With the Winter Olympics just about half over, we're already getting nostalgic for Russia's answer to the Games. So we're not waiting until it's over to recap our favorite moments, storylines, and general awesomeness of this last week of sports. Some broke our hearts, other lifted us up, and some just made us laugh and want to fix our hair. Here are The Wire's staffers picks for the best of Sochi 2014.
Jeremy Abbott Gets Up
Jeremy Abbott has had a rough Olympics. In the team event, he bungled his short program and he was (unfairly) seen as the reason the team didn't challenge for gold or silver. And after that performance he even left the Olympic village to find his toughness.
Fast forward to Thursday's short program, Abbott's quadruple toe-triple toe combination, a gasp-inducing fall which left Abbott crumpled up against a wall like an unloved stuffed animal. "Lillies of the Valley", his program music, played on. I wanted it to stop. That music droned on — the only thing in the stadium unaffected by his fall.
At that point, Abbott had a choice. He could have bowed out. No one would have blamed him. After all, Plushenko just did it minutes earlier. But the 28-year-old got up and he finished his program. And he didn't just skate by — he added a triple toe loop to his triple lutz, and landed a triple axel to a raucous applause from the audience in Sochi.
Abbott's mistake will prevent him from getting a medal. But I won't forget the courage and grace he showed on Thursday. — Alex Abad-Santos
Gilmore Junio's Sacrifice
I have no idea how much attention this story is getting in the U.S., probably none, but in Canada the Olympics hero so far is not a medalist. Speed skater Gilmore Junio backed out of the 1,000m short track race because, he said, his teammate Denny Morrison was skating better. "Although (Junio) qualified for the 1,000 metres, he knows Morrison is our best skater in this distance. He did it to give our team the best chance to win a medal," team spokesman Antonio Faiola told the Canadian Press. In the end, Junio's decision reaped huge dividends: Morrison won the silver medal, when his previous best Olympic finish was 13th in Vancouver. There's now a campaign to have Junio carry the Canadian flag during the closing ceremony. I can't think of a better candidate. – Connor Simpson
Michael Christian Martinez's Beginning
Michael Christian Martinez, a scrawny, smiley, 17-year-old with eyebrows for days, is the Philippines' lone athlete in these Games. Like Abbott, there's no chance he can medal on Friday, but that doesn't matter. Just getting to Sochi has been a journey for Martinez and his family.
I admire any asthmatic kid who grows up in a place where it's constantly 80°F and decides he wants to figure skate. And I admire any family, who's willing to sacrifice to make this kid's crazy dream happen. That's what the Martinezes did. Michael trained in a shopping mall ice rink and taught himself a few of his triple jumps from watching others do it on television. And his family has used their savings to pay for for him to train.
"I'd love to qualify for the free skate [top 24]; that would be a big accomplishment for me," Martinez, said in an interview with NBC prior to Thursday's skate. He finished 19th and skated on Friday. — AAS
Alex Bilodeau's Brotherly Love
The best story of the Olympic Games, as it was in Vancouver, is the story of Canadian moguls skier Alex Bilodeau. NBC's segment on Bilodeau's relationship with his brother, who has cerebral palsy, was a pitch-perfect segment demonstrating everything that makes the Olympics great: Love, passion, competitiveness. What NBC tries to manufacture from other athletes is just there with the Bilodeaus, and it's heart-breaking and wonderful. When Alex won his second-straight gold, NBC was ready with cameras on his brother and family, but even those little rib-nudges were fine. Give the family their moment. We will clap for them in our houses, unheard, just because we can't help it.
