Dallas Seavey rockets to win 2014 Iditarod

Dallas Seavey sits under the burled arch in Nome, Alaska after winning the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Tuesday, March 11, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Dallas Seavey sits under the burled arch in Nome, Alaska after winning the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Dallas Seavey ran a blistering pace to rally from third place and win his second Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race early Tuesday in a record-breaking finish, after a sudden storm blew the front-runner out of the competition and kept another musher minutes away from her first win.jd-iditarod-logo

The victory was so strange that Seavey said he didn’t even realize he won the race until about 90 seconds after he crossed the finish line.

“Man, this is a lot of people coming out to see third place come in,” he thought about the hubbub when he arrived in Nome early Tuesday morning.

“I just found out that I won. I think you guys knew before I did,” he told a packed convention hall in Nome early Tuesday morning.

In fact, he thought he was “racing my dad for third,” he said. But in fact the trailing musher he thought was his father, defending champion Mitch Seavey, was actually Aliy Zirkle, and they were battling for first place.

Only Zirkle knew it, though.

Dallas Seavey holds one of his dogs after winning the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, Tuesday, March 11, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Dallas Seavey holds one of his dogs after winning the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

How it played out: The strange finish started Monday afternoon when four-time champ Jeff King enjoyed an hour’s lead over Zirkle and left the checkpoint at White Mountain.

King wasn’t challenged as he maintained, and at times, extended his lead along the Bering Sea coast. He was trying to become the race’s second five-time winner.

Then Safety happened.

Jeff King: Safety is the last checkpoint in the race, 22 miles from the finish line in Nome. The area was buffeted by extremely high winds and a ground blizzard.

A gust of wind blew King off course and into driftwood about 4 miles before Safety. He was able to get the team back together, but they wouldn’t run.

So he sat for 2 1/2 hours until he flagged down a passing snowmobiler. He hitched a ride to the checkpoint at Safety and scratched.

Zirkle’s struggle: Zirkle had made up the hour on King, and conditions were so bad, she decided to stay in Safety — a checkpoint no one ever uses for a break.

“I had to stop in Safety for a couple of dogs and myself,” said Zirkle, who had frostbite on her hands.

When she went to sign in, the paper was blank. She asked workers where King was, and they were surprised she didn’t see him on the trail.

“I never saw Jeff out there, but I wasn’t on the trail most of the time. I don’t know where I was,” she said.

Because of the blizzard-like conditions, she wasn’t going to continue.

“I said, to heck with it, I’m staying,” Zirkle said.

She had a cup of coffee, talked to people in Safety about how bad the conditions were, took a nap.

And after she woke up, she saw Seavey breeze through the checkpoint, staying only three minutes. She walked outside, and decided to get on the trail, after resting there two hours and 38 minutes.

Zirkle then left the checkpoint 19 minutes after Seavey.

She lost the race by two minutes.

Talking to the dogs: “I wasn’t in a big hurry. I was racing for third, and I was telling my dogs, ‘We’ve done our work here, you guys have done a good job, let’s go home,’” Seavey said. “‘No rush, guys, let’s take it easy.’”

In fact, at one point, he stopped to take selfie photos during sunset right before he hit the bad weather.

“Sure, yeah, hindsight, blah, blah, blah … second’s pretty good,” Zirkle said about her third consecutive runner-up spot.

“I’m sure I’m going to be bummed,” an exhausted Zirkle told fans who mobbed her in the city’s convention center, where top mushers traditionally meet with fans immediately after coming off the trail.

But she also noted that three second places are “better than scratching.”

The time and the trail: Seavey finished the race in eight days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds, easily breaking the previous record set in 2011. Zirkle was 2 minutes 22 seconds behind him.

The trail this year has been marked by poor conditions because of a lack of snow after a warm winter by Alaska standards.

A number of mushers were injured at the beginning of the race as their sleds ran on gravel near the Dalzell Gorge. One musher, Scott Janssen of Anchorage, had to be rescued by a National Guard helicopter crew after breaking an ankle.

Snowless conditions again greeted mushers as they reached the western coast of the nation’s largest state.

The race began March 2 in Willow with 69 teams. As of Tuesday morning, 17 mushers had dropped out and one was withdrawn.

The Iditarod winner receives $50,000 and a new truck. The 29 teams after that get cash prizes decreasing on a sliding scale. All other teams finishing the race receive $1,049.

John Baker had held the fastest finish in Iditarod history, covering the trail from Anchorage to Nome in eight days, 18 hours and 46 minutes in 2011.

Reported by MARK THIESSEN of the Associated Press from NOME, Alaska

Iditarod musher Jeff King, from Denali, Alaska, mushes between the checkpoints of White Mountain and Safety, the last checkpoint before the finish line in Nome. King was the first musher to leave the White Mountain checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod musher Jeff King, from Denali, Alaska, mushes between the checkpoints of White Mountain and Safety, the last checkpoint before the finish line in Nome. King was the first musher to leave the White Mountain checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

MORE IDITAROD ACTION

Junior Dispatch’s coverage of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race:

Junior Dispatch also offered a series of “Fast-Facts” to help familiarize readers with the rules of the game:

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King pulls ahead of Zirkle as mushers near the end of the 2014 Iditarod

Jeff King talks about the trail from Rainy Pass to Nikolai at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Jeff King talks about the trail from Rainy Pass to Nikolai at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Four-time champion Jeff King took a razor-thin lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, trading places with his closest rival by departing a checkpoint one minute earlier on Alaska’s wind-scoured western coast.

Aliy Zirkle led hours before when she arrived at the Norton Bay village of Koyuk one minute ahead of King on Sunday afternoon.jd-iditarod-logo

King rested his 12-dog team at the checkpoint for three hours and 42 minutes, while Zirkle and her 11 dogs took a break for three hours and 44 minutes. King departed Koyuk at 5:50 p.m. Sunday, and Zirkle got back on the trail at 5:51 p.m.

Not far now: They are on a 48-mile dash to the next checkpoint of Elim on Golovin Bay, 123 miles from the finish line in Nome.

King last won in 2006 and is trying to be only the second musher to win five races.

Zirkle has come in second place the last two years in the nearly 1,000-mile race. She is seeking to become only the third woman to win the race and the first woman since the late Susan Butcher in 1990.

Zirkle arrived at Koyuk at 2:07 p.m. Sunday after a 50-mile run from the previous checkpoint at Shaktoolik. King arrived close behind at 2:08 p.m.

Other front-runners Sunday were four-time champion Martin Buser, who arrived in Koyuk in third place at 4:20 p.m. Sunday, followed 13 minutes later by 2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey. Veteran musher Sonny Lindner arrived in fifth place at 4:47 p.m., followed by defending champion Mitch Seavey, father of Dallas Seavey, at 5:23 p.m.

Veteran Aaron Burmeister had been sixth out of Shaktoolik but arrived in Koyuk at 5:58 p.m., after Mitch Seavey.

Aliy Zirkle poses for the photo with 8-year-old Autumn Nanouk. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. Autumn's grandmother, Rhoda Nanouk, made Nanouk's wolf ruff parka. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle poses for the photo with 8-year-old Autumn Nanouk. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. Autumn’s grandmother, Rhoda Nanouk, made Nanouk’s wolf ruff parka. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

The racers, who have two more checkpoints after Elim and before Nome, are expected to begin arriving in Nome no later than Tuesday.

Waiting in Nome: While the front-runners were gunning up the Bering Sea coast, volunteers and Nome city crews were busily preparing the old Gold Rush town for the coming onslaught of dog teams and spectators. Dog lots were being readied, and volunteers at the town’s mini convention center were folding souvenir T-shirts to be sold. Early Sunday morning, the famed burled arch marking the finish line was moved by bulldozer from a city parking lot to its yearly spot on Front Street.

Temperatures in Nome hovered slightly above zero Sunday, which brought clear conditions and brilliant sunshine. Snowfall has been light this winter in the frontier town of nearly 3,700, so the city has been stockpiling snow, which was being trucked to Front Street for the final stretch to the finish line.

The race began March 2 in Willow with 69 teams. As of Sunday afternoon, 16 mushers had scratched, leaving 53 teams on the trail, which was marked by long stretches of bare and rocky ground that made for an icy, treacherous trail in the early part of the race.

Zirkle on Saturday was the first musher to reach the coastal community of Unalakleet. But she thought she was running second behind Buser, learning only later that he was resting at a cabin. Thinking she was running second, she wasn’t all hyped up thinking she was first, Zirkle said before taking off from the Unalakleet Saturday night.

“I made the run really mellow,” she said in a video posted on the Iditarod website.

King left Unalakleet 69 minutes later, saying he and his dogs were feeling great. King, 58, has been battling a stiff back, shoulders and arms all winter, but he was feeling “loose as a cucumber now,” King said in an Iditarod video.

“Man, my aches and pains go way when I rattle down the trail,” he said. “I swear it.”

The first to reach Nome wins $50,000 and a new truck. The 29 teams after that win cash prizes decreasing on a sliding scale. All other teams finishing the race receive $1,049.

___

Reported by RACHEL D’ORO of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska. Associated Press writer Mark Thiessen contributed to this report from Nome, Alaska. Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

MORE IDITAROD ACTION

Junior Dispatch’s coverage of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race:

Junior Dispatch also offered a series of “Fast-Facts” to help familiarize readers with the rules of the game:

Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team across the portage from Kaltag to Unalakleet. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team across the portage from Kaltag to Unalakleet. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

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Miserable — and dangerous — conditions for Iditarod

Kristy Berington mushes down the Iditarod Trail in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Kristy Berington mushes down the Iditarod Trail in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

After fighting their way down an icy gorge and across a snowless expanse, a wave of Iditarod mushers hit the Nikolai checkpoint Tuesday telling tales of survival, not racing.

Some openly criticized the Iditarod Trail Committee’s decision to keep the race on its traditional route, rather than move the restart from Willow to Fairbanks and avoid portions of the trail made miserable by relatively warm weather.jd-iditarod-logo

Broken brakes: Musher Hans Gatt, a 12-time Iditarod finisher, said keeping the race on the traditional route was “totally irresponsible.”

The problem with the poor trail, the mushers say, is they could not set brakes on the ice and frozen mud well enough to control their sleds as dogs pulled them over, through and into the hazards. When their sleds got caught on stumps and rocks, several of them broke their brake.

One of those belonged to Hugh Neff, whose metal brake pedal broke in half.

“We’re going over trees, huge rocks, stumps. It’s a mine field out there,” Neff said just after arriving in Nikolai.

Danger: Many mushers carried wounds from the battle, having slammed their bodies on sleds and, in some cases, on trees and rocks. Some limped from one task to the next in Nikolai, feeding dogs and checking gear.

“They should not send people out there. It’s not safe,” said four-time finisher and two-time champ Robert Sorlie. “I’ve never been so scared before in my life.”

Mushers Jason Mackey and Rick Casillo echoed the sentiment, both saying “I thought I was going to die.”

Others said they did not want to second-guess the trail committee’s decision on the route. Race officials said the decision to keep the restart in Willow was based on trail reports two weeks before the race. Warmer weather since then made the trail more dangerous than they had anticipated.

