With a lighter schedule of events than the Summer Games, the Winter Olympics have a tendency to feel sparse in the final days of competition. But the final few competitions in Pyeongchang were filled with incredible drama and iconic moments that served as a capstone for this year’s celebration of international sport.
One of the more surprising stories of these Olympics was the excitement produced by John Shuster and the United States curling team. While curling does get a bump in popularity during its time in the Winter Games, most people are more interested in figuring out the sport than caring deeply about the results.
For Americans, that appeared to be the case yet again this year, as the US mixed doubles team never seemed to be in contention, while the women’s squad posted a mediocre 4-5 finish.
The men didn’t appear to be doing any better, sitting at 2-4 with three round-robin games remaining. But Shuster’s squad shocked the world by winner three straight games to make the playoffs, then beating the heavily favored Canadians in the semifinals.
Finally, the USA had to defeat Sweden, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, in the gold medal game. Tied 5-5 in the fifth end, Sweden’s Niklas Edin made an error that left Shuster a shot for five.
“When that misses…we knew we were going to lose,” Edin told Sports Illustrated.
Shuster converted a double takeout, and the Americans went on to win 10-7 to win the first ever curling gold for the United States. While the long term impact of the win is unknown, it will undoubtedly raise the profile of the niche sport for now.
USA Women’s Hockey Thriller
Another American victory was less shocking, but no less meaningful. The US women’s hockey team defeated Canada 3-2 in a shootout to capture their first gold medal since 1998. Canada had won all four Olympic tournaments since then.
In a back-and-forth affair, the two teams ended regulation in a 2-2 tie, and neither side could score in the 20-minute overtime period. Even the penalty shootout was tight, with both sides scoring twice. Finally, on the sixth round of the shootout, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson put the Americans up with a gorgeous move that left Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados on her back.
US goaltender Maddie Rooney then made one last save against Meghan Agosta, handing the United States the gold.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Monique Lamoureux-Morando said following the win. “To be able to come away with a win, to come from behind like we did is something special.”
Russian Glory on Ice
The final days of the Winter Olympics were also kind to the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). From the ban on the Russian program due to evidence of widespread doping, to the IOC’s decision not to let those athletes march under the Russian flag at the closing ceremonies due to more doping scandals during the Games, it had been a difficult time for those competing under the OAR designation.
But Russian athletes still managed to triumph in two of the highest-profile events on the program. Favorites Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva finished in gold and silver positions in women’s figure skating respectively, while the OAR men’s hockey team barely held off Germany – an entirely overlooked squad looking for their own Miracle on Ice moment – to win gold by a 4-3 score in overtime.
As the Winter Olympics came to a close, the overall medal count was about where most experts had expected heading into the games. Norway led the way with 39 medals, with Germany in second at 31. The two countries also shared the lead for gold medals, with each capturing 14. Meanwhile, the Canadians took 11 gold medals (29 overall), while the USA captured 23 podium positions, including nine golds.