Halfway in to the Sochi Olympics, it might be time to finally exhale.
So far, the most expensive Games in history has not been marred by any of the catastrophes or calamities expected. Sure there were hiccups — a snowflake that failed to do its part during the Opening Ceremony, springlike weather that forced the cancellation of some training events — and some brushes with more serious trouble. A flight from Kiev to Istanbul was detained on opening night after a passenger attempted to hijack the plane to Sochi.
By and large, however, the drama has been contained, as it should be, to Olympic competition, where headlining athletes flopped and new talent rose to the top.
As of early Sunday morning, the U.S. was tied with the Netherlands in the medal count at 14 each. Russia led with 15, while Norway was third with 13.
Though a full week of competition is ahead, with some of the best yet to come (men's hockey finals and women's figure skating to name two) now is a good time to look back at the highlights of the first half of the XXII Winter Games.
UNFORGETTABLE, UNEXPECTED MOMENTS
The first eight days of competition has produced string of unforgettable moments — good, bad and comical. One that contained both proud and cringe-worthy elements was the huge spill figure skater Jeremy Abbott took in the first day of the men's individual competition. The fall was spectacularly bad. It looked painful, mortifying, crippling. But the crowd urged him on and turned the crash into a pretty Olympic moment, with Abbott rising up, taking a breath, and completing his routine.
Shaun White's dethroning and Plushenko's retirement will also go down as memorable Olympic moments, as will Friday's dramatic men's cross country race that concluded with the winner embracing the last-place finisher, who competed with two broken ribs.
And then there was President Vladimir Putin's visit to the USA Olympic house. He arrived Friday wearing a "Happy Valentine's Day from Team USA" pin on his lapel, and chatted sports over a glass of wine. It was the eve of Russia's first hockey game against the U.S. and Putin exchanged kind words with his country's top athletic rival.
"Naturally we will root for our own, but we know how many of our athletes play in the NHL," Putin told the Americans, according to Russian news agencies. "I promise you we have a lot of fans who love and know American players." The U.S. won that match in a dramatic game-end shoot-out.
Some of the biggest names headlining the Sochi Games began to drop even before the first day of competition. Lindsey Vonn, one of the most recognizable faces of the U.S. Olympic squad announced her injury-related withdrawal in January.
But the U.S. had other stars to flaunt, like snowboarding giant Shaun White who was going to do what no other snowboarder had done before: win the gold in both the Olympic halfpipe competition and the brand new slopestyle snowboarding event. Yet that didn't happen either. First, he withdrew from the newer competition and then slid on his backside out of medal contention in halfpipe, his specialty event.
There were also disappointments for Alpine skiing greats. Bode Miller and Ted Ligety both failed to reach the podium.
And Shani Davis has so far not seen a speed skating finish higher than 8th place.
Russia's big headliner, Evgeni Plushenko, also left competition after helping his figure skating team to his country's first gold medal of the Games. Moments before what was supposed to be his crowning routine — what would have been his fifth individual Olympic performance — he announced that he would retire from competitive skating and pull out of the Sochi Games.
NEW OLYMPIC ROYALTY
As the old guard fell, new talent emerged in their place. Who outside of snowboarding circles had ever heard of Sage Kotsenburg or Jamie Anderson before the Sochi Games? Both helped the U.S. to a huge slopestyle snowboarding sweep — Kotsenburg with a brand new trick he whipped out on the fly. Swiss halfpipe winner Iouri "I-Pod" Podladtchikov, who took the crown from White, won the contest with an innovative move of his own — two flips, two 360-degree turns and a clean landing — which he dubbed the Yolo.
In the men's figure skating competition, the gold didn't go to Canada's veteran Patrick Chan, but a 19-year-old Olympic newbie who broke a record on his way to victory. Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, a survivor of his country's devastating 2011 earthquake, blew the judges away with his short program, scoring an unheard of 101.45 points.
WARM WEATHER AND OTHER HICCUPS
As predicted, or feared, the temperatures in Sochi and along the Rosa Khutor slopes rose and rose, melting snow, and compelling people to take their shirts off. Some practice runs were cancelled, skiers complained about the mushy slush, but so far, courses have not dissolved into puddles and organizers have not even felt the need to tap snow reserves they apparently have at the ready.
Other small setbacks and glitches emerged as well — consequences, no doubt, of the frenetic pace of construction that transformed a Soviet-era spa town into an Olympic city in under a decade. There was the extra toilet discovered in a bathroom stall, a door that locked a strong and resourceful bobsledder in his hotel bathroom, a slopestyle course that was adjusted to prevent any more broken bones, and a biathlon track that was just 130-feet too short. All were fixed and the Games went on.
It wasn't just the organizing committee that made a few mistakes. Russian speed skater Olga Graf forgot she wasn't wearing anything under her skating suit and unzipped during a victory lap, tinging her bronze medal moment with a bit of embarrassment.
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A Lebanese skier became the center of a controversy when photos from a near-nude photo shoot emerged, while a slopestyle skier nearly lost his pants on an unfortunate fall.
A theory about a more serious wardrobe malfunction was busted Saturday after America's speed skaters failed to improve their performances after swapping their new suits for their older ones, which they suspect were actually faster.