New Olympic Sports Bring Surprises to the Sochi Winter Games

The Sochi Winter Games pushed the extremes, introducing new sports and new names -- such as teenagers Mikaela Shiffrin and Adelina Sotnikova -- as older athletes made room for soaring and tumbling youngsters.

Shiffrin, the 18-year-old American skier, became the youngest Olympic slalom champion, while 17-year-old Russian Sotnikova dethroned Korea’s Kim Yuna as the women’s ice skating gold medalist.

The $43 billion Olympics opened with controversies about unfinished hotels, slushy snow and even stray dogs, but moved on as athletes began to set records and win medals. The hosts -- disappointed by their men’s ice hockey team failing to get a medal -- finished with the most medals, using figure skating and cross-country skiing to boost the total. The U.S. got 12 of its 28 medals in new extreme sports.

“As far as having new events in snowboarding, having slopestyle, having border cross in and pipe is pretty awesome,” American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg, who won the first gold of the games, told reporters. “The world needed to see slopestyle because snowboarding is a different sport than figure skating or gymnastics. We’re all really different people and this is what the kids are doing nowadays.”

Host Russia finished with 33 medals, including 13 golds, to lead the standings. The U.S. was second, two ahead of Norway. Canada won the final event against Sweden in men’s ice hockey to take home 25 medals.

American-Born Russian

American-born snowboarder Vic Wild contributed two gold medals to Russia’s tally in men’s parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom. Wild moved to Moscow and became a Russian citizen in 2012 when he married Russian snowboarder Alena Zavarzina, who won a bronze medal in women’s parallel giant slalom.

“It wasn’t like I had an opportunity in the U.S. and then decided to go to Russia,” Wild told reporters. “It’s not like there was an option. I had to make a life for myself, I had to make money. It was the only way if I wanted to snowboard.”

Ole Einar Bjorndalen, the 40-year-old Norwegian, became the oldest individual gold medalist and the most successful Winter Olympian in history by winning gold in the 10-kilometer and mixed-relay biathlon. American Bode Miller, 36, ended his Olympic career by becoming the oldest medalist in Alpine skiing by sharing bronze in the men’s super-giant slalom, while Austria’s Mario Matt won the men’s slalom to become the oldest Olympic Alpine gold medalist.

“It’s what everyone who travels here wants to go home as,” 34-year-old Matt said. “It’s a big satisfaction. I’m just proud.”

Dutch Speedskaters

The Netherlands took 23 medals, including eight golds, in speedskating as the U.S., which won four medals in the 2010 Games, didn’t get on a podium even after the team voted to change out of a more technical skinsuit made by Under Armour Inc. to a previous model after being shut out in early races.

“We are going our separate ways now,” Shani Davis said after he and Jonathan Kuck lost to Canada in the men’s team pursuit quarterfinals. “There is no one individually to blame for what happened with the USA team here. I wish we would have parted in different circumstances.”

There was also disappointment for the U.S. in ice hockey, where the men failed to win a medal and the women blew a 2-0 lead in the last four minutes to finish second. Russia, too, left empty handed as Canada triumphed in both the men’s and women’s finals.

Bobsledder Struggles

Elsewhere on the ice, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the gold in the figure skating ice dance event, beating 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. Jamaica was fortunate to make it to the ice.

The Caribbean island’s preparations for the bobsled were disrupted when its equipment got lost on the way to the Black Sea resort town. When the Jamaicans recovered their gear, it was covered in protein powder after security opened the luggage and failed to reseal a container holding the substance.

Another bobsledder, Johnny Quinn of the U.S., made headlines after he used his bobsled push to break down a bathroom door he couldn’t open. Two days later. he got stuck inside an elevator.

Off the slopes, stray dogs and Pussy Riot competed for attention.

Women Horsewhipped

Two members of Pussy Riot, the Russian art collective, were detained and then released by Russian police in Sochi on Feb. 18 during the games as suspects in a hotel theft. Two days later, the group released a protest video shot in Sochi that showed footage of them being beaten with horsewhips by Cossack militia members.

The pictures of the Cossacks whipping the activists were “very upsetting,” Mark Adams, an International Olympic Committee spokesman, told reporters, while criticizing the use of the games for protests. “It’s a shame if the Olympics is used as a political platform.”

Visitors and athletes expressed concern about a cull of homeless animals. A charity set up by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska opened Sochi’s first dog shelter, called PovoDog, a play on the Russian word for “leash,” to help care for thousands of strays.

When Amanda Bird wasn’t being the spokeswoman for the U.S. bobsled and skeleton team, she was visiting PovoDog and the day before the games ended got permission to bring a pup, called “Sochi,” back home.

Slopestyle Medals

“Sochi made it to LA!” she said in a text message yesterday. “He’ll be quarantined, then I will fly to get him and bring him home.”

Her concerns of the well-being of the animals was reinforced by Gus Kenworthy, a silver medalist in slopestyle skiing, who also brought some Sochi dogs back home.

Kenworthy, 22, is one of a wave of athletes who helped the U.S. succeed in newer winter sports at the games as it slipped in speedskating and Alpine skiing. Kotsenburg filled the gap left by Shaun White, the most decorated snowboarder in history. White withdrew from slopestyle, one of 12 new events, to focus on halfpipe, where he came in fourth.

White, a two-time Olympic champion in halfpipe, was one of those concerned about course conditions as temperatures in Sochi reached as high as 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit). A week later, events were rescheduled in the games’ Mountain Cluster as dense fog reduced visibility.

The games opened with an evening of Russian culture and high-tech pageantry marred by a malfunctioning snowflake that failed to unfurl into a circle, leaving four Olympic rings and what looked like an asterisk.

The Winter Olympics closing ceremony referred to the error, with the performers in the opening number forming four rings -- and this time the malfunctioning one opened.

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