Musher Karin Hendrickson cuddles with one of her sled dogs at the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Musher Karin Hendrickson cuddles with one of her sled dogs at the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Dogs: Veterinarians reported 11 dropped dogs in Nikolai late Tuesday after 40 teams had checked in. The only injuries were minor — sore shoulders and wrists, the vets said.

“It seems like the dogs fared better than the mushers,” veterinarian Bruce Nwadike said.

Dallas Seavey of Willow, the 2012 champ and one of the prerace favorites, nearly lost his team on the way to Nikolai when his sled hit a tree about 20 miles out of Rohn and the line connecting most of his team to the sled broke.

“I was doing a good job of dodging trees until that one,” he said. “I guess kind of out of instinct I started running and actually caught up with them.”

Seavey said the 12 dogs that got away looked stunned that he was running down the trail after them, so they slowed down. But the loose line of dogs sped up when he got close.
“It was kind of a running jump and I actually caught hold of something,” Seavey said.

Seavey said it was the worst he’d ever seen the Dalzell Gorge or the Farewell Burn, but he did not want to blame the trail committee for sending the mushers down the trail.

“Obviously somebody had to make the best decision they could. I don’t want to go with hindsight,” he said.

Race officials: Race marshal Mark Nordman said Tuesday night that the Iditarod Trail Committee had seen pictures of the trail and heard reports that convinced them the race could be safely run on the traditional route.

A “tremendous” amount of trail work was done, Nordman said, but higher temperatures in the days before the race started melted the snow cover, creating a hazardous route down the Dalzell Gorge and across the Farewell Burn.

The committee made the best decision they could at the time, Nordman said.

___
Reported by CASEY GROVE of the Anchorage Daily News from NIKOLAI, Alaska. Reach Casey Grove at cgrove@adn.com.
(MCT)

(c)2014 the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska) Visit the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska) at www.adn.com

One of John Dixon’s team dogs looks back at the musher after they arrived at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News,Bob Hallinen)

One of John Dixon’s team dogs looks back at the musher after they arrived at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News,Bob Hallinen)

Rick Casillo comes over the last drop as he comes down the steps onto Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen, File)

Rick Casillo comes over the last drop as he comes down the steps onto Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen, File)

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Iditarod racer: I crashed sled, blacked out and broke ankle

In a Saturday, March 1, 2014 photo, Scott Janssen keeps control of his sled rounding the corner near Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 in Anchorage, Ak. Janssen, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was back home early Wednesday, Feb. 5 after he was flown to a hospital after a harrowing ordeal that included crashing his sled, hitting his head on a stump and later falling through ice and breaking his ankle. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News,Anne Raup)

In a Saturday, March 1, 2014 photo, Scott Janssen keeps control of his sled rounding the corner near Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 in Anchorage, Ak. Janssen, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was back home early Wednesday, Feb. 5 after he was flown to a hospital after a harrowing ordeal that included crashing his sled, hitting his head on a stump and later falling through ice and breaking his ankle. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News,Anne Raup)

An Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher was flown to a hospital after a difficult turn of events that included crashing his sled, hitting his head on a tree stump and getting knocked unconscious. Later on it got worse: He fell through some ice and broke his ankle.jd-iditarod-logo

Scott Janssen, 52, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was back home Wednesday after getting a cast for the broken bone he suffered on Tin Creek, about 40 miles from Nikolai.

“I made it through the worst part of the trail only to slip on the ice and break my foot,” Janssen said as he recuperated from home.

Treacherous trail conditions with little snow have marked the early part of this year’s Iditarod, which started Sunday with 69 mushers. The nearly 1,000-mile race spans two mountain ranges, dangerous wilderness and the wind-whipped Bering Sea coast.

What happened: Janssen’s ordeal began Tuesday when he crashed his sled between the Rohn and Nikolai checkpoints, hitting his head after he said he bumped across rocks all along the trail. He lay unconscious for at least an hour and awoke to find his sled nearby and his dogs huddled next to him, covered in light snow.

As he dismantled his broken seat, another musher came along. Janssen asked him the time, and couldn’t believe an hour, if not two, had passed.

“I tripped over there, went full-speed and hit my head on that stump,” he said he told the musher. “I think I went night-night for awhile.”

After caring for his dogs, Janssen fixed his sled and continued on.

Dog escape: He made it to Tin Creek and estimated he had only about 7 more miles of nasty trail until it turned good again.

But one of his dogs, Hooper, got loose from the line and took off.

Janssen said he loosely anchored his sled and tried to call Hooper as he crossed a frozen creek. But just as Hooper heeded the call and trotted back to his place in line, Janssen fell.

“I slipped on the ice, and bang, that was it,” he said. “Then I just laid there on the ice because I could not get back across the water to get back to my sled.”

Rescue: He lay there for about 45 minutes before another musher, St. Anne, Jamaica, native Newton Mashall, came along.

Iditarod musher Scott Janssen describes his overnight ordeal while wearing a boot for his broken foot on Wednesday afternoon, March 5, 2014, at his south Anchorage, Alaska, home. Janssen, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was airlifted off the trail to an Anchorage hospital for treatment for a concussion along with a broken bone. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Erik Hill)

Iditarod musher Scott Janssen describes his overnight ordeal while wearing a boot for his broken foot on Wednesday afternoon, March 5, 2014, at his south Anchorage, Alaska, home. Janssen, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was airlifted off the trail to an Anchorage hospital for treatment for a concussion along with a broken bone. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Erik Hill)

“I said, ‘Help! Help,’ and Newton comes walking up and said, ‘Yeah, mon. How you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m just lying around, kicking back,’” Janssen said.

Marshall was able to retrieve a snowsuit and Janssen’s sleeping bag from his sled, helping the injured musher into both. Janssen said hypothermia was setting in at that point.

After that, Janssen said he encouraged Marshall to get back on the trial and keep racing, but Marshall wouldn’t budge until help arrived. Mushers carry mandatory GPS units that have an emergency button on them, which Janssen said he pushed.

“I had 15 dogs I have to take care of; no way I could responsibly mush in the pain I was in,” he said.

Drop outs: Janssen is among about a dozen mushers who have dropped out of this year’s race. Iditarod officials also removed a Canadian musher because of injuries.

Janssen also had a frightening experience during the 2012 Iditarod. During that race, he had to give one of his dogs mouth-to-snout resuscitation after the animal collapsed while the team was going down a decline in the Dalzell Gorge. The dog survived.

Weather problems: Warm weather and light snow near the gorge led officials to briefly consider moving the start of this year’s race from the Anchorage area hundreds of miles north to Fairbanks. However, the decision was made late last month to leave the start in Willow, because conditions had improved.

Janssen said the area had snow when that decision was made but not when mushers arrived. He talked of bouncing off rocks on the trail, driving a team on gravel and going “across these rivers that were like smooth ice.”

Sportsman: Janssen has lived in Alaska and been an active outdoorsman for nearly three decades, competing in three previous Iditarods. He hoped he’d never find himself in a situation where he had to be rescued.

But he said there’s one consolation.

“I can always wear the badge of honor that I made it over the pass on the worst year in the 42-year history of the Iditarod.”

Reported by MARK THIESSEN of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska

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Get your 2014 Iditarod fast-facts

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ramey Smyth drives his dog team into the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race near Puntilla Lake, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ramey Smyth drives his dog team into the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race near Puntilla Lake, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

jd-iditarod-logo

One human wins the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race each year, but it’s the smaller, furry athletes that do the heroes’ share of the work crossing nearly 1,000 miles of merciless terrain to reach the finish line on Alaska’s wind-battered coast.

The 2014 race, which began Sunday, is still in the early stages, with jockeying for the lead remaining fluid until all the mushers begin taking a mandatory, 24-hour layover and two eight-hour rests. Sixty-nine mushers began the race, though several already have dropped out.

On Tuesday, Iditarod veteran Sonny Lindner was the first to leave the Nikolai checkpoint, more than 700 miles from the finish line in the old gold rush town of Nome. Participants say this year’s trail conditions are grueling, including stretches of bare ground. Throughout the race, mushers will keep a close eye on their dogs.

Here are some other key things to know about the four-legged competitors:

IT TAKES A TEAM

Mushers must have 12 to 16 dogs at the starting line. They must have at least six of those dogs to finish the race. If they don’t have enough dogs at the end, too bad. Race rules say no new dogs can be added on the trail.

YOUTH VS. WISDOM

Most Iditarod dogs range in age from 2 to 7, but some dogs as young as 1 ½ and older than 9 have participated. With a good mix of ages, mushers get frisky youngsters and seasoned veterans. It’s the older dogs that have come to memorize the trail. “Like, once a guy’s been in the NBA finals, he knows it,” race marshal Mark Nordman said.

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ralph Johannessen, of Dagali, Norway, rolls his sled as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ralph Johannessen, of Dagali, Norway, rolls his sled as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

SUPER CALORIE BURNERS

Oh, to have the metabolism of an Iditarod dog. These are not huge animals, generally ranging from 35 to 55 pounds. Yet each sled dog burns through at least 10,000 calories on the trail, continually snacking besides the three squares a day.

CANINE TRAIL MIX

The Iditarod diet used to be heavy on meat and fish, with some kibble thrown in. But the past decade has seen a reversal. Where it was once a combination of about 30 percent commercial dog food and 70 percent meat and fish, it’s now the opposite for many teams, thanks to the development of increasingly high-quality commercial dog food. “It’s why the pet industry has enjoyed the race so much, because they learn so much from the dogs that they can pass it on to the general community of pets,” Nordman said.

DOG TEAM VITALS

Some dogs still die during the race, including a dropped dog that died of asphyxiation at a checkpoint last year after it was covered by snow from a severe storm. But dog deaths — slammed by animal rights activists over the years — have dramatically declined. Last year’s death was the first since 2009. Dog care is a huge focus, with an average of six veterinarians assigned to each checkpoint to assess the animals’ health through such indicators as heart rate, hydration and appetite. Warning signs vets look for include off-kilter gaits and attitudes.

Reported by RACHEL D’ORO of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska. Follow Rachel D’Oro at —https://twitter.com/rdoro

Veterinarian Bruce Nwadike checks the dogs of musher Mike Williams Jr. at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Veterinarian Bruce Nwadike checks the dogs of musher Mike Williams Jr. at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

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Mushing family a strong presence in Iditarod

Mitch Seavey feeds his team at the Finger Lake checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014, near Wasilla, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Mitch Seavey feeds his team at the Finger Lake checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014, near Wasilla, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Don’t get Dallas and Mitch Seavey wrong. They love each other, even though they might not say it in so many words. But they’re also fierce competitors, more than happy to pass each other on the nearly 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to be the first to reach Nome.

The then-25-year-old Dallas became the race’s youngest winner in 2012, only to be replaced by his dad, Mitch, who at age 53 became the Iditarod’s oldest winner last year. While they play out their rivalry, they might need to look behind another shoulder as Dallas’ younger brother, Conway, establishes himself in the sport.

The Seaveys shy away from the term “mushing dynasty,” but Mitch Seavey, who also won in 2004 acknowledges, “we sure mush a lot.”

“We got a couple of good-sized, serious kennels banging away at it,” Mitch Seavey said. “You’re bound to get your share” of championships.

You can count three for the family in the first 41 editions of the Iditarod.jd-iditarod-logo

Mitch’s father, Dan, helped organize the first Iditarod in 1973 and finished third that year.

