Now that the dust has settled on Sochi, the medal counting can begin — for better or worse. The United States, missing out on gold medal representation more often than in year’s past (this time, the U.S. came away with just 9 gold medals), was a disappointment, finishing fourth overall in the Gold medal category behind Russia (13 golds), Sweden (11), and Canada (10). None of the medals were in speed-skating, the first time that’s happened since 1984, and the States also missed out on an individual ice skater on the podium for the first time since 1936. So that was unexpected. The Men’s hockey team underperformed, losing their opportunity for the gold in a 1-0 loss to Team Canada in what felt like a Vancouver reprisal. They didn’t end up medaling at the end of the day either.
On the flip side, Team USA did bring it in the action sports. Cleaned up, in fact. Of the 9 gold medals, more than half were in events that had seen their inclusion in the Olympics questioned by the very commentators who would go on to grin and bear it when these athletes were the only ones coming back home with medals. For the first time in forever, the U.S. Olympic Gold medalists weren’t automatons shilling Wheaties, but athletes who fell asleep watching Fight Club and eating onion rings the night before.
Fun was the theme at Sochi, a theme underlined by the closing ceremony, which saw Russia poke at itself with a reference to a botched stylistic element of the opening. When’s the last time that happened? Who made it happen? On the U.S. side, let’s take a look at the nine American gold medalists who went over to Russia and ended up with a win.
1. Sage Kotsenberg
Yeah, that’s right. We called this one all the way back before the games started. Sage Kotsenberg, 20, the sole men’s snowboarding gold medalist for the U.S., has officially become a household name. Kind of. Providing a much-needed counterbalance in the sports media to reigning-until-Sochi rider Shaun White, Sage went on a media blitz after claiming gold in the inaugural men’s slopestyle competition with a run that emphasized style over technique.
Also, according to legend, he spent the night before his gold-medal run eating snacks. That’s probably not hyperbole. Kotsenberg ended up knowingly playing the Jeff Spicoli to many a news anchor and news reporter as they attempted to grill him about what the award meant to him.
Hilariously, Sage wound up hitting on the salient weirdness between snowboarding and the Olympics. Snowboarders aren’t really invested in it the same way other athletes are, because winning a gold is not considered the pinnacle of the sport or anything, it’s just another contest in another country. Watch below as Sage explains his vernacular and his pre-run dietary preferences. “Most people plan what [run] they’re going to do in the Olympics,” the interviewer says.
2. Kaitlyn Farrington
Kaitlyn Farrington, 24, winner of the women’s halfpipe, took her run a little bit more seriously than Sage did — which is cool too, of course. It probably makes losing to her a little easier to take. Maybe. Riding against some serious competition like Hanna Teter and Kelly Clark, names that might not mean a whole lot but know that they’re legitimate legends in the sport, Farrington was able to clean up her riding and keep her proper style intact, nailing a switch (wrong-foot forward) backside 720 on her final run to clinch victory.
There was news that Kaitlyn’s rips were already old by the time the Olympics had started — she’d already snagged an X Games Gold all the way back in 2010 — but, like with Sage, it was nice to see someone who wasn’t Hanna Teter or Kelly Clark winning the gold. If only because it meant that the general public was paying attention to three really awesome women who ride instead of two. The more the merrier, as they say.
3. Jamie Anderson
America shined in the slopestyle competition, winning out behind Sage Kotsenberg and Jamie Anderson. Anderson, 23, who won her gold listening to Nas, has been bombing around the Dew Tour and the X Games for a long time. In fact, she actually became the youngest X Games medalist ever when she took a bronze in 2006. Just like Sage’s run, Jamie’s was one that emphasized style and technique over sheer difficulty, scoring a victory for a sport that has more in common aesthetically with ice dancing than with gymnastics.
Landing a pair of 720′s with a 540 in between, natch — after a solid bit of rail trickery that caused non-riders to turn to each other and say things like “what’s that mean, a half-cab to 50-50?” — Anderson’s win came in spite of the fact that other riders, like Sweden’s Sina Candrian, who landed the first 1080 by a woman in the Olympics, were going bigger. Sina, who finished fourth and did not medal, did not have a particularly clean run. For the Sochi judges, cleanliness was next to godliness.