I also liked when the Swedish slope style skiing dork with the dreads and the too-big clothes wiped out and didn't make it onto the podium. But for different reasons. — Philip Bump
Plushenko's Last Stand
Evgeni Plushenko has everything we want in a Russian Olympian — blond, cold, talented, creepy-sexy, an element of the tragic, dramatic media interviews. He's the perfect antidote to our sunny, optimistic, media trained, all-the-glory-to-God-and-mom Americans. I've followed his entire career as an NBC Sports packaged bad guy, and it's fitting that his career ends with both a gold medal in the team event in his home country and a heartbreaking injury that kept him from giving his last glorious performances. — Elle Reeve
Chad Samela's Calls
The thing about cross-country skiing is that it looks like the least-fun activity on God's snowy earth. Most of the events at the Winter Olympics — while utterly off-limits to the majority of us, either because the equipment/venues are expensive/unavailable to us or because we would quite literally die gruesome deaths — are super fun to watch. Ski jumping, slopestyle, luge, all crowd-pleasers from an aesthetic angle. Not so with cross-country, which can seem like watching someone on the stairmaster for loooong stretches of time. The athletic achievements are impressive, no doubt, but as a viewer, it just makes your lungs and thighs burn by proxy. Which is why the announcing job by NBC's Chad Salmela has been such a godsend. A former U.S. National athlete in the biathlon, Salmela clearly has passion for the sport, but it's his down-to-the-wire theatrics that have injected the kind of excitement that cross-country and biathlon is not known for. Check out his call of the skiathlon final here: — Joe Reid
Gus Kenworthy and His Puppies
Gus Kenworthy made a late run for my Olympic heart with the puppy photos. I have chosen to seriously fan girl out over Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and would be devastated if they didn't win. (Relatedly: Charlie is adorable.) Also, against all instincts, I've found myself rooting for Ashley Wagner. She came into a shitty situation, and I want her to prove herself. — Esther Zuckerman
Tara Lipinski's Dreamy Hair
Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir have been by far the best commentators during the Games. Their expert fashion moments are well-documented, but I'd like to call special attention to Tara's hair on the 11th. She copped the look straight from Pinterest. Like, a fishtail braid AND a flower crown? Tara showed us that even in the dead of winter, we can still make our Coachella princess dreams come true. — Allie Jones
Kate Hansen's Boogie
Kate Hansen dancing to Beyoncé is probably one of the most American things to happen in Sochi. She pretty much knew going in that she wasn't going to win a medal, but she did really well (10th place), had fun and even got Queen Bey's (social media intern's) attention. I respect that. — Arit John
If there are any athletes on earth who should be vicious and cutthroat its Olympians. They train four years, for one chance at one event, and they don't even get paid for it. They really need to win. Yet, we are always amazed to discover every four (or two) years that Olympic athletes not only tend to be generous and supportive of their fellow competitors — they actually like each other.
There's Gilmore Junio; a Slovenian downhiller gladly shared a gold medal with her best ski buddy from Switzerland, the men's 15K cross country champ waited 30 minutes to congratulate a guy who came in last, and in one instance, a Canadian cross country coach came to the rescue of a rival Russian skier who had suffered a broken sled. That's the real Olympic spirit. – Dashiell Bennett
Bob Costas and His Eyes
The best story of the Sochi Olympics so far is also the saddest. The honorable Bob Costas, sports announcer extraordinaire, has been stricken with some sort of Russian eye plague. Though he powered through the first couple of nights – did you really think a puny infection in one eye could take down the great Bob Costas? – the virus eventually spread to his second eye, and he was forced to take leave, and NBC replaced him with Matt Lauer. There’s hope that Costas will return soon, but tonight Meredith Vieira hosts in his stead. Curse whatever scourge inflicted this on Costas.
Forget alpine skiing or figure skating – this is the true test of the limits of the human body. Bob Costas is in Sochi, half-blind in both eyes, taking shots of vodka with Mary Carillo. He should win all the gold medals.
Come back soon, Bob. We miss you, Bob. We need you, Bob. — Ben Cosman
Sage Kostenburg's Spoice
Everything about snowboarding slopestyle winner Sage Kotsenburg's bro-ey early few days was fantastic. After he "just winged it" on the final trick to take gold, he tried to explain to the Russian press how "sick" the trick was and how "stoked" he felt. But those words don't translate cleanly into other languages, and so his quotes ended up more like "crazy" and "drunk" in the Russian translation. That's still pretty much accurate for Kotsenburg's laid-back DGAF approach, so good job translators! Or should we say, that translation was SPOICE bro. — Eric Levenson
Jamie Anderson: Tinder Goddess
How are the Olympians spending their downtime in Sochi? It’s common knowledge by now that the Olympic village tends to be a haven of sexual activity during the Games, but this year has an added twist: Tinder. The smartphone dating app that lets users “match” with people in their immediate vicinity is practically making hooking up in Sochi a, well ... Olympic sport.
“Tinder in the Olympic Village is next-level,” said snowboarding gold medalist Jamie Anderson. “It’s all athletes! In the mountain village, it’s all athletes. It’s hilarious. There are some cuties on there.”
Let’s be honest: the Olympic Village is peak Tinder. The app’s sole purpose is to find the best-looking people in your area. Where is there a more condensed population of fit, young, good-looking people than the Olympic Village? It’s a paradise.
Maybe, just maybe, the Sochi athletes will burn through the 100,000 condoms delivered to the village this year. Then everyone wins gold. – Ben Cosman