When Dallas won the race two years ago, all three men were on the trail. Dan Seavey that year, at age 74, ran his fifth Iditarod to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Iditarod Trail.

“We’ve certainly got a legacy that dad handed down to us, and then myself on to Dallas and beyond,” Mitch Seavey said. “We’ve learned a lot and hopefully we’ve helped each other as we go along.”

This year’s Iditarod started Sunday in Willow, and will finish sometime early next week in Nome, on Alaska’s western coast. In the early going, four-time champion Martin Buser was the first to leave the Rohn checkpoint Monday. The jockeying for the lead remains fluid until mushers began taking a mandatory 24 hour layover and two eight-hour rests.

Besides Mitch and Dallas, there is another Seavey in this year’s race, Dallas’ older brother, Danny, 31. He jokingly told Anchorage television station KTVA during the ceremonial start Saturday that if he were to finish ahead of either Mitch or Dallas, Plan A for both of those men went horribly wrong.

Reported by MARK THIESSEN of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska

2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey interacts with fans gathered at Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey interacts with fans gathered at Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

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69 in the running for the 2014 Iditarod

Siberian huskies Fritz, left, and Ruby lead the rookie team of Lisbet Norris of Willow, Alaska, across a bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

Siberian huskies Fritz, left, and Ruby lead the rookie team of Lisbet Norris of Willow, Alaska, across a bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

We have 69 mushers racing to Nome.

We have a loaded field that includes the top 10 finishers from last year’s race.jd-iditarod-logo

We have the usual supply of Seaveys. We have intrigue in the return of Robert Sorlie, the two-time champ from Norway back for the first time since 2007. We have a two-time runner-up in Aily Zirkle, who is trying to once again make Alaska the place where women win the Iditarod.
We have everything you need for the perfect Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Except the perfect trail.

Ice, open water, soft snow and no snow await dog teams as they begin the race to Nome this weekend. High temperatures — which in early February threatened to move the start of the race north to Fairbanks — returned with a vengeance Thursday and could compromise several weeks’ worth of volunteer labor on the trail.

“I heard it’s pretty sketchy,” said Dean Osmar, a veteran musher from Clam Gulch who has a number of dogs running the race, but isn’t driving a team himself. “Warm weather we don’t need. There’s patchy snow from Rainy Pass to Nikolai. It’s gonna be pretty treacherous.”

Osmar said he told rookie Monica Zappa of Kasilof that if she can make it to Nikolai, the checkpoint at the end of the bumpy and possibly bare Farewell Burn, she can make it to Nome.

Conditions are hard, fast and icy south of the Alaska Range — or at least they were before the latest heat wave. Joe Runyan, a champion-turned-race analyst, described it like this on iditarod.com: “The trail is an Olympic luge run, interrupted by inconvenient and terrifying descents into creek bottoms and natural detours around white spruce or boulders guarding crossings down the Dalzell Gorge.”

The ceremonial start was Saturday in downtown Anchorage, where mshers and their Idita-riders — people who bid for a ride with the musher of their choice — leave every two minutes and traveled 11 miles from downtown to Campbell Airstrip in the ultimate dog show. The clock wasn’t ticking for this part of the race — it’s all about pleasing fans and sponsors.

On Sunday in Willow, mushers and dogs went through it again, only this time the clock will be ticking and their destination is about 900 miles away. The first team heads out at 2 p.m.

Here are some things to know before they go:

WHO’S GOING TO WIN?

Osmar and Runyan teamed up to predict the top 10, but when asked who is on the list, Osmar rattled off about a dozen names.

“Sorlie, of course. The two Seaveys, Aliy, Ray Redington, Jake (Berkowitz), Joar (Leifseth Ulsom), Ralph (Johannessen), Aaron (Burmeister), (Sonny) Lindner, DeeDee. I’ve got about 15 in my top 10.”

He paused to think about who he forgot.

“Jeff King! He’s top five,” Osmar said. “I know I’m gonna have some people mad at me, because there’s about five more who are in my top 10.”

WHO’S RALPH JOHANNESSEN?

He’s the guy you might wish you drew in your classroom pool.

Johannessen is one of five mushers from Norway in this year’s race. Sorlie, the champion in 2003 and 2005, is the one best known to Alaskans, but keep an eye on Johannessen. He’s been mushing since 1973 and he’s won all of Norway’s major races.

“He’s the real deal,” Osmar said. “He’s been beating Sorlie half the time.”

WHO IS ON TEAM SEAVEY?

For the second time in three years, there’s a hat trick of Seaveys in the Iditarod:

  • 2013 champion Mitch Seavey, whose win at age 53 made him the oldest champ in history.
  • 2012 champion Dallas Seavey, whose win at age 24 made him the youngest champ in history.
  • Pinch-hitter Danny Seavey, Mitch’s son and Dallas’ brother, who was in Florida three weeks ago when the family called and told him to come home — they needed him to drive a sled to Nome.

Danny, 31, was needed when Matt Giblin, who was planning to drive a team of young Seavey dogs, broke his ankle. It’s been a couple of years since Danny has raced, but Mitch said his son is an accomplished musher and he’ll do fine.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Mitch said. “Plus he harnessed and broke a lot of these dogs as yearlings.”

In 2012, the Seavey contingent included family patriach Dan Seavey, then 74.

A four-Seavey race isn’t entirely out of the question. Conway Seavey, 17, just won his second Junior Iditarod and will be eligible for the full race next year when he’s 18. But Mitch doesn’t see that happening. Danny isn’t likely to return to full-time racing, and Conway is a pop singer and songwriter preparing for his first release, he said.
Asked to handicap the family’s race within the race, Mitch didn’t hedge.

“Dallas and I will be very competitive, and Danny will be semi-competitive,” he said. “Of course, I think I’m the best.”

WHERE’S LANCE?

For the first time since 2003, Lance Mackey is not running the race.

The four-time champion is skipping the race for health reasons. Mackey won four straight titles while battling cancer and its aftermath, which in his case has been ravaging.

Mackey will be missed by fans, who like how real and humble he is, and by members of the media, who like how quotable he is. And so we asked him what he likes about the ceremonial start.

“It is a must-do for the state and the sport,” Mackey said. “The only mushers who don’t enjoy it are also the ones without many fans.”
Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.
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Reported by BETH BRAGG of the Anchorage Daily News
(c)2014 the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska)
Visit the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska) at www.adn.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services

The dog team of Dan Kaduce of Chatanika, Alaska, heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Erik Hill)

The dog team of Dan Kaduce of Chatanika, Alaska, heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Erik Hill)

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Last chance for the water monster

 Investigators have begun a search in hopes of finding what may be the last free-roaming axolotl. Not one axolotl was found during last year's effort at finding them in the wild in Xochimilco, their only natural habitat. The axolotl is known as the "water monster" and the "Mexican walking fish." (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Investigators have begun a search in hopes of finding what may be the last free-roaming axolotl. Not one axolotl was found during last year’s effort at finding them in the wild in Xochimilco, their only natural habitat. The axolotl is known as the “water monster” and the “Mexican walking fish.” (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Mexico’s axolotl, a salamander-like creature, apparently hasn’t disappeared from its only known natural habitat in Mexico City’s few remaining lakes.

Researchers say they have sighted, but not caught, two of the slippery little amphibians during a second effort to find them.

A weekslong effort last year by researchers trying to net axolotls in the shallow, muddy waters of Xochimilco lake found none, raising fears that they might only now survive in captivity.

But biologist Armando Tovar Garza of Mexico’s National Autonomous University said members of the team carrying out the search had seen two axolotls during the first three weeks of a second survey.

“We weren’t able to capture them … because the behavior of the axolotl makes them very difficult to capture,” Tovar Garza said. “We haven’t had any captures, but we have had two sightings.”

The axolotl is best known for its feather-like gills, a mouth that curls into an odd smile and its ability to regenerate severed limbs. In Mexico, the locals call it the “water monster” and the “Mexican walking fish.” It’s only natural habitat is the Xochimilco network of lakes and canals. These “floating gardens” of earth piled on reed mats were built by the Aztecs. Now they water system is suffering from pollution, urban sprawl and invasive species.

Some axolotls still survive in aquariums, water tanks and research labs, but experts said those conditions aren’t the best, because of interbreeding and other risks. How about letting some of those aquarium-bound axolotl’s go? Scientists fear releasing captive-bred axolotls into the wild could spread a fungus infection many captive axolotls carry.

Helping out: Alarmed by the creature’s falling numbers in recent years, researchers built axolotl “shelters” in Xochimilco to help them breed in the cleanest part of their remaining habitat.

Sacks of rocks and reedy plants act as filters around a selected area, and cleaner water is pumped in, to create better conditions. The shelters also include permeable cages and other devices intended to help protect axolotls from non-native carp and tilapia that were introduced to the lake system years ago and compete with axolotls for food.

Growing up to a foot long, axolotls use four stubby legs to drag themselves along the bottom or thick tails to swim in Xochimilco’s murky channels while feeding on aquatic insects, small fish and crustaceans. But the surrounding garden-islands have increasingly been converted to illicit shantytowns, with untreated sewage often running off into the water.

Reported by TERESA DE MIGUEL of the Associated Press from MEXICO CITY, Mexico.

Biologists from Mexico's National Autonomous University (UNAM) conduct a census of the salamander-like axolotl and of non-native fish in a canal of the Xochimilco network of lakes and canals in Mexico City. Investigators have begun a search in hopes of finding what may be the last free-roaming axolotl. Not one axolotl was found during last year's effort at finding them in the wild in Xochimilco, their only natural habitat. The axolotl is known as the "water monster" and the "Mexican walking fish." (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Biologists from Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) conduct a census of the salamander-like axolotl and of non-native fish in a canal of the Xochimilco network of lakes and canals in Mexico City. Investigators have begun a search in hopes of finding what may be the last free-roaming axolotl. Not one axolotl was found during last year’s effort at finding them in the wild in Xochimilco, their only natural habitat. The axolotl is known as the “water monster” and the “Mexican walking fish.” (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

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Hockey team woes at the Winter Games (Plus a 17-picture Sochi Olympics photo gallery)

Catherine Ward of Canada (18) shoves Anne Schleper of the United States (15) to the ice during overtime of the women's gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Catherine Ward of Canada (18) shoves Anne Schleper of the United States (15) to the ice during overtime of the women’s gold medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The American women’s hockey team was 3:26 seconds away from its first Olympic gold medal since 1998. Then everything went wrong.

The Canadians got on the board when a shot deflected off Team USA’s Kacey Bellamy and past Jesse Vetter to make the score 2-1.

Two minutes later, the U.S. had a chance to seal the victory when Canada pulled its goaltender and Kelli Stack’s shot started rolling toward the goal. But the puck hit the left post with 1:14 to play, keeping Canada alive.

Marie-Philip Poulin scored with 55 seconds to go to tie the game and got the game-winner in overtime on a power play to win Canada’s fourth straight gold medal in the event.

Tears flowed on the American side and the team stood on the ice in stunned disbelief as they watched the Canadians celebrate.

Reported by JON KRAWCZYNSKI of the Associated Press from SOCHI, Russia. — Twitter http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

Members of Team Canada celebrate after defeating the United States during sudden death overtime women's hockey final action at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

Members of Team Canada celebrate after defeating the United States during sudden death overtime women’s hockey final action at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

KNOW YOUR SLALOM

Let’s dance.

