SOCHI, Russia -- A lot can happen during an Olympics. So what stood out in Sochi? Our ESPN staff weighs in with its most memorable moments:
My favorite moment from these Olympics was in the mixed zone when Jeremy Abbott delivered his most impressive performance.
I like Abbott, who is open, honest and probably a little too emotional. He cried after a performance in the 2010 Vancouver Games and also after a winning performance at U.S. nationals last month. He fell in the team competition and talked about how that performance prepared him for the men's competition.
He later fell again in the short program, spectacularly so, falling face first and crashing into the boards. He hurt so much that he barely got up. But he did and finished his routine. Despite a bruise over most of his right side, he skated the next night as well. Asked whether people who said he choked in the big moment were accurate, Abbott turned to the U.S. press officer and said, "You're not going to like this."
Then he said, "I would just want to put my middle finger in the air and say a big F-you to everyone who has ever said that to me because they have never stood in my shoes. They have never had to do what I have to do."
He's right. Most of us covering the Olympics do not know what it's like to perform under such pressure after so many years of training. But all that preparation, pressure and sacrifice is what makes those performances so compelling that we are drawn to watch every four years.
The event that will stick with me when I leave Sochi is without question the women's gold-medal hockey match between the United States and Canada.
The Americans were up 2-0 with a mere 3:26 standing in the way of their first Olympic gold since 1998. But after a bad redirect off a defender's knee and an open-net shot that clinked off the post, a hungry Canadian team had the break it needed in an eventual 3-2 overtime win.
I'll remember frantically rewriting my quick turnaround story before overtime. I'll remember the pain on the faces of the teary-eyed, stunned Americans during postgame interviews. I'll remember the words of colleague and former U.S. soccer star Julie Foudy, who lost similarly to Norway in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She said the sting never goes away. And I'll remember bumping into U.S. coach Katey Stone a few nights after the game and sensing she simply wasn't the same person.
In the days leading up to the final, Stone and the U.S. women were beaming with confidence. In their minds, they had done everything they possibly could to win gold. You could see it in their eyes. And yet, the sometimes cruel fate of sports intersected with those dreams. It was a reminder that nothing is ever guaranteed.
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.
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).
Like so many others, I clearly remember saying "This game is over" with about four minutes left. It was a fantastically entertaining game to share with my new friends. I even had no worries at 2-1. The tying goal was a thing of beauty and, at first, a heartbreaker. But soon I realized that I was not that upset. After all, I truly love Canada. I loved Vancouver when I was there for the 2010 Winter Games and want to retire there.
So when the women's game went to overtime, I was torn. I felt a little guilty for feeling good about the Canadian comeback, but I really wasn't that upset. I was having too much fun. Even when the game-winning goal was scored, I felt heartbroken for the American women and their families but also got a kick out of the joy it brought to my office mates. If the U.S. was going to lose, at least it was to my second-favorite country.
My favorite moment -- and it is a moment, not a game or play or day -- occurred at Draft, a restaurant in Sochi. I arrived there to watch Russia take on Slovenia in the host country's first game of the men's hockey tournament. My assignment was to mingle with the Russian fans. I looked around the place and hesitated. In the charged Russia-America discourse, it's hard to escape preconceptions, and that's too bad.
The world over, and with few exceptions, we all want the same things out of life. We want a peaceful, prosperous environment in which to raise our families and pursue inner fulfillment. That's obvious. But in the rhetorical battle between Russia and the West, which has reached the level of propaganda in recent years, it's important to remember the obvious. Politics are one thing, humanity another.
The Olympics are supposed to promote fair play and harmonious feeling between people of different cultures. The ideological white noise between East and West threatened this ideal. So my favorite Olympic moment happened when I approached a table of Russians in Draft. They looked up at me, smiled and said come have a seat.
My favorite Olympic moment was watching Teemu Selanne capture bronze, the 43-year-old winger closing out his Finland national team career with a fourth career medal in his sixth Olympics.
You could see the pride he had in wearing his country's colors as well as being a part of Finnish teams over the years that found ways to win three bronze medals and a silver in the five NHL Olympics.
After his final game Saturday night, he spoke eloquently and emotionally about what it all meant to him.
"Twenty-six years ago, I played my first national team game, and I've been carrying this jersey with a lot of pride and love," Selanne said. "Winning this last game like this is a dream come true. I'm so proud of my teammates and what a great ending."
Let's hope his actual playing career ends with another Stanley Cup in June in Anaheim. That would be a true farewell.
The morning of men's ski slopestyle finals, I was exhausted. After back-to-back nights covering men's and women's snowboard halfpipe finals, which meant bedtimes that came sometime around 5 or 6 a.m., I struggled to stay awake on the bus ride to Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, the venue where I had spent just about every waking moment for the previous two weeks.
But then Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper made it very easy for me to keep my eyes open. Keeping them dry, well, that was another story.
I've always wished I had been at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 to watch Danny Kass, Ross Powers and JJ Thomas sweep the halfpipe podium, becoming only the second trio of American athletes to do so at the Winter Olympics. That Joss, Gus and Nick did it in their sport's Olympic debut and in the most progressive ski slopestyle contest ever held only sweetened the experience. I was proud to witness it in person. Individually, all three athletes have incredible stories. But together, they were the highlight of my Sochi Olympics.
For hundreds of years, the Finns and Russians have been staring each other down across an 800-mile border, and often not just staring at but killing each other.
During the Winter War of 1939-40, the Finns, outnumbered 3-1 with one tank for every 100 Soviet tanks, held their own. The enmity between these nations, especially the enmity of the Finns for the Russians, is unlike anything we know as Americans.
For the Finnish hockey team, representing a nation of 5 million people, to eliminate the vaunted Russian team, representing a nation of 140 million, at Russia's own Olympics in the sport Finns care about most ... well, that has to be the moment of the Games.
The Finns' elation, their pride in that victory against that opponent, signifies so much about the Olympics. For one night, when Finland wanted and needed it most, its hockey team delivered. Losing in the semifinals against the Swedes, Finland's neighbor on its other border, seemed to be OK with the Finns. After defeating the Russians, they were content.