- - Sunday, February 23, 2014

SOCHI, Russia — Leading up to the Winter Games in Sochi, the big questions surrounded security, hotel room conditions and stray dogs.

In the closing days of the Winter Games, the big questions were about speedskating’s woes, America’s overall medal count and, yes, stray dogs.

The Games closed Sunday, and the United States ranked second behind Russia with 28 medals — nine gold, seven silver, 12 bronze.

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That total is a marked drop from the 37 medals — nine gold, 15 silver, 13 bronze — four years ago in Vancouver. Russia finished with 33 medals.

One of the biggest reasons for Team USA’s decline was that its speedskaters did not win a medal until the men’s 5,000-meter short-track team claimed a silver medal on the final night of competition. Four years ago, short- and long-track speedskaters collected 10 medals in Vancouver.

From controversy surrounding the speedskaters’ suits to discussion about how the team prepared for the Winter Games, every night became increasingly frustrating at both the short- and long-track venues.

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J.R. Celski, expected to be one of Team USA’s short-track stars, garnered one silver medal. “It’s relieving to be leaving here with a medal,” he said.

In figure skating, also a source for medals over the years, the U.S. received its first Olympic gold medal in ice dancing with a historical feat by Meryl Davis and Charlie White but failed to win any medals in the men’s, women’s and pairs events.

Four years removed from Evan Lysacek’s gold medal performance in Vancouver, the United States did not have a woman or man on the figure skating medal podium for the first time since 1936. The United States did, however, win a bronze medal in the debut of the figure skating team event.

Neither the women’s nor the men’s hockey team was able to rise from silver medal performances in Vancouver past Canada for the gold in Sochi. The U.S. women lost a 3-2 overtime heartbreaker to Canada in the gold medal game. The men, who earlier in the Olympics won a thriller over host Russia, dropped a 1-0 game to Canada, sending them into a disappointing bronze medal game against Finland that ended with a 5-0 defeat.

Still, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said, “I don’t think it was a step back.

“We did have an experience with the speedskating team which wasn’t as strong as the last few Olympic Games,” Blackmun said. “If you look at things broadly, the medals are getting spread around more. The fact we are still [near the] top of the [total] medal table is indicative that things are alive and well in the U.S.”

One of the big reasons for the optimism is that American athletes had success in some of the newer additions to the Olympic program in action-style sports.

Sage Kotsenburg started by winning the first medal event of the Sochi Winter Games — the Olympic debut of men’s snowboard slopestyle — and Jamie Anderson followed by winning the women’s snowboard slopestyle.

Kotsenburg was not touted much before the Sochi Games because Shaun White was considered the top American, but now Kotsenburg is building a fan base of his own. Late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien brought Kotsenburg onto the show and presented the snowboarding star with a medal made of bacon.

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