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Biggest winners and losers from 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

The Olympics have this strange quality to breeze by but at the same time feel like they take a month to complete. In all, it's 16 days. And with a lot happening at the Games, not to mention the sports world outside of them, you can easily forget or miss some of the bigger results. We've put together some of the more memorable and clear-cut winners and losers from Sochi. Let's get to it.

Winner: Canadian hockey. Men and women reach the top of the podium again. Both teams defended gold from Vancouver, and gave the country only its second back-to-back sweep in the sport in Olympic history. The men never trailed during the Olympics and didn't give up any goals in medal-deciding games. The women had that amazing comeback in the final minutes against the United States. Hockey means more to Canada than just about any sport means to any other country. This was undeniably huge for our neighbors to the north.

Loser: American hockey. One medal between two teams, and no golds. The U.S. women took silver, but in pretty much the most disappointing way. With a 2-0 lead and five minutes remaining, the American women's team surrendered its chance to win a second gold in women's hockey in Olympics history. The image of the puck hitting the empty-net post -- that would've given the U.S. a 3-1 lead -- is a tantalizing turn of events that will haunt for ages. Meanwhile, the American men couldn't get past Canada in the semis, then were pasted 5-0 by Finland. Finland!

Winner: American ice dancing. There was, as usual, plenty of controversy around the judging of many figure skating events. What else is new. But Meryl Davis and Charlie White's gold medal-winning program seemed, according to those who know the sport well, to be a worthy performance. It was huge given that the United States had never medaled in ice dancing, let alone win gold. And the couple also helped America earn bronze in team skate early in the games.

Many are wondering if the two -- who have skated together practically their entire lives -- will parlay this into a "Dancing With the Stars" appearance. I'd say that's a huge win.

Winner: Mikaela Shiffrin. She's just 18 and won gold in women's slalom. No one in Olympics history took to the top of the podium at a younger in that event. While we don't know for sure, we can speculate that this could be the beginning of a three- or four-time Olympic run for Shiffrin. The United States is always searching for the next young, dominant Olympic star. Might Shiffrin be it?

Loser: Russian hockey team. Perhaps the biggest losers of the Games. When the team's coach is basically asking the media to "eat" him in order for him to no longer exist -- albeit in jest; I think -- then you know the gravity of the situation. The host team's hockey squad didn't even come remotely close to earning a medal. And it's a country with a proud hockey tradition. That's a big-time squatoosh.

Winner: Sochi strays. Many of them were taken in by Olympic athletes and brought home to a better life. I can't possibly link all the stories here. Search Google and you'll see dozens of cases where dogs were rescued by Olympians. And those are merely the reported ones we know about.

Loser: Sochi strays. Unfortunately, not all of them were so lucky. And reports from early in the game were harrowing.

Winner: the photography. As always.

Staale Sandbech, left, Sage Kotsenburg (USA), middle, and Mark McMorris of Canada. (USATSI)
THESE GUYS. Staale Sandbech, left, Sage Kotsenburg (USA), middle, and Mark McMorris of Canada. (USATSI)

Winner: Sage Kotsenberg. American slopestyle snowboarder wins gold, requests medal made of bacon, eventually gets that. Also lovingly mimicking Kate Upton these days. This brah is super chill.

Loser: Evgeni Plushenko. Only a loser in the sense that his final Olympic event ever ended prematurely after he tweaked his back during warmups and was unable to perform in the men's singles competition. A great career from a Russian sports hero ends in a sour way.

Winner: Gus Kenworthy. Guy sounds like he's in One Direction, or perhaps a James Bond ally, but in reality he's a multi-puppy-saving, Miley Cyrus-loving, silver medal-winning slopestyle American skier. Good on you, Gus.

Loser: NHL hockey? There is real concern that the NHL will not allow its league to go on a three-week hiatus for the 2018 Games, the way it has for many of the previous Olympiads. If that were to happen, the Olympics wouldn't necessarily take a huge hit -- but the NHL might. Viewership and interest wouldn't spike during the Olympics, and guys like T.J. Oshie wouldn't become household names.

Winner: Kate Hansen. This is a non-debate. It's a fact of modern sports conversation: if you don't take yourself too seriously, show some personality and have some social media savvy, you'll become embraced. Hansen, a United States women's luger, finished 10th in her event. But she flies back home, really, only trailing Shaun White, Lolo Jones, Shani Davis, and perhaps Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, (the figure skaters who failed to medal in Sochi) as most-known American Olympians. Overall, Hansen seemed to know how to enjoy herself and market herself in a shrewd way. The Jimmy Kimmel-catalyzed "prank" was so lame, though.

