Vancouver Olympics correspondents Christa Case Bryant and Mark Sappenfield chronicle the Top 12 highlights: including Joannie Rochette's courage, US vs. Canada hockey, and Petra Majdic racing with broken ribs.
Whistler and Vancouver, British Columbia
• BODE THE KID: Alpine skiing aficionado or not, you couldn’t help being impressed by Miller barreling down Whistler Creekside with abandon – just as he did as a tyke on the cold, shady slopes of New Hampshire’s Cannon Mountain.
His Neapolitan medal grab here – gold, silver, and bronze – fueled the historic momentum of the US team, which topped its all-time haul of five medals with eight here.
• JOANNIE ROCHETTE'S COURAGE: The Canadian figure skater put aside personal tragedy to win bronze and inspire not only her nation, but many around the world who reached out to her in the wake of her mother’s sudden passing just days before the competition began.
“She won gold for us – not just for Canada but for the whole world. She shared with us what courage is,” said Janis D’andrea from Coquitlam, British Columbia, who watched Rochette's free skate. “She really felt our love strong…. And even though her mother is gone, she’s still with her.”
• BRONZE DESPITE BROKEN RIBS: Like a rock, Petra Majdic lived up to the Greek meaning of her first name with a courageous performance in the women’s cross-country sprint. After skidding off the exceptionally icy trail in warm-up, emerging in intense pain – the result, she found out later, of having broken four ribs – she insisted on racing.
Though she collapsed in agony after every heat, Petra put down the hammer in the final heat to take bronze – her country’s first Olympic medal in the sport, and a feat that is likely to get her Slovenia’s sportswoman of the year award for the fourth time.
• KUMARITASHVILI HONORED: In the wake of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal crash on the luge track, American slider Tony Benshoof is auctioning off his Olympic race suit – signed by all 10 members of the US team – and selling it on eBay to raise money for Kumaritashvili’s family.
"By auctioning one of our Olympic race suits, we hope we can in some small way show the Kumaritashvili family that Nodar will remain in the hearts and minds of those in the luge community," said USA Luge Team Manager Fred Zimny. "We were saddened by his passing and wanted his family to know that the US Luge Team honors Nodar as a fellow Olympian."
• GOLD HEART, AND A MEDAL TO MATCH: Nordic combined athlete Bill Demong showed he had a heart of gold when, after a disappointing jump in the individual normal hill event put him out of medal contention, he still was ecstatic for teammate Johnny Spillane’s silver medal – America’s first in 86 years of Olympic competition.
Then, in one of the most spectacular moments of the Games, he surged to victory in the individual large hill event – pulling away from Austrian Bernhard Gruber like a Porsche passing a Plymouth. Last night he carried the flag for Team USA in the closing ceremonies.
• KEARNEY'S JUBILANCE: Though it saddened Canadian fans who were hoping moguls skier Jenn Heil could repeat her 2006 Olympic victory, Hannah Kearney’s flawless final run was truly impressive. But almost more exciting was her unfettered burst of joy upon capturing gold – redemption for all the stairs climbed en route to jumping off Lake Placid’s specially made plastic runs that would shoot her into a gurgling, unheated pool.
Slovenian skier Tina Maze and Canada’s gold and silver medalists in women’s bobsledding also had similarly exuberant reactions that reminded spectators that at the Olympics, anything is possible. Kearney's performance got the US off to a great start in what proved to be its most successful Winter Olympics ever, exceeding the 34 medals won in Salt Lake City eight years ago.
• CANADIAN HOSPITALITY: Known better for their hospitality than their military, Canada mustered a small army of volunteers to pull off these Olympic Games with unfailing patience and cheerfulness – if not always perfect efficiency. Their attitude – one that would make the world a much more forgiving place to live if adopted by all countries, did much to give the 16-day event a welcoming, uplifting feel.
And it didn’t keep the athletes from putting in some mean performances, sweeping more golds than any other country – proof that their Own the Podium program may have been worth it after all.
• VIRTUE & MOIR: Two nations came together when the Canadians won gold in ice dancing. The battle for gold between the pair of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and the pair of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who train together in Michigan, represented one of the high points of the Vancouver Olympics for competition and sportsmanship.
• CANADA'S FIRST GOLD: Canada entered these Olympics on an almost frantic gold-medal watch. As Canadians were well aware, Canada was the only country only to hold an Olympics twice and never win a gold medal in either (Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988). So whoever won that first gold was going to be celebrated throughout Canadian Olympic history.
It was supposed to be moguls skier Jenn Heil, but she was toppled by American Hannah Kearney on the last run of a rainy night. Not to fear: Mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau won gold the next night – perhaps the sweetest gold for Canada, save a men's hockey gold.
• KIM YUNA'S PERFECT NIGHT: Perhaps no one really understands skating's new scoring system yet. But everyone does know that Kim Yuna is really, really good. Her world record score destroyed the field by more than 23 points (that's a lot), and her skating set a new standard for craftsmanship – the quality of each jump and pass across the ice exquisite.
It affirmed a new order in figure skating. Skaters can no longer win with one flashy jump. Kim won – and won huge – because she took the quality of her routine to a completely new level. A world-record level.
• THE MINI-MIRACLE ON ICE: Almost 30 years to the day after the Miracle on Ice – and 50 years since the US last beat Canada in men's Olympic hockey – the US shocked the hosts with a 5-3 win on the back of goalie Ryan Miller. It was a showcase for hockey at its finest in front of the most passionate hockey fans on the planet. But Canada got its revenge in the gold medal final, beating the US, 3-2, in overtime. The win gave Canada the gold medal it coveted most and also set a record for most gold won by a country in a single Winter Olympics, with 14.
• THE DOUBLE McTWIST: Shaun White had the gold medal locked up in halfpipe snowboarding, but still had one run left. It was time for a "victory lap" – the run that means nothing and is a chance to have some fun. But it never works. The pressure gone, the focus fading, the victory lap turns into a crash and shrug-shouldered slide down the pipe. Except this day. White hit every trick before coming to his last air. Running out of speed and hill, he attempted what the world had been talking about since he arrived – his new trick, the double McTwist 1260 – and nailed it. That was a victory lap.