The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, captured the world’s attention in February, giving viewers across the globe a chance to watch elite athletes compete for their countries in a wide range of cold weather pursuits. From popular pastimes like hockey and figure skating, to niche activities like skeleton and curling, athletes who rarely get to compete in front of a global audience were given their time to shine.
At least, that was the plan. As is typical of Olympic competition, what happened around the two-week festival of sports attracted just as much attention as the results of the events on the ice and snow. But while there were plenty of controversies to talk about, nothing could distract from the triumphs and tragedies that defined the competition.
Russian Doping Scandal Leads to Partial Ban
One of the major stories heading into the Winter Olympics was the status of the Russian contingent. The International Olympic Committee made the decision to ban Russia from participating due to the exposure of a major state-sponsored doping program. Instead, Russian athletes who had not been named in the scandal were able to compete under the “Olympic Athletes of Russia” (OAR) designation.
The hope was that Russia would be allowed to march under their national flag during the closing ceremonies. However, multiple OAR athletes tested positive during the Olympics, causing the IOC to scuttle that idea.
The biggest issue during competition proved to be the weather. Dangerous winds made the women’s slopestyle competition into something of a farce, while numerous other skiing events were postponed until the winds calmed somewhat, playing havoc with the schedule for athletes and fans alike.
Norway Tops Medal Count
Ultimately, every event was able to be held, which meant viewers got to see plenty of Olympic triumphs. The Norwegian contingent won the most medals overall, but there was plenty of glory to go around.
After Norway and Germany, it was the North American nations that fared the best. The United States got the best of Canada in women’s hockey, finally earning their first gold medal since 1998 after Canada had won the last four tournaments. The USA also scored an unexpected victory in men’s curling, as John Shuster’s team beat Canada in the semifinals and top-ranked Sweden in the final to capture gold.
Meanwhile, Canadians captured a total of 11 gold medals. The highest-profile victory may have come in the figure skating team competition, while ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir also earned gold in their event.
And despite their off-the-field struggles, the OAR delegation was able to celebrate a few moments of glory themselves. OAR lived up to its billing as the favorite and won the men’s ice hockey tournament, and Alina Zagitova won gold in ladies figure skating, with her teammate Evgenia Medvedeva earning the silver medal.
Flashy Helmets, Overmatched Skier Prove Unforgettable
The Winter Olympics provided more than a few curiosities as well. If you watched the skeleton events, you’ll never forget the amazing, distinct designs on many of the competitors’ helmets, each of which added a distinct touch of personality and national pride to one of the fastest-paced sports on the program.
And few will be able to forget Elizabeth Swaney — though some might wish they could. The American competed for the Hungarian team in the women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe event, and gained attention for being at the Olympics without really looking like an Olympian.
Swaney finished dead last in her event — far behind the next worst competitor — after two runs down the halfpipe that were clean, but contained no attempted tricks. It turned out that she had traveled to events on tour where even finishing last would be enough to earn ranking points, and happened to be the last woman in after injuries forced other athletes out of the competition.
But where some saw an embarrassment, Swaney saw an inspirational performance.
“I want to show others that freestyle skiing is possible and it is never too late to get into this sport, and to help others to dream and to progress the sport in Hungary,” Swaney told Reuters.
Can’t wait to see your country’s best compete in these events again? It won’t be too long: in 2022, the Winter Olympics are scheduled to be contested in Beijing, China.