It’s time for skiers to wiggle their way through tightly set slalom gates under the lights at the Sochi Games.

The women’s slalom is set for Friday night followed by the men’s race Saturday night.

American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin and overall World Cup leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria are the clear favorites.

Here are five things to know about Alpine skiing entering the final two races of the games:

1) MAZE BIDS FOR THREE: Tina Maze of Slovenia heads into the slalom with a chance to become only the second woman in Olympic history with three Alpine golds at a single Winter Olympics. Janica Kostelic of Croatia did it in 2006.

Maze already won the downhill and giant slalom in Sochi. She also pushed Shiffrin during the 2012-13 World Cup season for the slalom title. It came down to the last race, when Shiffrin took first place and Maze was third.

“She has so much power in her turns. She doesn’t ever stop skiing. She just goes. She goes down the hill as fast as she possibly can, and I learned from that throughout last season and this season,” Shiffrin said. “I don’t think I have a big advantage against her, and I don’t think she has an advantage against me. We’re just two girls who want to win.”

2) CRAZY DOGS: When Austria’s Marcel Hirscher won the slalom title before 50,000 ski-mad fans on home snow at last season’s world championships in Schladming, it was an impressive display of performing under pressure.

Recalling that race at the beginning of this season, Hirscher likened it to a pretty scary scene.

“If you’re standing in front of a big, big, huge wall, and you have no opportunity to climb up there, and then behind you, there are a hundred crazy dogs who want to eat you up, then you have to go for your life,” he said.

Saturday’s slalom could be low-key in comparison to the Schladming race, but Hirscher remains the favorite. After all, he’s also won seven of 18 World Cup slalom races over this season and last.

3) YOUTH MOVEMENT: At 18, Shiffrin has a chance to become the youngest women’s slalom champion in Olympic history.

Paoletta Magoni of Italy was 19½ when she won the slalom at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.

The youngest Olympic Alpine champion in any discipline was Michela Figini of Switzerland, who won the Sarajevo downhill a month shy of her 18th birthday.

4) RIESCH RACES: Defending champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch will race the slalom despite being slowed by a cold and breathing problems.

Germany’s Alpine spokesman Ralph Eder said that Hoefl-Riesch trained Thursday and is planning to compete after sitting out Tuesday’s giant slalom.

Hoefl-Riesch already has one gold and one silver medal from these games, along with two golds from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. She won the super-combined here and finished second to Anna Fenninger of Austria in the super-G.

One more gold for Hoefl-Riesch would equal Croatian great Janica Kostelic’s record of four career Olympic titles.

5) UKRAINIAN WITHDRAWS: Ukraine will not be represented in the women’s slalom.

That’s because Bogdana Matsotska has withdrawn from the Olympics in response to the deaths of anti-government protesters in her country.

“I don’t want to participate when in my country people die,” Bogdana Matsotska told The Associated Press.

Matsotska wants to leave the Olympics immediately to join protesters in the camp known as Maidan in Kiev’s Independence Square, but said she has been unable to book a flight home.

“I am in Maidan but just with my soul,” she said.

Switzerland's Denise Feierabend skis in the first run of the women's slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Switzerland’s Denise Feierabend skis in the first run of the women’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

RUSSIA LOVES HOCKEY

Russia’s shock ouster from the Olympic men’s hockey competition hasn’t sent the host nation’s hockey-mad fans stampeding for Sochi’s exits.

Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko told The Associated Press on Thursday that, despite the disappointment, there was no “massive rush” for ticket refunds by Russian spectators.jd-olympicdreamslogo

“This means Russian fans have big hearts, and will continue to have fun and support the teams (still) here,” Chernyshenko said.

Chernyshenko, a former hockey player who saw his dreams of Russian gold dashed by the team’s 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland, said the match was “upsetting.” But, as he tweeted shortly after Wednesday’s game: “The show must go on.”

Some Russian fans share his sentiment. Minutes after Chernyshenko spoke outside the Bolshoy Hockey Arena, Russians mobbed the US men’s hockey team as they made a surprise appearance for a group photograph in Olympic Park.

Chernyshenko spoke as he walked the grounds of Olympic Park, visiting venues and reflecting on the years of preparation that went into the games. While he wouldn’t pronounce the Sochi Olympics a success until they ended, he said he was already “modestly proud” at the accomplishments of his organizing committee.

Reported by MARK DAVIES of the Associated Press from SOCHI RUSSIA — http://twitter.com/MarkDaviesAP
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OLYMPIC PHOTO GALLERY

Olga Graf of Russia celebrates after competing in the women's speedskating team pursuit quarterfinals at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014.  (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Olga Graf of Russia celebrates after competing in the women’s speedskating team pursuit quarterfinals at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Lebanon's Jacky Chamoun finishes the first run of the women's slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Lebanon’s Jacky Chamoun finishes the first run of the women’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

A fan waves a Russian flag during the women's slalom at the Alpine ski venue during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A fan waves a Russian flag during the women’s slalom at the Alpine ski venue during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

The team from Brazil BRA-1, piloted by Edson Bindilatti, start a run during the men's four-man bobsled training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

The team from Brazil BRA-1, piloted by Edson Bindilatti, start a run during the men’s four-man bobsled training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

The team from Brazil BRA-1, piloted by Edson Bindilatti, take a curve during a training run for the men's four-man bobsled at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

The team from Brazil BRA-1, piloted by Edson Bindilatti, take a curve during a training run for the men’s four-man bobsled at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Czech Republic's Sarka Strachova skis past a gate in the first run of the women's slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Czech Republic’s Sarka Strachova skis past a gate in the first run of the women’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Sweden’s Fredrik Lindberg delivers the rock during the men's curling bronze medal game against China at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. His tattoo is Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger," the Olypmic motto. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Sweden’s Fredrik Lindberg delivers the rock during the men’s curling bronze medal game against China at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. His tattoo is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” the Olypmic motto. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

South Korea's Lee Sang-hwa, left, gold medallist for the women's 500-meter speedskating, signs a stack of autographs as she sits in the stands prior to the start of the men's speedskating team pursuit quarterfinals at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

South Korea’s Lee Sang-hwa, left, gold medallist for the women’s 500-meter speedskating, signs a stack of autographs as she sits in the stands prior to the start of the men’s speedskating team pursuit quarterfinals at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Gracie Gold of the United States competes in the women's free skate figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Gracie Gold of the United States competes in the women’s free skate figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

France's Ophelie David, from left, Canada's Kelsey Serwa, Canada's Marielle Thompson and Sweden's Anna Holmlund compete during their ski cross final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

France’s Ophelie David, from left, Canada’s Kelsey Serwa, Canada’s Marielle Thompson and Sweden’s Anna Holmlund compete during their ski cross final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Czech Republic's Jitka Landova ejects the cartridge as she shoots during the women's biathlon 4x6k relay at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Czech Republic’s Jitka Landova ejects the cartridge as she shoots during the women’s biathlon 4x6k relay at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Competitors start the women's biathlon 4x6k relay at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Competitors start the women’s biathlon 4x6k relay at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Megan Bozek of the United States (9) wipes a tear as she stand with Monique Lamoureux of the United States (7),  and Meghan Duggan of the United States (10) during the medal ceremony for the women's ice hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Team USA took silver after losing 3-2 to Team Canada in overtime. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Megan Bozek of the United States (9) wipes a tear as she stand with Monique Lamoureux of the United States (7), and Meghan Duggan of the United States (10) during the medal ceremony for the women’s ice hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Team USA took silver after losing 3-2 to Team Canada in overtime. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Finland forward Teemu Selanne trips over a Swedish player during the second period of a men's semifinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Finland forward Teemu Selanne trips over a Swedish player during the second period of a men’s semifinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Americans succumb to the lure of the rings (Plus a 21-picture Sochi Olympics photo gallery)

In this still image taken from video, members of the men's ice hockey team from the United States post in front of the Olympic rings in Olympic Park during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. The U.S. and Canada will play each other in the semifinal round on Friday, Feb. 21. (AP Photo/Ben Jary)

In this still image taken from video, members of the men’s ice hockey team from the United States post in front of the Olympic rings in Olympic Park during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. The U.S. and Canada will play each other in the semifinal round on Friday, Feb. 21. (AP Photo/Ben Jary)

Everyone wants to get their picture taken in front of the Olympic rings in Sochi. The U.S. men’s hockey team is no different.

One day before they take on Canada in a highly anticipated semifinal, the Americans walked into Olympic Park for a team photo in front of the rings. After the team picture was taken, they welcomed in some family members who made the trip to Sochi as well.jd-olympicdreamslogo

Most of the players were wearing Navy blue jerseys with their names and numbers on the back, so it wasn’t long before fans realized they were in the company of stars.

Several players were approached for photos, including the team’s newest star. A woman quickly grabbed T.J. Oshie, who carried Team USA to a victory over Russia with four shootout goals, for a photo.

After a few photos, the team hurried away to resume preparations for its showdown with Canada on Friday.

Reported by JON KRAWCZYNSKI of the Associated Press from SOCHI, Russia — http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

NO PLACE TO MOURN

The IOC’s reluctance to allow competitors to wear black arm bands, or any other individual badge, to honor fallen loved ones might seem on the surface to be insensitive. That’s hardly the intent, the Olympic committee says.

Athletes the world over have routinely worn some kind of arm band, jersey patch or decal to pay tribute when someone close to them dies. Many use it as a way to shine a bit of light on a dark situation, to make sure that others mourning the loss can see that they are in their hearts and on their minds.

At the Sochi Games, the IOC has reprimanded Norwegian competitors for wearing an arm band to honor a family member of one of the athletes and told Australian snowboarder Torah Bright she could not wear a sticker on her helmet in memory of snowboarder Sarah Burke, who died in 2012.

On Wednesday, Ukraine officials said the IOC denied them permission to wear arm bands to honor those killed in a clash between anti-government protesters and police in Kiev. IOC spokesman Mark Adams says that they never made a firm denial and that Ukrainian officials decided on their own to make a different gesture before it got to that point.

But either way, Adams says the IOC isn’t trying to appear cold or insensitive.

“We try to concentrate on the sport. There are 2,800 athletes here,” he said. “As you can imagine, there are a lot, sadly, a lot of people with personal tragedy in their lives. Some with big political tragedies, some with personal tragedies, friends, loved ones, some athletes, some nonathletes. The idea is to try to help them to find other ways, individual or collectively, to mark those moments.”
Reported by JON KRAWCZYNSKI of the Associated Press from SOCHI, Russia — http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

Germany's Stefan Luitz reacts after being disqualified in the first run of the men's giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Germany’s Stefan Luitz reacts after being disqualified in the first run of the men’s giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

A BAD FALL

Even Stefan Luitz called himself an idiot.

The German skier tripped over the very last gate in the Olympic giant slalom on Wednesday, tumbling across the finish line as one of his skis flew off.

As he lay on the snow, disqualified for straddling that final gate, one thought struck him.

“You idiot,” he said.

Luitz had a smooth performance going, too, and would’ve been the second-fastest on the course heading into the final run. He would’ve been a strong medal contender in an event that Ted Ligety of the United States won by a 0.48-second margin over Steve Missillier of France.

“Happens,” Luitz said.

Really? Has that happened to him before?

“No, it’s the first time,” Luitz said.

