Best, worst from Winter Games

NEW YORK -- Now that the Olympic flame is out in Turin, here's a look back at the great, near-great and not-so-great performances -- athletic and otherwise -- that marked the first Winter Games in Italy in a half-century:

TOP TOMATO: Shaun White, American snowboarder. He won the men's halfpipe with a stunning display of tricks, and wowed the world with his red-headed charm.

BEST SPORTSMANSHIP: Bjoernar Haakensmoen, Norwegian cross-country official. Canadian cross-country skier Sara Renner broke a ski pole in her third lap of the women's team sprint final, and her sprinting was done -- until Haakensmoen saw her futile struggle and handed her one of his poles. Renner and teammate Beckie Scott wound up capturing the silver. Norway placed fourth, nine seconds away from a medal.

WORST EXPERIENCE: Wayne Gretzky, Canadian hockey coach. Arrived having to answer a million questions about a betting scandal, and left with an underachieving team going out in the quarterfinals. Ice hockey also provided us with the . . .

UGLIEST EXIT: Mike Modano, American hockey player. After the U.S. hockey team finished with a record of 1-4-1, Modano skipped the last team meeting, ripped his coach, complained that USA Hockey didn't make travel arrangements nor players and groused about being benched in the third period of the last game against Finland. He backtracked later, but by then he was back in Dallas.


ASBURY PARK, N.J., MEETS THE ALPS AWARD: Giorgio di Centa, Italian skier. Giorgio won the longest event in the Games, the 50-kilometer cross-country race, on the last day, by .08 seconds, then took a victory lap with his Italian teammates with Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" blaring over the PA system.

BIGGEST LETDOWN: Michelle Kwan, would-be American figure skater. She never even got a chance to win the one prize that has eluded her.

BUS-BE-GONE AWARD: Johnny Weir, American figure skater. The nation's leading male figure skater missed the bus on the way to the men's long program, arrived late, skipped four jumps and skated scared.

"I was terrified today," Weir said. "My biorhythms were off, up and down. I didn't feel my inner peace, I didn't feel my aura. Inside I was black."

HOLLOWEST SLOGAN: U.S. Skiing trumpeted its motto, "Best in the World," all over the Alps, along with its goal of eight medals. Let's put it this way: the Austrians are not exactly quaking in their ski boots.

CHILLIEST TEAMMATES: Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick, American speed skaters. Chad says Shani was selfish by not entering the team pursuit competition. Shani says Chad was pretty bush league when he refused to shake hands after Davis beat him in the 1000 meters. After Shani won silver and Chad bronze in the 1,500, the speed skaters sparred at one of the more bizarre medal press conferences in Olympic annals.

STAND-UP GUY AWARD: Daron Rahlves, American Alpine skier. The best speed skier in U.S. history, Rahlves has been to three Olympics over eight years and never finished higher than eighth. He was 10th in the downhill, ninth in the super-G and didn't finish the giant slalom, but never failed to be patient and gracious as he discussed his underachievement with the world's media.

HEAVIEST MEDALIST: Cindy Klassen, Canadian speed skater. A 26-year-old from Winnipeg who once thought speed skating was dumb and that speed skaters look ridiculous in their aerodynamic suits, Klassen's five medals were the most for any of the 2,617 athletes in Italy.


MOST TELLING QUOTE: Bode Miller, American Alpine skier. After straddling a gate while seemingly headed for a gold medal in the combined, Miller said, "At least I don't have to go all the way down to Torino (for a medal ceremony)." Turned out Miller didn't have to be inconvenienced five times.

TOP-STEP AWARD: Estonia. The Estonians won three medals, all of them gold, all of them in cross-country.

MOST STUNNED GOLD MEDALIST: Tanja Frieden, Swiss snowboarder. Frieden was "already super-stoked to win silver" with 100 meters left in the women's snowboardcross, with American Lindsey Jacobellis holding a lead halfway to France. Then Jacobellis decided it would be a good time to do some styling, performing a needless trick on her second-to-last jump. Jacobellis crashed and went off course. The next image you saw was Frieden riding by to gold.

SWIFTEST KOREAN: Hyun-Soo Ahn, South Korean speed skater. A 20-year-old short-track sensation, Ahn took three golds and a bronze -- a medal in every event he entered.

HAPPIEST BRONZE MEDALIST: Rosey Fletcher, American snowboarder. Totally devastated by two previous Olympic disasters, Fletcher won the bronze in parallel giant slalom, announced that she'd gotten "the five-ring monster off my back," and said, "It's about the journey. That's what makes you stronger, not some piece of metal hanging around your neck."

Wayne Coffey writes for the New York Daily News. His column is distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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