So many years went into the final half hour of the first women's ski jumping competition at the Olympics. I wanted it to slow down rather than flashing by in a slideshow where the images lingered for eight to 10 seconds apiece and then evaporated. The athletes in their richly hued jump suits looked from afar like jockeys in silks, riding the wind. As Germany's Carina Vogt sank into a squat in the landing area to wait for the results that would confirm her gold medal, embodying the ambition of any elite athlete on the brink of fulfillment, it forever cracked Olympic officials' old argument that the women's sport lacked "universality."
I watched and thought about the first time I met the U.S. team as a group in its collective hometown and training base of Park City, Utah. "I've been an Olympic reporter for 20 years, but I've never covered your sport and I know nothing about it," I said. "Pretend I'm a kid. Tell me everything from scratch."
I took the ski lift up to the start and walked all 200-plus steps down to examine the angle of every meter the athletes traversed, my calves spasming with anxiety from my fear of heights. I knelt down and felt the fake grass in the landing area. I asked them to let me into their homes and thoughts, and they did. I saw them jump for the first time on snow at the Olympic trials in December, won by Jessica Jerome. I sat with injured world champion Sarah Hendrickson and listened to her describe the grueling rehab regime she hoped would earn her a discretionary slot on the team.
Hendrickson made it to Sochi, but she wasn't 100 percent. Her trial jump of 97 meters, which didn't count, turned out to be her longest after she struggled through a few days of anxiety and unexpected pain in her surgically reconstructed knee. Jerome, the highest U.S. finisher at 10th, candidly described her dichotomy: dissatisfied with her performance, deeply satisfied for the sorority. An elated Lindsey Van, who expended so much personal capital in the legal and bureaucratic wrangling to get the women to the top of the ramp, said she felt "for the first time in my life ... I'm living now and not talking about what I'm going to do."
It was her moment, not mine, but it will stay with me.
For me, the top Olympic moment is one described to us by Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman. He said he didn't go out on the ice to celebrate the men's hockey team's gold medal on Sunday like he did four years ago when Canada won gold in Vancouver. He said he had thought about it for the past couple of years, and if Canada won again, he wanted to stay up in the management suite so he could see the Canadian flag unfurled and hear "O Canada" from a different vantage point. When he tried to rush down to get in the team picture at center ice, the elevator didn't come in time.
He apparently won't get another opportunity in his current capacity with Hockey Canada. Yzerman told ESPN.com he will not return as GM of the team for 2018.
This was my first Olympics, so it's borderline impossible to isolate one moment that stands out most. Every day built, piece by piece, a new mosaic of absurdities and wonders. I would go to bed at night and reflect on how wild it was that I had seen Meryl Davis and Charlie White stand in front of thousands to receive their ice dance gold medals and had gotten locked inside a curling center bathroom -- all in the same day.