His teammates were flummoxed by his late fall, with his Sochi roommate Felix Neureuther calling it “unbelievable” and “unreal.”

“Something like that happens, it’s without words definitely,” Neureuther said.

Ligety felt a bad for Luitz.

“An unfortunate mistake,” Ligety said. “That’s super disappointing for him. … It actually happens a little bit, especially when it’s so flat like this and you’re fully in your tuck and you’re trying to take a fast line. It’s easy to get your skis bumped around.”

Luitz is trying not to think about what might’ve been had he not struggled with that last gate.

“I straddled,” he said, “and it’s over.”

Reported by PAT GRAHAM of the Associated Press from
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Twitter http://twitter.com/pgraham34

___

OLYMPIC PHOTO GALLERY

Jean Frederic Chapuis of France, right, leads compatriots Arnaud Bovolenta, second right, and Jonathan Midol, third right, as  at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, as Canada's Brady Leman crashes in the men's ski cross final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Jean Frederic Chapuis of France, right, leads compatriots Arnaud Bovolenta, second right, and Jonathan Midol, third right, as at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, as Canada’s Brady Leman crashes in the men’s ski cross final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Hostesses present the flowers during the flower ceremony of the Nordic combined Gundersen large hill team competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Hostesses present the flowers during the flower ceremony of the Nordic combined Gundersen large hill team competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Australia's Anton Grimus waits after a men's ski cross heat at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Australia’s Anton Grimus waits after a men’s ski cross heat at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Yuna Kim of South Korea skates during a practice session at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Yuna Kim of South Korea skates during a practice session at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

A spectator takes a photo from behind a U.S. flag during men's ski cross competition at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

A spectator takes a photo from behind a U.S. flag during men’s ski cross competition at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Canada's Rosalind Groenewoud gets air during women's ski halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Canada’s Rosalind Groenewoud gets air during women’s ski halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Polish speedskaters sit together during a training session at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Polish speedskaters sit together during a training session at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Norway's Joergen Graabak, right, crosses the finish line to win the gold ahead of second placed Fabian Riessle of Germany during the cross-country portion of the Nordic combined Gundersen large hill team competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Norway’s Joergen Graabak, right, crosses the finish line to win the gold ahead of second placed Fabian Riessle of Germany during the cross-country portion of the Nordic combined Gundersen large hill team competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Canada's skip Jennifer Jones, center, delivers the rock while Jill Officer, left and Dawn McEwen, right sweep the ice during the women's curling gold medal game against Sweden at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Canada’s skip Jennifer Jones, center, delivers the rock while Jill Officer, left and Dawn McEwen, right sweep the ice during the women’s curling gold medal game against Sweden at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Goalkeeper Valentina Wallner of Sweden (35) blocks a shot on goal by Jessica Lutz of Switzerland (17) as Linnea Backman of Sweden (17) helps defend the goal during the first period of the women's bronze medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Goalkeeper Valentina Wallner of Sweden (35) blocks a shot on goal by Jessica Lutz of Switzerland (17) as Linnea Backman of Sweden (17) helps defend the goal during the first period of the women’s bronze medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Christine Nesbitt, second from left, practices with other Canadian speedskaters during a training session for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Christine Nesbitt, second from left, practices with other Canadian speedskaters during a training session for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Gabrielle Daleman of Canada falls as she competes in the women's free skate figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Gabrielle Daleman of Canada falls as she competes in the women’s free skate figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The team from the United States USA-1, piloted by Steven Holcomb, take a curve during the men's four-man bobsled training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

The team from the United States USA-1, piloted by Steven Holcomb, take a curve during the men’s four-man bobsled training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Austria's Andreas Matt , bottom and France's Jonas Devouassoux land from a jump during a men's ski cross heat at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Austria’s Andreas Matt , bottom and France’s Jonas Devouassoux land from a jump during a men’s ski cross heat at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Lara Stalder of Switzerland (7) reacts to the bench after a third period goal against Sweden in the women's bronze medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Switzerland won 4-3. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Lara Stalder of Switzerland (7) reacts to the bench after a third period goal against Sweden in the women’s bronze medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Switzerland won 4-3. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Park So-Youn of South Korea competes in the women's free skate figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Park So-Youn of South Korea competes in the women’s free skate figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Switzerland's skip Mirjam Ott, center, delivers the rock to teammates Carmen Kueng, left, and Janine Greiner, right, during the women's curling bronze medal game against Britain at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Switzerland’s skip Mirjam Ott, center, delivers the rock to teammates Carmen Kueng, left, and Janine Greiner, right, during the women’s curling bronze medal game against Britain at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Adelina Sotnikova of Russia reacts as she waits in the results area after completing her routine in the women's short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Adelina Sotnikova of Russia reacts as she waits in the results area after completing her routine in the women’s short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

A light from the ground illuminates the face of a visitor to the Olympic Park at dusk as the flame burns in the background at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

A light from the ground illuminates the face of a visitor to the Olympic Park at dusk as the flame burns in the background at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Britain's skip Eve Muirhead, right, embraces Anna Sloan after defeating Switzerland to win the women's curling bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Britain’s skip Eve Muirhead, right, embraces Anna Sloan after defeating Switzerland to win the women’s curling bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Read More

The crash-fest at the Winter Games (Plus a 24-picture Sochi Olympics photo gallery)

Men's giant slalom gold medalist Ted Ligety of the United States poses for photographers with the American flag on the podium at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Men’s giant slalom gold medalist Ted Ligety of the United States poses for photographers with the American flag on the podium at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

With 109 listed starters in men’s giant slalom, there are bound to be lots of crashes. The slow-mo replay folks are having a field day.

Only 79 competitors finished their qualifying run Wednesday. Most of the others fell, sometimes in comical fashion, losing skis or their poles down the course and momentarily doing their best to try to salvage a hopeless run.

At one point, Antonio Pardo of Venezuela fell on his side and lost his skis, then pounded his hands into the snow in frustration — all replayed in slow motion to live audiences.

Spain's Alex Puente Tasias crashes during  the first run of the men's giant slalom the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Spain’s Alex Puente Tasias crashes during the first run of the men’s giant slalom the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Andorra's Joan Verdu Sanchez is carried away by medics after he crashed in the first run of the men's giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Andorra’s Joan Verdu Sanchez is carried away by medics after he crashed in the first run of the men’s giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

United States' Ted Ligety celebrates winning the gold medal in the men's giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

United States’ Ted Ligety celebrates winning the gold medal in the men’s giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Germany's Stefan Luitz crashes into a safety barrier after finishing the first run of the men's giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Germany’s Stefan Luitz crashes into a safety barrier after finishing the first run of the men’s giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Spain's Alex Puente Tasias slides down the course after crashing during  the first run of the men's giant slalom the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Spain’s Alex Puente Tasias slides down the course after crashing during the first run of the men’s giant slalom the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Andorra's Joan Verdu Sanchez crashes in the first run of the men's giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Andorra’s Joan Verdu Sanchez crashes in the first run of the men’s giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

By OSKAR GARCIA of the Associated Press — Twitter http://twitter.com/oskargarcia

A VERY SPECIAL ROCK

jd-olympicdreamslogo
— Every time American freeskier David Wise travels for a halfpipe competition, he searches for a rock — typically in the shape of a heart — to bring back home for his wife Lexie.

On the biggest night of his professional life, she returned the favor.

Lexie smuggled in a rock from near their home in Reno, Nev., to Tuesday night’s men’s Olympic halfpipe skiing final, handing it to a friend who gave it to her husband. Wise posted a picture of the gray, vaguely heart-shaped gem on Instagram just before the competition then stuffed it in his pocket before soaring to gold.

See the post here: http://instagram.com/p/kj43IsF5t6/

The rock was still there in the giddy aftermath, ready to take up a very prominent place in the family’s growing collection. Considering the success Wise had with the trinket in place, he knows he’ll have to step his game up the next time he’s on the road.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “You want to pick out the best rock you possibly can.”

His wife certainly found a winner.

Reported by WILL GRAVES of the Associated Press from SOCHI, Russia. — http://twitter.com/WillGravesAP
___

ATHLETE AND ASIAN POP STAR

Thailand's Kanes Sucharitakul reacts after finishing the first run of the men's giant slalom the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Thailand’s Kanes Sucharitakul reacts after finishing the first run of the men’s giant slalom the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Thailand only has two Olympians — and one’s getting most of the attention because she’s also a pop star at home.

The country’s other Olympian is Kanes Sucharitakul, an Alpine skier who was Thailand’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony and finished 65th in the giant slalom.

His teammate, Vanessa-Mae, is a platinum-selling pop violinist who lives in England and was born to a Thai father. She’s sold 10 million records worldwide.

Sucharitakul’s focus at the Olympics has been skiing. When asked about anti-government protests in his home country that have turned deadly, he said: “I get the news mostly from my family but I would really rather not comment on that.”

By GRAHAM DUNBAR of the Associated Press from KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — http://twitter.com/gdunbarap

OLYMPIC PHOTO GALLERY

Finland's Iivo Niskanen, left, and Sami Jauhojaervi celebrates winning the gold during the men's classical-style cross-country team sprint competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Finland’s Iivo Niskanen, left, and Sami Jauhojaervi celebrates winning the gold during the men’s classical-style cross-country team sprint competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Women's snowboard parallel giant slalom gold medalist Switzerland's Patrizia Kummer, center, celebrates on the podium with silver medalist Tomoka Takeuchi of Japan, left, and bronze medalist Alena Zavarzina of Russia at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Women’s snowboard parallel giant slalom gold medalist Switzerland’s Patrizia Kummer, center, celebrates on the podium with silver medalist Tomoka Takeuchi of Japan, left, and bronze medalist Alena Zavarzina of Russia at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Russia forward Ilya Kovalchuk reacts after scoring a goal against Finland during the first period of a men's quarterfinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.  (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Russia forward Ilya Kovalchuk reacts after scoring a goal against Finland during the first period of a men’s quarterfinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Sweden forward Loui Eriksson shoots and scores against Slovenia goaltender Robert Kristan in the third period of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Sweden won 5-0 to advance to the semifinals. (AP Photo/Martin Rose, Pool)

Sweden forward Loui Eriksson shoots and scores against Slovenia goaltender Robert Kristan in the third period of a men’s ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Sweden won 5-0 to advance to the semifinals. (AP Photo/Martin Rose, Pool)

France's Alexis Pinturault makes a turn in the men's giant slalom to win the bronze medal at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

France’s Alexis Pinturault makes a turn in the men’s giant slalom to win the bronze medal at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Russia forward Ilya Kovalchuk reacts after scoring a goal against Finland during the first period of a men's quarterfinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Russia forward Ilya Kovalchuk reacts after scoring a goal against Finland during the first period of a men’s quarterfinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The team from Italy ITA-1, piloted by Simone Bertazzo, start a run during the men's four-man bobsled training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

The team from Italy ITA-1, piloted by Simone Bertazzo, start a run during the men’s four-man bobsled training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Norway's Marit Bjoergen leads during the cross-country team sprint competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Norway’s Marit Bjoergen leads during the cross-country team sprint competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Sweden's skip Margaretha Sigfridsson, wipes the rock before delivering it to her teammates during the women's curling semifinal game against Switzerland at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Sweden’s skip Margaretha Sigfridsson, wipes the rock before delivering it to her teammates during the women’s curling semifinal game against Switzerland at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Britain's Anna Sloan sweeps ahead of the stone during the women's curling semifinal game against Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Britain’s Anna Sloan sweeps ahead of the stone during the women’s curling semifinal game against Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

