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Sylvain Gaulier’s Top 12 Stories From the Winter Olympics

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics ended last Sunday. The world has witnessed some powerful stories that only sports can create. While we will all likely keep in mind some positive memories of Sochi, here are my highlights of the Olympic Games in 12 stories.

1. Ukrainian Gold Medal Symbol                                   
2. Tribute to Canadian Skier Sarah Burke                      
3. Bode Miller’s Emotion                                               
4. Bjoerndalen Has the Most Medals in the Winter Olympics                      
5. Dufour-Lapointe Family Dominate  in Freestyle Skiing                          
6. Yulia Lipnitskaya, 15, Overcomes Pressure to Win Gold                              
7. Team Canada Repeats as Hockey Champion                    
8. Bilodeau Repeats as Freestyle Skiing Champion       
9. French Freestyle Ski Cross Sweep                              
10. Vic Wild’s Success Story                                           
11. Olympic Ring Malfunction                                         
12. Netherlands Speed Skaters                                         

12. Netherlands Speed Skaters

The Netherlands accomplished an incredible performance in Russia. Never in the past has a country hauled in more than 14 medals in one sport. The Dutch won 23 out of 30 possible medals in the speed skating event. They dominated this sport from the beginning to the end. Fans in the Adler Arena also witnessed four triple medals (500 m, 5,000 m, 10,000 m men, and 1,500 m women); a performance echoing the French sweep of the freestyle ski.

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11. Olympic Ring Malfunction

This has been one of the most commented stories on social media. During the opening ceremony, a mistake occurred when four snowflakes turned to rings while the fifth one did not. In spite of the huge amount of money invested in the Olympic Games, it is always very difficult to prevent any imperfections. Some people imagined the mistake was a plot against America as they assumed the blank ring represents the American continent. Russia poked fun at the opening ceremony mishap by deliberately leaving the fifth Olympic ring as a snowflake during the closing ceremony. Who said Russia had no humor?

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10. Vic Wild’s Success Story

Vic Wild has left his footprint in the last Olympic Games with two gold medals in giant slalom and parallel slalom for snowboarding. Besides his performance, he became famous thanks to his decision to become a Russian citizen after his wedding to Alena Zavarzina, a Russian snowboarder. Born in Washington, he complained about the lack of financial support from8 the American Snowboard Federation and Olympic Committee. He said after the win: “I want to thank Russia for giving me the opportunity to win a gold medal.” Meanwhile he’ll enjoy his new hero status in Russia, as his wife won a bronze medal in parallel giant slalom.

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9. French Freestyle Ski Cross Sweep

I confess this pick is a bit biased because I’m French. However, like the Dutch success in speed skating and American sweep of the slopestyle event, France realized an incredible performance in freestyle skiing by taking the three podium places. It was the first time it happened in the French Olympic Games history. Moreover, France won its best total of medals. Medal winners Chapuis, Midol, and Bovolenta were perfect ambassadors for a sport that was featured on its second Olympic Games. Freestyle ski cross is a very recent sport, but we can predict a bright future for France.

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8. Alex Bilodeau Repeats as Freestyle Skiing Champion

Canadian Alex Bilodeau became the first freestyle skier to repeat as an Olympic champion. He won another gold medal in Sochi Olympic men’s moguls. After his gold-winning performance, the first person he turned to was his brother who is also his first and foremost fan. His brother, Frédéric, suffers from cerebral palsy. Alex and Frédéric are very close and help each other to accomplish new objectives. Thus, Alex dedicated his medal to his brother. “Whatever I do in life, my brother is my real inspiration,” he said. “We both have dreams, but most of them are not realizable to him. Every step is so hard for him in life. I have an easy path and I need to go after and do the best I can just out of respect to him.” Inspiring.

Winner Canada's Alex Bilodeau and his brother Frederic celebrate following freestyle skiing moguls competition at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor

7. Team Canada Repeats as Ice Hockey Champion

Canada proved again it was the best hockey nation in the world with gold medals for their men’s and women’s teams. Although the men’s tournament didn’t offer too many legendary games in comparison to the Vancouver Olympics, the women’s final between Canada and USA constituted a dramatic gold rematch. USA held a 2-0 lead with 3:26 left in the third period, but Canada managed to rally and overcame the US in overtime. The ice hockey rivalry between USA and Canada is of the most disputed sport rivalries of the twentieth century. The Canadien women’s team has captured four consecutive gold medals.  Canada and the US will likely meet again in South Korea. I’m not against it.

