby got a shot past MVP goalie Ryan Miller to give Canada its first men's hockey gold medal on home soil.