The team from Australia AUS-1, piloted by Heath Spence, take a curve during the men's four-man bobsled training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

The team from Australia AUS-1, piloted by Heath Spence, take a curve during the men’s four-man bobsled training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Switzerland's Kaspar Fluetsch competes during snowboard parallel giant slalom heats at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Switzerland’s Kaspar Fluetsch competes during snowboard parallel giant slalom heats at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

A hockey fan cheering for Russia gives a thumbs up before play between Russia and Finland period of a men's quarterfinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A hockey fan cheering for Russia gives a thumbs up before play between Russia and Finland period of a men’s quarterfinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Sweden's Ida Ingemarsdotter skis during the women's classical-style cross-country team sprint competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter skis during the women’s classical-style cross-country team sprint competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Gold medal winner, United States' Ted Ligety skis in the second run of the men's giant slalom to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Gold medal winner, United States’ Ted Ligety skis in the second run of the men’s giant slalom to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

The alpine ski finish area is reflected in the sunglasses of an Olympic volunteer during the first run of the men's giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.  (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

The alpine ski finish area is reflected in the sunglasses of an Olympic volunteer during the first run of the men’s giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Read More

Australian is flying high at the Winter Games (Plus a 23-picture Sochi Olympics photo gallery)

Silver medal winner, Australia's David Morris makes his final jump during men's freestyle skiing aerials at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Silver medal winner, Australia’s David Morris makes his final jump during men’s freestyle skiing aerials at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

There is no men’s aerials program in Australia. There is only David Morris, a former gymnast — “I wasn’t amazing at it,” he says — whose persistence turned into history.

Morris won the first men’s aerials medal for his home country on Monday, grabbing silver with a spectacular but admittedly safe jump in the finals.

The leap served as validation for the 29-year-old who kept plowing his way despite a decided lack of support from Australian officials, who don’t consider the event a priority even as countrywoman Lydia Lassila has captured gold and bronze in the last two Winter games.

Maybe Australia will now.

“We did something right,” Morris said. “We know how long it takes to get up to (this) level. Hopefully people will start ringing up and saying ‘I want to do that, it’s stupid.’”

Morris made it look sublime while finishing as runner-up to Anton Kushnir of Belarus. While he could have attempted a version of the five-twisting triple back flip — considered the toughest jump in the sport — he opted for a four-twisting one he knew he could land.

“I knew I was never going to out-jump them,” Morris said.

So he outsmarted them. When Chinese finalists Jia Zongyang and Qi Guangpu failed to nail their five-twisters, Morris had silver draped around his neck.

“Silver is sweet,” he said, “but if I had been outjumped at any point I wouldn’t have been disappointed.”

Reported by WILL GRAVES of the Associated Press from KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Twitter http://twitter.com/WillGravesAPjd-olympicdreamslogo

SOCHI BY THE NUMBERS

A look at some numbers compiled by the IOC that illustrate the digital engagement of fans at the Sochi Olympics:

  • 17 million: Mentions of the Sochi Games on VKontakte — the Russian equivalent to Facebook — during the first week of competition.
  • 2.7 million: Fans of the IOC’s Olympic page on VKontakte, which makes it the most popular official community page in the world among Russian-speaking fans.
  • 2 million: Number of fans the IOC added on its Facebook page as the Sochi Games approached, with 1 million added in the first seven days of competition.
  • 849,752 : Number of new followers the IOC has added on its Sina Weibo account, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, since the start of the games.
  • 100,000: Number of new followers of the IOC’s Twitter account since the start of the games.
  • 40,000: Updates from Olympic athletes on the Olympic Athletes’ Hub (http://hub.olympic.org ), a digital gathering player were 1,500 Sochi athletes and 6,000 from past games can post photos and comments to interact with fans.
  • 10,000: Number of tweets per minute sent out at the height of the opening ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium that commented on the festivities.

Reported by JON KRAWCZYNSKI of the Associated Press from SOCHI, Russia — http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

This combination of photos taken on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, shows white security guard tents along the route between the coastal city of Sochi, Russia, and the mountain village of Krasnaya Polyana, where the Alpine and Nordic events for the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place. The tents would have been well camouflaged in a snowy environment, but the warm weather has left them exposed against the brown background. (AP Photo/Steve Barker)

This combination of photos taken on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, shows white security guard tents along the route between the coastal city of Sochi, Russia, and the mountain village of Krasnaya Polyana, where the Alpine and Nordic events for the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place. The tents would have been well camouflaged in a snowy environment, but the warm weather has left them exposed against the brown background. (AP Photo/Steve Barker)

— Camouflage is meant to conceal military positions. Yet it seems Russian forces didn’t count on the lack of snow in the mountains that overlook Sochi.

Sentry posts lining the roads to the mountain sports venues are covered in bright, white camouflage netting. But surrounded by bare, brown earth or concrete paving instead of snow, the posts are anything but concealed.

Security forces staffing the positions also seem divided on how to deal with the lack of snow cover. Several were spotted huddling inside one post wearing full white winter camouflage uniforms. Farther up the road, though, one policeman was wearing a green high-visibility vest inside his “camouflaged” hut.

A case of Sochi’s security forces hiding in plain sight?

Reported by MARK DAVIES of the Associated Press from ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — http://twitter.com/MarkDaviesAP

___

Associated Press reporters are filing dispatches about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter: http://apne.ws/1c3WMiu

OLYMPIC PHOTO GALLERY

New Zealand's Lyndon Sheehan jumps during men's ski half pipe training ahead of qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

New Zealand’s Lyndon Sheehan jumps during men’s ski half pipe training ahead of qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

United States' Trevor Jacob, from left, Spain's Lucas Eguibar, Canada's Kevin Hill, United States' Alex Deibold, and Russia's Nikolay Olyunin compete during the men's snowboard cross semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

United States’ Trevor Jacob, from left, Spain’s Lucas Eguibar, Canada’s Kevin Hill, United States’ Alex Deibold, and Russia’s Nikolay Olyunin compete during the men’s snowboard cross semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Switzerland's Lara Gut passes a gate in the second run of the women's giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Switzerland’s Lara Gut passes a gate in the second run of the women’s giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

France's Martin Fourcade prepares to shoot during the men's biathlon 15k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

France’s Martin Fourcade prepares to shoot during the men’s biathlon 15k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Czech Republic's Ondrej Moravec shoots during the men's biathlon 15k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Czech Republic’s Ondrej Moravec shoots during the men’s biathlon 15k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg makes a turn in the second run of the women's giant slalom to win the bronze medal at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg makes a turn in the second run of the women’s giant slalom to win the bronze medal at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Spectators put on rain gear during the Nordic combined individual Gundersen large hill competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Spectators put on rain gear during the Nordic combined individual Gundersen large hill competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Members of Team Germany celebrate their 3-2 win over Japan in the 2014 Winter Olympics women's ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Members of Team Germany celebrate their 3-2 win over Japan in the 2014 Winter Olympics women’s ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Charles Hamelin of Canada leads the field in a men's 500m short track speedskating heat at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Charles Hamelin of Canada leads the field in a men’s 500m short track speedskating heat at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Gold medalist Pierre Vaultier of France, center, silver medalist Nikolay Olyunin, of Russia, right, and bronze medalist Alex Deibold of the United States celebrate their win as they cross the finish line during the mens Snowboard Cross final at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

Gold medalist Pierre Vaultier of France, center, silver medalist Nikolay Olyunin, of Russia, right, and bronze medalist Alex Deibold of the United States celebrate their win as they cross the finish line during the mens Snowboard Cross final at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

Patrick Meek of the U.S. rests after competing in the men's 10,000-meter speedskating race at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Patrick Meek of the U.S. rests after competing in the men’s 10,000-meter speedskating race at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Austria's Markus Schairer, top, and Canada's Robert Fagan crash during a men's snowboard cross heat at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Austria’s Markus Schairer, top, and Canada’s Robert Fagan crash during a men’s snowboard cross heat at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Germany's Eric Frenzel, left, and Norway's Haavard Klemetsen who led after the ski jumping ski during the Nordic combined individual Gundersen large hill competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Germany’s Eric Frenzel, left, and Norway’s Haavard Klemetsen who led after the ski jumping ski during the Nordic combined individual Gundersen large hill competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

A Dutch skating fan has the colors of his national flag anted on his face as he watches the men's 10,000-meter speedskating race at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip )

A Dutch skating fan has the colors of his national flag anted on his face as he watches the men’s 10,000-meter speedskating race at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip )

Emery Lehman of the U.S. holds a bucket to his face as he gets sick after his 10,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Emery Lehman of the U.S. holds a bucket to his face as he gets sick after his 10,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Japan's Kentaro Tsuda jumps during men's ski half pipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Japan’s Kentaro Tsuda jumps during men’s ski half pipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Bob de Jong of the Netherlands competes in the men's 10,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Bob de Jong of the Netherlands competes in the men’s 10,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Russia forward Alexander Ovechkin makes an off-balance shot against Norway goaltender Lars Haugen in the third period of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Russia forward Alexander Ovechkin makes an off-balance shot against Norway goaltender Lars Haugen in the third period of a men’s ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Olympics pins are covered in rain drops while waiting to be traded at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Olympics pins are covered in rain drops while waiting to be traded at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Czech Republic's Ondrej Moravec celebrates winning the bronze medal in the men's biathlon 15k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Czech Republic’s Ondrej Moravec celebrates winning the bronze medal in the men’s biathlon 15k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Shim Suk-Hee of South Korea, front left, Valerie Maltais of Canada, centre, and Fan Kexin of China, front right, compete in the women's 3000m short track speedskating relay final at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Shim Suk-Hee of South Korea, front left, Valerie Maltais of Canada, centre, and Fan Kexin of China, front right, compete in the women’s 3000m short track speedskating relay final at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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The quest for winter games’ souveneirs (Plus a 24-picture Sochi Olympics photo gallery)

In Sochi’s Olympic Park there are two constants: the Olympic flame burning triumphantly in the middle of the park and the long line of waiting shoppers snaking out of the official store.jd-olympicdreamslogo

Russian retailer Bosco di Ciliegi has told Olympic organizers that it was caught off guard by the demand for souvenirs in Sochi and it has been scrambling to keep the lines moving and the merchandise racks stocked. Average wait times just to get in are more than an hour, and it can take another hour to get through the store to the exit.

“I think Bosco actually commented several days ago that indeed, let’s say, demand was much over their projections and they were a bit overwhelmed,” Sochi 2014 spokeswoman Aleksandra Kosterina said on Monday. “But they are sorting this out and hopefully it will work better.”

Marina Novokovskaya says it all worked out for her in the end, but it requires a lot of patience.

“I got what I expected,” she said with a bright smile after her two-hour journey.

Susan Taylor, visiting from London, did not have to wait in a long line because workers noticed her using a cane and ushered her in. Once there, however, she found things in a bit of disarray. She was looking for a T-shirt in large or XL, but had to settle for an XXL because everything was taken.

