SOCHI — The 2014 Sochi Olympic Games began with a snowflake malfunction and ended with a flurry of Russian medals. They were controversial. They were exhilarating. They brought superstars to their knees and elevated the newest and youngest among us.
But of all the ways the Sochi Games will be remembered, the most important is this:
They were safe. President Vladimir Putin's "ring of steel" worked. Terrorists never struck. Yes, those protesting Putin's anti-gay propaganda law, including the punk activists Pussy Riot, did make their voices heard, which was good. And the authorities didn't handle that well, at one point taking a whip to one member of the band.
But that was one incident, followed the next day by another. And that was it. There was no major security breach. There was no attack.
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Six months ago, even six weeks ago, who would have thought those words could be written?
An Olympics held in the crosshairs of harm, with terrorists vowing to strike in an extremely troubled part of the world, came off basically without a hitch.
That's the ultimate victory of the Sochi Olympic Games.
This is not to say there were not significant issues at these Olympics, or, as those troubles came to be known on Twitter: #SochiProblems. Putin's Games — and make no mistake, he personified it all — began with a flawed overture of infrastructure chaos, epitomizing all the early concerns about a Games built from the ground up: Every venue, every road, every hotel room, to the tune of $51 billion.
Sochi will never shake these stories. Little glitches can haunt an Olympic Games forever, perhaps just as footnotes, but often that's enough. The long lines waiting for buses in Lake Placid in 1980 or the buses getting lost in Atlanta in 1996. Minor stories, never forgotten.
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But look at the bright side: Sochi got us ready for Rio, the site of the 2016 Summer Games. If we think missing door knobs and shower curtains were a big deal, just wait for what the Brazilians might have left undone — although we might get a sneak preview at this summer's World Cup.
This might be as good a time as any to ask if this isn't just too much for some nations, including the one we've just been in. The answer of course is yes, it is. But pride alone will spur cities to continue to bid for the Games, and win them, and build venues that will rarely if ever be used again. It's the cycle of life, Olympic style.
Now to the athletes. With two frenetic dashes around the gates of the slalom course Friday, then an ambitious wish for the future, 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffren made sure that if she's not the U.S. face of these Games, she is planning to be for the next. She won one gold medal here. She'd like five in Pyeongchang. This is going to be fun to watch.
Meanwhile, can the U.S. Olympic Committee find more X-Games sports to put into the Winter Olympics? Six of the nine U.S. gold medals won here came in sports that didn't exist in the Games 20 years ago.
The Americans did win one of the five gold medals in the most popular of Winter Games sports, figure skating. Meryl Davis and Charlie White, partners for 17 years, saved their best performance for the most important moment of their lives, winning the first Olympic gold medal for a U.S. dance team or pair, ever.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: the conflicts of interest in the women's figure skating competition were almost too numerous to count, with Russians making more than their share of the crucial judging decisions, then all but racing to hug the winner, Adelina Sotnikova. Did we mention she's from Russia?
None of this is her fault, of course, but she's going to have to live with a gold medal that is forever tainted.
There are judging shenanigans. Then there's Canadian hockey. You can always count on both. Canada won both hockey gold medals for a second consecutive Olympic Games. This means Russia didn't win the men's gold medal – or any hockey medal, for that matter. That was the medal Putin and therefore Russia wanted the most.
But otherwise, Putin got almost everything he wanted. Russia won the medal count. Sochi pulled it all off.
As sports upsets go, there have been few bigger.
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