By Lindsay Wyskowski | Feb. 25, 2018, 8:15 a.m. (ET)
A member of the U.S. women's ice hockey team holds her gold medal on the "TODAY" Show set at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 22, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

 

The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 marked a return of winter sports excellence to Asia for the first time since Nagano 1998. While the sport program featured new sports and new athletes since Nagano, there was at least one aspect of the Games that never changed: athletes turning in memorable, and often historic, performances.

Team USA is no exception, and the historic moments were typically found in unexpected places. For example, after a tough Olympic showing in 2010 and 2014, the U.S. men’s curling squad stunned Sweden in a late strategic end to capture the nation’s first gold medal in the sport. John Shuster, who made his fourth Olympic appearance in PyeongChang and was the skip for the team, could hardly believe it himself.

"I kept smiling and I'm usually the quiet one,” Shuster said, “I told Matt [Hamilton], 'I think it's a dream. I'll wake up tomorrow and this might not be real'. It's just fantastic.”

PyeongChang was the site of dreams come true for members of Team USA, both at the coastal cluster and up in the mountains.

“We have been preparing our team for four years to come to PyeongChang and achieve amazing results, and we are so grateful to the organizing committee, the volunteers and all the people on the ground who helped the athletes of Team USA realize their Olympic dreams,” said Alan Ashley, U.S. chef de mission and chief of sport performance at the USOC. “It takes an incredible amount of planning and manpower to host the Games, and we could not have asked for a better experience here.”

PyeongChang will long be remembered by athletes like Shuster and others who set the bar high in their sports, with new Team USA bests to match. Five-time Olympian Kikkan Randall had already made history coming into these Games, as one of the first female five-time Olympians and the only mother on Team USA. But Randall was part of another historic moment with teammate Jessie Diggins, as the pair combined to win the first cross-country skiing gold medal in U.S. Olympic history.

The men’s curling and women’s cross-country skiing Olympic titles were among nine gold medals won by Team USA in PyeongChang, the second-highest number of golds won by Team USA in an Olympic Winter Games.

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Within those nine gold medals was the women’s ice hockey team’s return to the top of the podium, 20 years after winning its first gold medal on ice, as it defeated Canada in a thrilling shootout. Freestyle skier David Wise successfully defended his halfpipe title, while snowboarder Jamie Anderson kept a hold on her slopestyle gold. Mikaela Shiffrin topped the podium in the women’s giant slalom and now holds medals in three different alpine skiing events – one of only three Americans to have achieved this feat. Youngsters Red Gerard and Chloe Kim blew the field away with gold medals in their snowboarding events, becoming the youngest snowboarding gold medalists from any nation.

One of those gold medals claimed in PyeongChang represented the 100th gold won by Team USA in a Winter Games, a milestone met by snowboarder Shaun White. While his monster halfpipe run earned him the team’s 100th gold medal, it also helped him reach new individual heights as he moved to second in Team USA’s all-time winter gold medal count with three, behind speedskater Eric Heiden.

In total, Team USA scored 23 medals – including eight silver medals and six bronzes. Of the 23 medals won across individual and team events, there were 58 medalists, including four athletes who won two medals each. Among them were 39 first-time medalists, landing on the Olympic podium for the first time in their careers.

Team USA medaled in 11 of the 15 sport disciplines, the most for any nation in PyeongChang.

Medals were won in the big air snowboarding competition, which debuted and saw Americans on the podium in both the women’s and men’s events. John-Henry Krueger won the silver medal at the short track 1,000-meter event to earn Team USA’s first individual speedskating medal since 2010, and the women’s team pursuit bronze medal was the first women’s long track medal in 16 years. Luger Chris Mazdzer also made history, as he became the first U.S. man to win a singles medal when he slid his way to silver.

Heading into the Games, Team USA had 284 Winter Games medals, surpassing the 300-medal mark when Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs scored the silver medal in women’s bobsled. Not only did they win Team USA’s 300th Winter Games medal, but it was in an event in which the pair set both start and track records and continued a streak of Americans landing on the podium in the event at every Games since the event was introduced in 2002.

Team USA’s women had a strong showing, winning 12 of the 23 medals and tying Canada, the Netherlands and Norway for the most medals won by women. While Kim was one of the youngest to medal for the U.S. at the Games, Randall was the oldest first-time medalist, having competed in 18 Olympic events before taking home a medal. Lindsey Vonn returned to the slopes after an eight-year wait and became the oldest alpine skiing medalist in history when she won the bronze medal in the downhill.

“Throughout these Games, our athletes have been true ambassadors of Team USA, aspiring to perform at their best on the world’s greatest stage and demonstrating grit, ingenuity and heart every step of the way,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. “I speak for the entire U.S. Olympic family when I say we are tremendously proud of all the effort made in PyeongChang, and grateful for the fantastic experience created by the PyeongChang Organizing Committee.”

Medals are often the measure of success at the Games, but finishing off the podium means some athletes were within a couple hundredths of a second or less than a point away from Olympic hardware. In PyeongChang, athletes from Team USA felt the burn of missing a podium, with 12 fourth-place finishes, 14 fifth-place finishes and nine sixth-place finishes to fuel the fire for Beijing 2022 and the prospect of improving a place or two in their next Olympic appearance.

Athletes have prepared for this moment for a lifetime, and no matter the outcome, Team USA members see themselves as ambassadors for the nation and their respective sports. The experience of representing the red, white and blue – especially when it comes with achieving a historic result – means the opportunity to inspire future generations.

It's special,” said Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who made the game-winning shot for the women’s ice hockey team. “And it's going to give us an even bigger platform to make a bigger difference.”