Winner: Erin Hamlin. The American luger who became the first in United States history to win a medal in female single's luge. She took bronze. Yet a fraction of the American public knows her name when compared to Hansen.

Winner: Ashley Wagner. How has America changed like this? Another participant who upped her profile despite not winning. Amazing what once face will do. Just ask McKayla Maroney.

Ashley Wagner: You are the American inspiration.  (USATSI)
Ashley Wagner: You are the American inspiration. (USATSI)

Wagner helped the United States win a team bronze in figure skating early in the Games. But she took seventh in the women's individual skate. In all, the American women (and men) failed to medal in that event for the first time since 1936. An incredible run comes to an end. But Wagner definitely came off as one of the cooler American athletes at these Games.

Loser: Under Armour. Some could dispute this, saying that American speedskaters went on to race in slower times in different suits after requesting to switch from the Under Armour skins. That's totally fair. But when the United States doesn't medal in speedskating for the first time in three decades, people are still going to attach that at some level to Under Armour, fair or not.

Winner: Ted Ligety. He won the Olympics before it ever even started thanks to this Blackstreet parody.

Now, he might be the best American skier. Ligety dominated giant slalom, winning gold with ease -- by .48 seconds. That's some serious distance in time in that event. Most amazing is that Ligety is the first American ever to win giant slalom.

Loser: Sochi bears. From the disturbing, massive, crying one involved in the opening and closing ceremonies, to this one just creepin' over the U.S. hockey team bench. No, bears. No.

Winner: T.J. Oshie. By beating the Russians and dominating in the shootout, American hockey found a new hero. Again, despite not winning gold -- and in this case, no even medaling -- the Olympics still offer moments that transcend victory. An unknown prior to the Games (he didn't even have a jersey being sold by his own team, the St. Louis Blues), Oshie's now ascended within the ranks of hockey and American sports.

Loser: Shaun White. To put it simply: he backed out of one event, his competitors trash-talked him, then he failed to medal in halfpipe, his signature sport. Walking away from Sochi empty handed is not what anyone expected from the most influential figure in snowboarding history. He did say he's likely to return to the Olympics in 2018, though.

Winner: Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. Weir's daily Twitter/Instagram photo fashion updates and his commentary on figure skating became an event unto itself. With many Olympic figures -- be they athletes or commentators -- we go nearly four years between seeing/hearing from them. With Weir's approach to Sochi -- and it should be noted Lapinski also did a great job as his broadcast partner -- it seems like he has a chance to remain relevant and in the public eye from now until 2018. In fact, the two are already reported to be involved in the Oscars broadcast this Sunday.

Winner: Dutch speedskating. What a domination. The Netherlands have always been great on the slippery fast track, but never like this. The Dutch won eight golds in speedskating and took home 23 of the 32 medals awarded across the different disciplines in the sport. In four events, all three medal-winners were clad in Dutch orange.

Loser: Shani Davis. The two-time gold medal-winner in 1,000-meter speedskating failed to medal in that event and the 1,500. The American didn't even come close to either, in fact. He's still a very important and significant American Olympic icon, being the first African-American male to dominate a Winter Olympic sport in the way he did. But aside from White in snowboarding, Davis figured to be the next closest guarantee to getting a medal.

Winner: The safe-and-sound Olympics. If anyone wants to patronize and say all that reported money -- $300 million, or perhaps more -- in an effort to keep the Olympics safe wasn't worth it, well, that's just dumb. If Putin was willing to put down as much as possible in order to keep Sochi safe, he did it. Whether or not the threats were exaggerated or not -- and perhaps there's cause and effect at play here -- we had an Olympiad without an international incident. That's a clear-cut win.

Loser: Sochi in general? People are wondering if these Games at this locale were "worth" it. A $51 billion investment. Where did some of that money go? Can this area really become a tourist destination for Europeans going forward? Plenty of Olympic sites/venues have gone on to become ghost towns, attracting graffiti artists and becoming mossy ruins in the process. For all the money spent, some still think these Games will wind up being fairly forgettable. That's an American perspective, for the most part, but still, it's hard to host an Olympics and walk away from it with clear-cut evidence that the investment was worth all the hassle.

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