“It was kind of chaotic,” she said.

According to Bosco, the store has had more than 100,000 visitors since it opened. They say that every hour they sell:

    • 120 overcoats
    • 210 baseball caps
    • 400 t-shirts
    • More than 1,000 pins and keychains.
Men's slopestyle skiing silver medalist Gus Kenworthy of the United States smiles while holding his medal during the medals ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Men’s slopestyle skiing silver medalist Gus Kenworthy of the United States smiles while holding his medal during the medals ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

— By JON KRAWCZYNSKI of the Associated Press from SOCHI, Russia — Twitter http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

DOG-GONE IT, RUSSIA!

Gus Kenworthy’s party back in Colorado to celebrate his silver medal in men’s slopestyle skiing is going to have to wait.

He’s still waiting for Russia to let the dogs out. No, seriously.

The 22-year-old who lives in Telluride, Colo., was scheduled to return home from Sochi on Monday, nearly a week after Kenworthy was part of a historic sweep by the U.S. as slopestyle skiing made its Olympic debut.

Yet Kenworthy’s medal in some ways took a backseat to his decision to adopt four puppies — along with their mother — he discovered near the media center at the base of the mountain that houses the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

Kenworthy wasn’t kidding. He is taking all five dogs back to the U.S. with him, but getting the paperwork done is taking some time.

A U.S. skiing official says Kenworthy had to push back his plans so the dogs can join him for the long trip halfway across the world back home.

The reaction to Kenworthy’s decision to adopt the family has gotten perhaps more attention than the medal he claimed alongside gold medalist Joss Christensen and bronze medalist Nick Goepper.

Pop star Miley Cyrus tweeted at Kenworthy on Sunday, saying there were “4 reasons to follow @guskenworthy” while forwarding a picture of Kenworthy playing with his new pooches.

By WILL GRAVES of the Associated Press from KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Twitter http://twitter.com/WillGravesAP

A TASTE FOR GOLD

Julie Chu of the U.S. women’s hockey team has won five world championships, but never an Olympic gold medal. She won silver in 2010 and 2002 and a bronze in 2006.

Immediately after her team beat Sweden on Monday night to get to the gold medal game, Chu said she’s been seeing gold the last four years.

“There’s no secret, we wanted to get to the gold medal game, and that was since the buzzer rang in 2010,” said Chu, of Fairfield, Conn. “We wanted to get the chance to play and compete and win a gold medal.

“Being able to come a long journey in the last four years and be here and to earn a spot to battle on Thursday night . to earn that right is huge for our team,” she said. “But we know, again, that we haven’t won anything yet.”

By OSKAR GARCIA of the Associated Press from SOCHI, Russia — Twitter http://twitter.com/oskargarcia

THE CUP OR THE MEDAL?

Jade Agosta, left, sister of Canadian Olympic women's hockey player Meghan Agosta, kisses the Stanley Cup with her friend, at Canada House in Olympic Park on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Larry Lage)

Jade Agosta, left, sister of Canadian Olympic women’s hockey player Meghan Agosta, kisses the Stanley Cup with her friend, at Canada House in Olympic Park on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Larry Lage)

Lord Stanley is receiving a warm welcome in Sochi.

The Stanley Cup made an appearance at the Olympics on Monday, making several stops around Olympic Park, including the USA House and Canada House.

“It’s yours — for an hour,” Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut told the packed house.

Dozens of people lined up to pose for pictures with it. Some put their arms around Cup, which is awarded to the NHL’s champion each year and is one of the most revered trophies in all of professional sports, as if it was a friend.

Some stood off to the side, perhaps in awe, as their picture was taken next to it.

Jade Agosta, whose sister, Meghan, is a star for the Canadian Olympic hockey team, was one of the many people who kissed the Cup.

“That was pretty cool,” she said.

Reported by LARRY LAGE of the Associated Press from SOCHI, Russia. Larry Lage — Twitter http://twitter.com/larrylage

OLYMPIC PHOTO GALLERY

Norway's Tiril Eckhoff, left, and Germany's Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle sprint towards the finish line to finish third and fourth in the women's biathlon 12.5k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff, left, and Germany’s Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle sprint towards the finish line to finish third and fourth in the women’s biathlon 12.5k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Natalie Spooner of Canada reacts after scoring a goal against Switzerland during the first period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women's semifinal ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Natalie Spooner of Canada reacts after scoring a goal against Switzerland during the first period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women’s semifinal ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas of Lithuania compete in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas of Lithuania compete in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Brianna Decker of the United States reacts after scoring a goal against Sweden during the third period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women's semifinal ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The USA won 6-1. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Brianna Decker of the United States reacts after scoring a goal against Sweden during the third period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women’s semifinal ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The USA won 6-1. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Russia's Timofei Slivets jumps during men's freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Russia’s Timofei Slivets jumps during men’s freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

The skis of Norway's Rune Velta bend as he lands his trial jump during the ski jumping large hill team competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

The skis of Norway’s Rune Velta bend as he lands his trial jump during the ski jumping large hill team competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

The team from Jamaica JAM-1, piloted by Winston Watts and brakeman Marvin Dixon, take a curve during the men's two-man bobsled competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The team from Jamaica JAM-1, piloted by Winston Watts and brakeman Marvin Dixon, take a curve during the men’s two-man bobsled competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The athletes shoot during the women's biathlon 12.5k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The athletes shoot during the women’s biathlon 12.5k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Russia's Ilya Burov sticks out his tongue after crashing following his landing in the men's freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Russia’s Ilya Burov sticks out his tongue after crashing following his landing in the men’s freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The team from Russia RUS-1, piloted by Alexander Zubkov and brakeman Alexey Voevoda, celebrate their gold medal run during the men's two-man bobsled competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The team from Russia RUS-1, piloted by Alexander Zubkov and brakeman Alexey Voevoda, celebrate their gold medal run during the men’s two-man bobsled competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Alex Carpenter of the United States shoots on goalkeeper Valentina Wallner of Sweden during the first period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women's semifinal ice hockey game at Shayba Arena Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Alex Carpenter of the United States shoots on goalkeeper Valentina Wallner of Sweden during the first period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women’s semifinal ice hockey game at Shayba Arena Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

U.S. speedskaters Joey Mantia, rear left, Shani davis, front left, Brian Hansen, second right, and Jonathan Kuck, right, practice for the team pursuit at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

U.S. speedskaters Joey Mantia, rear left, Shani davis, front left, Brian Hansen, second right, and Jonathan Kuck, right, practice for the team pursuit at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

China's Liu Zhongqing jumps during men's freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

China’s Liu Zhongqing jumps during men’s freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Canada's Travis Gerrits crashes on landing during men's freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Canada’s Travis Gerrits crashes on landing during men’s freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Silver medalist Czech Republic's Gabriela Soukalova, left, celebrates with gold medal's winner Belarus' Darya Domracheva after the women's biathlon 12.5k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Silver medalist Czech Republic’s Gabriela Soukalova, left, celebrates with gold medal’s winner Belarus’ Darya Domracheva after the women’s biathlon 12.5k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Julia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov of Azerbaijan compete in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Julia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov of Azerbaijan compete in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

The team from France, who won the bronze medal in the men's cross-country 4x10K relay, jump on the podium during their medals ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip )

The team from France, who won the bronze medal in the men’s cross-country 4x10K relay, jump on the podium during their medals ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip )

The team from the United States USA-3, Nick Cunningham, second from left, and brakeman Dallas Robinson,  far left, greet teammates from USA-3, Nick Cunningham and brakeman Dallas Robinson, as they finish their final run during the men's two-man bobsled competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The team from the United States USA-3, Nick Cunningham, second from left, and brakeman Dallas Robinson, far left, greet teammates from USA-3, Nick Cunningham and brakeman Dallas Robinson, as they finish their final run during the men’s two-man bobsled competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Norway’s Haavard Vad Petersson, left, and Christoffer Svae sweep ahead of the stone during men's curling competition against Denmark at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Norway’s Haavard Vad Petersson, left, and Christoffer Svae sweep ahead of the stone during men’s curling competition against Denmark at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Belarus' Darya Domracheva celebrates winning the gold medal in the women's biathlon 12.5k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Belarus’ Darya Domracheva celebrates winning the gold medal in the women’s biathlon 12.5k mass-start, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Goalkeeper Kim Martin Hasson of Sweden blocks a shot by Jocelyne Lamoureux of the United States as Lina Backlin of Sweden defends during the third period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women's semifinal ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The USA won 6-1. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Goalkeeper Kim Martin Hasson of Sweden blocks a shot by Jocelyne Lamoureux of the United States as Lina Backlin of Sweden defends during the third period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women’s semifinal ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The USA won 6-1. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Danielle O'Brien and Gregory Merriman of Australia wait in the results area after competing in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Danielle O’Brien and Gregory Merriman of Australia wait in the results area after competing in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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Russian-U.S. diplomacy at the Winter Games (Plus a 21-picture Sochi Olympics photo gallery)

Russia's Anton Gafarov falls with a broken ski during his men's semifinal of the cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Russia’s Anton Gafarov falls with a broken ski during his men’s semifinal of the cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

It was diplomacy, playing out on the snow: An American who helped a Russian finish his Olympic race has drawn praise from the IOC.jd-olympicdreamslogo

Justin Wadsworth, a three-time U.S. Olympian who is now head coach of the Canadian cross-country team, witnessed Anton Gafarov falling and breaking his left ski during the first semifinal heat of the men’s sprint at the Sochi Games on Tuesday.

Wadsworth didn’t think long and ran onto the track to hand Gafarov a new ski, enabling the Russian to continue his run into the Laura cross-country stadium. Gafarov was then cheered by his home crowd despite finishing 2 minutes, 49.62 seconds off the lead.

A La Jolla, Cal., native who grew up in the Seattle area and now lives in Bend, Oregon, Wadsworth said he wanted Gafarov to have a chance to complete the race with dignity. By then, no Canadian was left in the competition; the country’s best finisher, Alex Harvey, was beaten in the quarterfinals.

“It is entirely to be applauded,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Wednesday. “That’s one of the things why we all love the Olympics, because, as well as being an amazing elite sport, there is something special as well, there are values underlying it as well.”

A similar Olympic spirit between nations has surfaced before at cross-country skiing these Games. Last week, the Russian team granted Germany access for one night to its grinding machine, used to prepare skis before a race, after the Germans’ own gear got damaged during transport to Sochi.

—Reported by ERIC WILLEMSEN of the Associated Press from
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Twitter http://twitter.com/eWilmedia

___

WAITING FOR A MEDAL

Erin Hamlin of the United States waves the flag after finishing her final run to win the bronze medalduring the women's singles luge competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Erin Hamlin of the United States waves the flag after finishing her final run to win the bronze medalduring the women’s singles luge competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Erin Hamlin spent more than half her life waiting to become an Olympic medalist.

Hey, what’s one more day?

Hamlin finished third in the Olympic women’s luge competition on Tuesday night — but went home with only a bunch of flowers. The bronze medal wasn’t being awarded until Wednesday, in a separate ceremony down in Sochi, roughly an hour’s drive from the Sanki Sliding Center where she competed.

“It’s still pretty cool,” said Hamlin, from Remsen, N.Y. “The excitement gets drawn out, so it’s still awesome.”

