But when I think back over the past two weeks, one scene that makes me smile most is the bedlam that ensued when Iouri Podladtchikov won the gold medal in the halfpipe. The snowboarder was representing Switzerland but had been born in Moscow, and the crowd reacted in a way that let you know it still considered him a native son. Volunteers followed him around like waggly puppies, fans begged for autographs, and even as Podladtchikov was sneaked inside a van to go to his gold-medal news conference, several happy stragglers leaned in through the windows for one last look.
In an event that had seemed preordained to be won by Shaun White once again, the unexpected victory encapsulated so much that makes the Olympics the Olympics: the blurry but in the end forgiving international allegiances, the unadulterated joy, the unfiltered athlete who made sure to praise the halfpipe sound system DJ for being "on point" that day. I had arrived at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park venue to attend a coronation, but I left having witnessed something better: an authentic celebration.
I keep coming back to a moment that happened outside of a rink, arena or mountain. My best moment of the Olympics happened about 1:30 a.m. every night. As our group of journalists would shuffle back to our dorms -- exhausted, hungry and frazzled -- the one restaurant still open would welcome us in.
It was under a big white tent, probably erected in less than a day and one that will be knocked down in 20 minutes max. But inside this white tent, they would serve us delicious, local food from their Caucasus Mountain region: kebabs (the best I've ever had even after two straight weeks of them), wine, vegetables and rice. Irina, our young Russian server, would smile, bring platter after platter of food and take care of us. What we didn't know: The restaurant was supposed to close at 2 a.m. each night. But these local Russians served us at any time on any night. They created a desperately needed den for us to unwind, share, imbibe and try out our best Russian phrases.
On Saturday night, through a translator, I thanked Irina for her gracious hospitality. I apologized for our late nights while explaining that her tented sanctuary had saved our Olympics.
I am sure she may have wanted to turn the lights off and say, "Great, now go home." Instead, in her gentle way, she smiled, came and gave me a big hug and said, "No, on the contrary. You all have been the highlight of my Olympics. I am sad you are leaving. I will miss you." To which we all gave her a standing ovation.
And so my best Olympic moment happened in a white tent, filled with journalists and Russians, sharing bad stories, good wine and even better kebabs -- all thanks to locals who wanted us to have a taste of the real Russia. Thank you, Irina.
This is my 12th Olympic Games, and I can count on two hands how many times I have actually attended real, live events. The United States-Canada women's hockey game was no exception. Couldn't go. Stuck in an office producing live shots. But we had it on the television. Jeremy Schaap, the team from CTV and I were locked in a small makeshift production office -- working, watching, cheering and slinging trash talk (all good natured and polite, of course).