The stage was set for a dramatic showdown when the U.S. men’s ice hockey team faced host Russia at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
The game came in the preliminary round. It did not determine a medal and did not determine a place in any medal-round game. But the rematch of the semifinal-round game won by the United States at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games provided a powerful backdrop.
St. Louis Blues right wing T.J. Oshie rose to the occasion. In a performance that is still talked about, he scored four times in the shootout, finally securing an American win in the eighth round. The performance went viral on social media. Since then, the number of his Twitter followers has almost tripled to 258,000.
“Every once in a great while, you get the privilege to watch magic before your eyes,” three-time Olympic shooting medalist Matt Emmons said. “What Oshie did in that shootout was pure magic. Inspirational in so many ways and simply fun to watch.
“It even turned my mom into a hockey fan and she rarely watches sports.”
Brenda Villa, a four-time Olympic medalist in women’s water polo, knows the feeling of a shootout.
“The fearlessness he showed in that shootout brings me back to our team effort in qualifying for London (2012 Olympic Games),” Villa said. “My teammates and I know what it takes to stay focused and carry the dreams of your teammates as you approach to take your shot. We were part of a four-round shootout. I was jumping up and down watching his performance and his ability to bounce back after a few missed shots.”
A number of U.S. summer Olympians were impressed by that and other performances in Sochi, five of which are up for the Best Olympic Moment category in the inaugural Best of U.S. awards program being presented by the United States Olympic Committee.
In addition to Oshie’s shootout performance, the other finalists include Noelle Pikus-Pace’s celebration with her family after winning a silver medal in women’s skeleton, the podium sweep by U.S. slopestyle skiers Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper, the silver medal won by the men’s short track 5,000-meter relay team, and Bode Miller becoming the oldest alpine skiing medalist with his bronze in the super-G.
Fans can vote for their favorites through March 21 on the U.S. Olympic Team Facebook page in four categories: Male, Female, Team and Moment of the Olympic Games. In addition, fans can vote on the categories for Male, Female, Team and Moment of the Paralympic Games on the U.S. Paralympics Facebook page. A Team Behind the Team Award and Fan of the Games Award are also up for grabs.
Pikus-Pace’s performance in skeleton was heart-tugging. After finishing fourth at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Pikus-Pace was encouraged by her husband to come out of retirement and try for a medal in Sochi. She jumped into the stands after winning silver.
“A mother of two: What a gutsy risk,” said Mary Whipple, a three-time Olympic medalist in rowing. “To come out of retirement and not crumble with the pressure of a family, expectations and getting back into shape. What a phenomenal example of showing how a female athlete can have it all and deliver a performance worthy of a medal.”
“Her excitement and joy during the competition just radiated, even through the TV,” said Laura Wilkinson, a gold medalist in diving at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and now a mother of three. “And I loved how she made her comeback all about her family. As a fellow mom, that captured my heart.”
Esther Lofgren, a gold medalist in rowing at the London Games, fondly remembers Pikus-Pace’s medal-winning skeleton run and what it meant to her and her family.
“As athletes, our families support us to push through huge obstacles and the daunting challenge of trying to become the best in the world,” Lofgren said. “We do it for, and because of, them. Her journey has been so incredible and to be able to celebrate with the family that helped her get there, that’s the celebration of the team behind us all.”
“Her finish was just pure excitement,” said Brittany Viola, a 2012 Olympic diver. “I loved it. Seeing her embrace her husband and kids, you knew the journey was a total team effort for them. You could just see the passion exuding from her. For me, that moment really showed the overall picture of what the Olympics exemplify.”
David Boudia, a two-time medalist in men’s diving at the London 2012 Olympic Games, was impressed by the podium sweep in men’s slopestyle skiing.
“The coolest thing about having the U.S. go 1-2-3 in that event was seeing all three flags at the same time,” Boudia said. “That was such a great moment that they could all share together. I’ve seen a lot of videos and things they’ve done since then and they are all so supportive of each other. It’s awesome that they can be competitors but also such great friends. They represented the U.S. so well.”
When Bode Miller won a bronze medal in the men's super-G, he became the oldest alpine skiing medalist at age 36. His career total of Olympic medals is now six, which is second among U.S. athletes in Winter Games history.
"Bode is an amazing athlete and a great American ambassador. He has overcome a lot," said 12-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres, who won three silver medals in swimming at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at age 41. "I respect any athlete that chases their dreams."
John Naber, a four-time gold medalist in swimming at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, says Miller's achievements puts him in high regard in U.S. Olympic history.
"Bode has proven himself as one of America's greatest Olympians ever," said Naber, who is now an Olympic broadcaster and motivational speaker. "His consistency and leadership has blazed a trail for many of America's current medalists. His reactions during his post-race interviews showed maturity and perspective that is only available to someone who has been around for multiple Games. Bode has delivered his best performances on the Olympic stage, and he is a future Hall of Famer, to be sure."
Donna de Varona, a two-time Olympic medalist in women’s swimming and the first president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said she was happy to see the short track 5,000-meter relay team win a silver medal. The team of Eddy Alvarez, J.R. Celski, Chris Creveling and Jordan Malone won the only speedskating medal of the Games for U.S.
“These four skaters boosted the team’s morale and proved that nothing was holding back the team,” she said.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.