And given how impressed Hamlin is with the design of the medals, just getting one was enough to make her happy. Another 24 hours or so of waiting wasn’t going to bother her whatsoever.

“They’re awesome,” Hamlin said. “I remember seeing them for the first time and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. If there’s ever a time to win a medal, it’s this time, because those are the coolest medals ever.’”

Reported by TIM REYNOLDS of the Associated Press from KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Twitter http://twitter.com/ByTimReynolds

TRY WALKING UP THE TRACK

Loading up on carbs with Russian bread and potatoes for a long Olympic day has consequences. There’s one way to burn those extra calories: Walk the world’s longest bobsled track.

From the bottom up.

With Springsteen queued up on my iPod, I began the long climb up the Sanki Sliding Center track, which snakes down the side of one of the snow-kissed Caucasus Mountains northeast of Sochi. With “Born to Run” blasting in my ears — Sorry, Boss, I’m walking — I passed a trio of smiling volunteers who seemed amused to see the “friendly American writer” on his trek.

After crossing a pedestrian bridge, the incline got super steep. As I navigated Curve 6, my heart rate soared well into triple digits. Two purple-clad Russian police barely nodded as I huffed and puffed my way around several tourists stopping to take photos next to the icy track.

After a quick pit stop to catch my breath and soak in the breathtaking view, I powered past two guys dressed in red-white-and-blue onesies decorated like an American flag. They turned out to be the brothers of U.S. luger Erin Hamlin, who won a bronze medal, the first for an American singles slider. Rounding another turn, I saw the start house and imagined how Hillary felt staring at Everest’s summit.

Well, hardly the Himalayas. But my Olympic conquest.

When I reached the top, another Russian volunteer asked if he could help.

Sure, I said. “How about a ride down?”

Reported by TOM WITHERS of the Associated Press from KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Twitter http://twitter.com/twithersAP

YOUR OLYMPIC PHOTO GALLERY

A man rappels down the Bolshoy Ice Dome to repair a light fixture at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A man rappels down the Bolshoy Ice Dome to repair a light fixture at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Mark Tuitert of the Netherlands competes in the men's 1,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip )

Mark Tuitert of the Netherlands competes in the men’s 1,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip )

In this photo taken with a fisheye lens France's Jason Lamy Chappuis makes his trial jump during the ski jumping portion of the Nordic combined at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

In this photo taken with a fisheye lens France’s Jason Lamy Chappuis makes his trial jump during the ski jumping portion of the Nordic combined at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

The doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt from Germany speed down the track on their first run during the men's doubles luge at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt from Germany speed down the track on their first run during the men’s doubles luge at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Women's downhill gold medal winners Switzerland's Dominique Gisin, left, and Slovenia's Tina Maze, right, celebrate on the podium during a flower ceremony at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Women’s downhill gold medal winners Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin, left, and Slovenia’s Tina Maze, right, celebrate on the podium during a flower ceremony at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

United States' Hannah Teter wears goggles with a strap in the colors of the U.S. flag while competing in the women's snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

United States’ Hannah Teter wears goggles with a strap in the colors of the U.S. flag while competing in the women’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Britain's Chemmy Alcott smiles after finishing the women's downhill at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Britain’s Chemmy Alcott smiles after finishing the women’s downhill at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Meghan Agosta-Marciano of Canada celebrates her second goal of the game against USA Goalkeeper Jessie Vetter during the third period of the women's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada won 3-2 over the United States. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, Pool)

Meghan Agosta-Marciano of Canada celebrates her second goal of the game against USA Goalkeeper Jessie Vetter during the third period of the women’s ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Canada won 3-2 over the United States. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, Pool)

Canada's Katie Tsuyuki competes in the women's snowboard halfpipe semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Canada’s Katie Tsuyuki competes in the women’s snowboard halfpipe semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Australia's Stephanie Magiros waves after a run in the women's snowboard halfpipe semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Australia’s Stephanie Magiros waves after a run in the women’s snowboard halfpipe semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Shani Davis of the U.S. gestures in dejection after competing in the men's 1,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Shani Davis of the U.S. gestures in dejection after competing in the men’s 1,000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Slippers check the surface of the halfpipe during a break in the women's snowboard halfpipe semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Slippers check the surface of the halfpipe during a break in the women’s snowboard halfpipe semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

A worker throws salt during the women's snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

A worker throws salt during the women’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Anne Schleper of the United States celebrates a goal against Canada during the second period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women's ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Anne Schleper of the United States celebrates a goal against Canada during the second period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women’s ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

China's skip Wang Bingyu watches her teammates during the women's curling competition against the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

China’s skip Wang Bingyu watches her teammates during the women’s curling competition against the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Argentina's Macarena Simari Birkner makes a jump during the women's downhill at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Argentina’s Macarena Simari Birkner makes a jump during the women’s downhill at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Japan's Rana Okada competes in the women's snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Japan’s Rana Okada competes in the women’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise of Italy compete in the pairs free skate figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise of Italy compete in the pairs free skate figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

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Shaun offers hugs at Winter Games (Plus a 22-picture Sochi Olympics photo gallery)

Shaun White of the United States waves to the crowd after a run during the men's snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Shaun White of the United States waves to the crowd after a run during the men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Hours before he went for the win, Shaun White already had delivered a gold-medal moment.jd-olympicdreamslogo

Shortly after qualifying for the Olympic halfpipe final Tuesday, White vaulted the barriers separating him from the fans and gave two young cancer patients high-fives and hugs.

“I thought, ‘He’s here? What?’” said Ben Hughes, a 10-year-old from St. Louis who was diagnosed with luekemia four years ago.

Also sharing the love was 19-year-old Kaitlyn Lyle, who, like Hughes, was in Russia courtesy of the Make A Wish Foundation.

Lyle said she had “liked” White on his Facebook page.

“I had no idea he’d do this,” she said.

She was diagnosed a bit before the Vancouver Olympics and her wish was to come to Russia, where she was torn between asking for tickets for figure skating or snowboarding.

“But when I saw Shaun win gold (in Vancouver), I chose snowboarding,” she said.

Good choice.

Reported by EDDIE PELLS of the Associated Pres from KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia. Reach him on  Twitter https://twitter.com/epells

UP IN A TREE

Coaches perch in a tree to watch the downhill portion of the women's supercombined at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Coaches perch in a tree to watch the downhill portion of the women’s supercombined at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Alpine skiing coaches are also expert tree climbers.

That’s because lofty perches provide better and more expansive views of lengthy downhill courses, letting them see the best lines down the mountain for their skiers.

Coaches from most of the big teams at the Sochi Games have claimed a tree along the Rosa Khutor course. On some trees there’s even room for more than one coach.

U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick explains the process.

“You first go up, put the rope up, and do the old telephone pole technique with spikes on your feet,” he says. “Then the next days, you put your fixed line up and you just (climb) up, like you’re doing a big wall.”

Rearick’s spot is on the Big Pan section of the course, midway down and just above the key Bear’s Brow jump. He estimates that his perch is about 100 or 120 feet above the ground.

“There’s advantages and disadvantages,” Rearick said. “The advantage is I can see a lot more of the course. … You can see the difference in line relatively well. The disadvantages are you don’t see the angle when the athlete comes in and picks the ski up. So that’s what we actually changed today, we put some different video spots to look at where you pick the ski up before the roll. On the ground. Coaches on the ground.”

Reported by ANDREW DAMPF of the Associated Press from KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia. Reach him at Twitter http://twitter.com/asdampf

IT’S ALL ABOUT STYLE

Now that’s headgear.

Check out this image of 10 different helmets, taken by various Associated Press photographers during various skeleton training runs at the Sochi Olympics.

In photos taken Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 and Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, top from left, Eric Neilson of Canada, Janine Flock of Austria, Alexander Kroeckel of Germany, John Fairbairn of Canada, Sarah Reid of Canada; bottom row from left, Dominic Parsons of Britain, John Daly of the United States, Hiroatsu Takahashi of Japan, Sean Greenwood of Ireland, and Katie Uhlaender of the United States train in the men and women's skeleton at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo)

___
And now some more great images from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

during the women's biathlon 10k pursuit, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

during the women’s biathlon 10k pursuit, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer of Austria compete in the pairs short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer of Austria compete in the pairs short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Ami Nakamura of Japan and Yekaterina Lebedeva of Russia battle for control of the puck during the first period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women's ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Ami Nakamura of Japan and Yekaterina Lebedeva of Russia battle for control of the puck during the first period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women’s ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Yvonne Daldossi of Italy competes in the second heat of the women's 500-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Yvonne Daldossi of Italy competes in the second heat of the women’s 500-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A cartridge flies out of the rifle of Austria's Lisa Theresa Hauser during the women's biathlon 10k pursuit, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

A cartridge flies out of the rifle of Austria’s Lisa Theresa Hauser during the women’s biathlon 10k pursuit, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise of Italy compete in the pairs short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise of Italy compete in the pairs short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Matteo Guarise of Italy falls as he and Nicole Della Monica compete in the pairs short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Matteo Guarise of Italy falls as he and Nicole Della Monica compete in the pairs short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Canada's Brad Martin falls during the men's snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Canada’s Brad Martin falls during the men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

during the men's skeleton training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

during the men’s skeleton training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Skips from top to bottom, Switzerland's Mirjam Ott, Denmark's Lene Nielsen, United States' Erika Brown, Russia's Anna Sidorova, and Japan's Ayumi Ogasawara look down the ice sheets during the women's curling competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Skips from top to bottom, Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott, Denmark’s Lene Nielsen, United States’ Erika Brown, Russia’s Anna Sidorova, and Japan’s Ayumi Ogasawara look down the ice sheets during the women’s curling competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

China's skip Liu Rui, below, shouts to his team as they approach the house as John Shuster of the United States looks on during men's curling competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

China’s skip Liu Rui, below, shouts to his team as they approach the house as John Shuster of the United States looks on during men’s curling competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

This combination of four images shows Canada's Yuki Tsubota crashing on her last run in the women's freestyle skiing slopestyle final at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.  (AP Photos/Andy Wong/Jae C. Hong)

This combination of four images shows Canada’s Yuki Tsubota crashing on her last run in the women’s freestyle skiing slopestyle final at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photos/Andy Wong/Jae C. Hong)

Norway's Ola Vigen Hattestad competes on his way to win the gold medal in the men's cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Norway’s Ola Vigen Hattestad competes on his way to win the gold medal in the men’s cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Goalkeeper Jennifer Harss of Germany dives on the puck during the second period of the game against Sweden at the 2014 Winter Olympics women's ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Goalkeeper Jennifer Harss of Germany dives on the puck during the second period of the game against Sweden at the 2014 Winter Olympics women’s ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

women's skeleton singles training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

women’s skeleton singles training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Julia Krass of the United States waits for her score after a run in the women's freestyle skiing slopestyle qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Julia Krass of the United States waits for her score after a run in the women’s freestyle skiing slopestyle qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde makes a turn during Men's super combined downhill training at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde makes a turn during Men’s super combined downhill training at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Danny Davis of the United States competes during the men's snowboard halfpipe qualifying session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Danny Davis of the United States competes during the men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Sweden's Emil Joensson sits in the snow after the men's final of the cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Sweden’s Emil Joensson sits in the snow after the men’s final of the cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

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