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6. Yulia Lipnitskaya Overcomes Pressure to Win Gold

While many people debate about “the unjust” Russian ice skating gold medal of Elena Sotnikova over the favorite and more experienced South Korean Kim Yu-na, I prefer to focus on another ice skating issue; which is the wonderful performance of 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya. She became the second youngest athlete to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Yulia excelled at free skating showing some mind-blowing feats of flexibility and elegance. Supported by Putin on and off the rink, the crowd reacted to her dazzling performances by chanting “Rossiya! Rossiya!” Back to her hometown, she hasn’t realized yet the impact of her success.

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5. Dufour-Lapointe Family Dominate in Freestyle Skiing

Many family stories unfolded during the Sochi Olympic Games, but none like the story of the Dufour-Lapointe family. Chloé, Justine, and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe are three Canadian sisters sharing the same passion for freestyle skiing. All three reached the Olympic moguls final where Justine won gold and her older sister, Chloé, snatched the silver medal. While we’ve seen many sibling rivalries in the sport history, the Dufour-Lapointe’s match and complete each other. Justine said: “my sister is my best friend and believe it or not, we don’t have a rivalry. I’ll always be there for her and she’ll always be there for me. This is something that I really respect. I don’t need rivalry. I prefer someone who’ll always be by my side and stick together.” The last time we had seen two sisters on the highest steps of the podium were Marielle and Christine Goitschel in Innsbruck in 1964.

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4. Bjoerndalen Has the Most Medals in the Winter Olympics

We almost forgot that Ole Einar Bjoerndalen was still hungry for medals. Bjoerndalen had a fabulous biathlon career. He won his first gold medal in Nagano in 1998. Then, he snatched four medals in Salt Lake City four years later. However, Bjoerndalen was less dominating its sport in the last years. But, the King of Biathlon is very strong mentally and deeply focused on his goals. After a solid preparation for Sochi, he won two gold medals in sprint and mixed relay. Six participations in the Olympic Games later, Bjoerndalen turns out to be the most medaled athlete in the Olympic Games history. He’s truly a legend.

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 3. Bode Miller’s Emotion

Bode Miller’s career is nearing its end. He has won several Olympic and World Championships medals since his professional debut in 1997. Otherwise, we discovered a new facet of Bode’s personality during the last Olympic Games. The most famous American alpine skier won a bronze medal at 36. This medal was a much deserved respite during a stormy year where he experienced his wife’s miscarriage and brother’s death. After finding solace in his wife’s arms, he defended the NBC reporter who brought him to tears because of her relentless questions about his rough year. We saw his utmost humane character in Sochi. A very classy and moving act from a big champion.

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2. Tribute to Canadian Skier Sarah Burke

Canadian freestyle skier, Sarah Burke, passed away following a ski training accident in 2012. She was popular among athletes thanks to her commitment to promote her sport and her appealing personality. She successfully lobbied the International Olympic Committee to have the superpipe skiing event added to the Sochi Olympic Games. Her four victories in the Winter X Games gave her the favorite status in Sochi. Even though the International Olympic Committee didn’t allow athletes to wear stickers of the Canadian’s association on their helmet, many athletes still paid tribute to their deceased friend. They all pointed at the sky after their halfpipe performance and on the podium. Moreover, crew members skied down the middle of the halfpipe in the shape of a heart to honor Sarah. Gold medalist, Maddie Bowman, expressed: “Sarah Burke is watching over us tonight, and we just want to honor her as much as we can.”

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1. Ukrainian Gold Medal Symbol

Ukraine faced a very severe political crisis during the Olympic Games. Roughly one hundred Ukrainians have been killed during the social riots opposing police and anti-government protesters. The Ukrainian Olympic Committee still decided to stay in Sochi to give its best to win medals. Biathlon female athletes provided good news to their country. Vita Semerenko, Julya Dzhyma, Valj Semerenko, and Olena Pidhrushna won the first biathlon gold medal of their country history. Ukrainian Olympic Committee President, Sergei Bubka, said: “I am very proud. The girls brought such a fantastic success, which we really needed today for the Ukrainian people, to bring the light, to bring the bright future and to show that Ukraine exists, the Ukrainian people together.” The crisis-ending process started on the same day.

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