4 & 5. Meryl Davis & Charlie White
These next two gold medalists come together in a pair because they medal’d together at Sochi, continuing the advancement of American aesthetics alive and well with their gold in ice dancing. The pair made history by being the first U.S. team to win ice dancing gold in Olympic History. With their ice dancing run, set to Ravel’s “Shéhérazade,” they scored over 116 points, putting them well into first place. Davis and White continued on their way to capturing a medal of every color by the end of the Sochi Games — after earning a silver in Vancouver, the pair grabbed a bronze in the Team event later on.
While many U.S. Gold medalists left Sochi after the completion of their events, White and Davis ended up staying on to participate in the Exhibition Gala on February 22. A well-earned victory lap. Talking to Sports Illustrated, Davis and White described their post-victory experience with a whole host of adjectives.
6. David Wise
Halfpipe skier David Wise nailed one for the U.S. when he pulled off a gold medal run amidst and betwixt conditions that were changing from almost run to run, from rain to snow, and back again. In an event that requires split-second adjustments and quick planning, adapting to change is the last thing that should be happening in a halfpipe. Not that kind of change, at any rate.
According to Wise, the first double cork — an off-axis spin where the skier is inverted at least twice, hence “double” — was a lock, since dropping in at the start gives you a lot of speed. After that, though, his run was improvised. At least there was always a plan B.
Wise drew some attention for being married with a kid at the age of 23. The idea that someone involved in an “action sport” could not be scarily focused like Shaun White or perpetually partying, like the popular view of Olympic racer Bode Miller, perplexed NBC. Wise, for his part, gets it, explaining in the video above that, “People try to typecast all these skiiers and then say ‘oh Dave’s so different.’ That’s not true at all. Everyone out there has their own take on the sport. That’s what the sport’s all about: what can you do differently than everyone else?”
7. Ted Ligity
Pronounced lig-it-eee, this 29-year-old Giant Slalom gold medalist has finally gotten over Vancouver where he was kept off the podium. Instead, Ligity made history as the first American man to win a gold in the Olympic Giant Slalom, as well as the first to win a pair of Olympic Alpine Golds (Ligity won a surprising gold in the combined event back in 2006.) Not bad for a guy who’s racing way differently than most people.
Conventional ski racing states that you want to go as close as you can to the gates. The closer the racer is to a straight line, the faster they will go. As described by the New York Times, Ligity does the opposite of that, “purposely ski[ing] in a rounded route away from the gates on 80 percent of his turns.” By initiating his turns early, staying on edge, and pressuring his skis constantly throughout his run, Ted is able to keep his speed up between turns and decrease the time on his runs by a considerable margin.
He described the event when he talked to Picabo Street, saying that his first five training runs (Ligity raced on this course last year) were almost too fast, catching too much air and losing too much speed by virtue of staying airborne.
8. Maddie Bowman
For a series of disciplines that have not had the traditional support of the Olympics, Team USA’s gold medals almost entirely come from the “action sports.” Freestyle skier Maddie Bowman, who quit ski racing because it was “too serious,” according to USA Today, snagged the gold in the women’s halfpipe with a pair of super-smooth runs. No mean feat when the Sochi Pipe is the feature involved.
Bowman, who owned the two highest scores of the event with an 85.80 and an 89.00, the latter coming after a run featuring a pair of 900′s, paid tribute to late skiier Sarah Burke, one of the loudest voices behind women’s halfpipe riding being featured in the Olmypics. Burke died after a training accident in 2012. Bowman told the LA Times that, “Sarah’s inspired us on snow and off snow. I think she would have been very proud of how all the girls rode tonight.” Bowman also has as a self-proclaimed badass grandma:
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 21, 2014
9. Mikaela Shiffrin
We finish with another Gold-medalist we pegged as someone to watch before Sochi kicked off. Mikaela Shiffrin made history as the youngest Alpine medalist ever after doing the same thing in the slalom earlier in her career (although not during the Olympics.) Shiffrin has navigated her newfound fame, and her newly available sponsorship offers, if Bloomberg is to be believed, with aplomb, giving measured interviews to Olympic journalists and nailing questions like the one shown below.