The Sochi Games were something of a wake-up call for U.S. fans and athletes accustomed to the country's strong presence on the medal podium in staple Winter events.
The U.S. approaches the end of the Sochi Games tied with Canada for third place in the gold medal count, behind Russia and Norway. But anyone who has closely followed along knows that the country's dominance in two of the youngest Olympic sports salvaged what was otherwise a shaky performance.
Without the contributions of the freestyle skiing and snowboarding teams, the U.S — which uncharacteristically stumbled in more traditional sports like figure skating and speed skating — would be sitting in 12th place behind countries such as Belarus, Poland and France.
An early glimpse of the USA's vulnerability came toward the end of the first week of competition when it dropped to 7th place in the medal standings. It recovered in the second week, thanks to Alpine skiers Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White and the heroics of the U.S. freestyle skiing team, which racked up more than 30 percent of the U.S. gold medal haul.
Steve Roush, the former chief of sport performance for the U.S. Olympic Committee, told The Associated Press that the USA's dip in dominance was less an indication of the quality of its athletes than the improvements of its rivals.
"It will be very difficult to maintain that level of medal production for the U.S. going forward,"Roush said. "The rest of the world is catching up."
Scroll down for a look at what went right, and what went terribly wrong for Team USA in Sochi.
- The U.S. Snowboarding Team
Sage Kotsenburg set the tone for the rest of the snowboarding competition when he nailed his final run down the treacherous slopestyle course, clinching the first gold of the Games. His victory made a powerful statement on the first day of competition: The U.S. snowboarders didn't need Shaun White to win.
White, one of the world's most recognizable snowboarding icons, had pulled out of the slopestyle competition to focus exclusively on defending his halfpipe title. He never made it to the podium, after failing to land an ambitious jump, but his teammates more than compensated for his disappointing fourth-place finish.
Less than 24 hours after Kotsenburg won the slopestyle gold, American Jamie Anderson did the same in the women's competition. The medal streak continued in the women's halfpipe event where Kaitlyn Farrington and Kelly Clark picked up the boys' slack, with a gold and bronze in the event.
Alex Deibold won the fifth and final snowboarding medal for Team USA — a bronze in the men's snowboard cross.
- The U.S. Freestyle Skiing Team
The U.S. won seven medals — three of them gold — in freestyle skiing, thanks in large part to a stunning sweep in the men's slopestyle competition. Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nicholas Goepper occupied the entire podium in the event's Olympic debut.
Americans also took both halfpipe golds: David Wise won the men's event and Maddie Bowman won the women's.
Devin Logan and Hannah Kearney topped the team off with a slopestyle silver and moguls bronze.
The six gold medals won between the snowboarding and freestyle skiing teams account for more than 65 percent of the USA's total medal count. Five of the golds, or 56 percent of the USA's total, came from events that weren't in the Olympics until this year — slopestyle snowboarding and skiing and halfpipe skiing. If it weren't for these additions, the U.S. could have been left in embarrassing shape.
- Meryl Davis and Charlie White
Davis and White were among the few gold medal favorites to actually come through with a win. Their victory in the ice dancing competition was sorely needed in Sochi as the U.S. failed — for the first time since 1936 — to get a male or female individual skater onto the medal podium.
The U.S. women's medal drought began in Vancouver, where, for the first time since 1964, no American woman managed to crack the top three. American Evan Lysacek, however, was able to compensate for the loss by nailing a first place victory in the men's competition. This year neither Jason Brown, Jeremy Abbott nor any of the three women skating for the U.S. made it to the podium. Gracie Gold came the closest, landing in fourth place, more than 10 points behind Italian bronze medal winner Carolina Kostner.
The U.S. took the bronze in the new team event, but Davis and White were the only American skaters who managed to win a gold.
- Ted Ligety
Alpine skier Ted Ligety got off to a rocky start in Sochi with a pair of poor performances in the super-G and super combined. Still, the 29-year-old managed to turn things around in the giant slalom, notching a gold that both boosted the U.S.medal standing and put him into the history books as the first American to ever win the Olympic race.
- Mikaela Shiffrin
Shriffin, an 18-year-old from Vail, Colo. became the youngest skier ever to win the Olympic slalom event. She set the pace in her first run down the slushy Rosa Khutor course and nearly lost it on the second when she took a wide turn around a gate and nearly came off the course. She managed to recover, however, and skied into history, delivering the U.S. its final gold medal of the Games.
- Steven Holcomb and his bobsled team
Steven Holcomb of Park City, Utah and Steven Langton of Melrose, Mass. became the first Americans to win a medal in the two-man bobsled contest since 1952. Days later Holcomb, Langton and teammates Curt Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt won the final U.S. medal of the Sochi Games -- a bronze in the four-man race.
The third-place finishes represented a huge personal victory for Holcomb, a former Utah National Guardsman, who battled severe vision problems and depression for years before making it to the Olympics.
- The U.S. Speedskating Team
The U.S. Speedskating team failed to get on the podium in any of the sport's 11 Sochi events. Shani Davis, who racked up four medals in the last two Olympic Games, was expected to continue his haul, but never managed to finish better than 8th place.
While Davis expressed disappointment in himself for his performance at the Games, some of his teammates chose instead to point the blame elsewhere. Some backed a theory that their high-tech Under Armour suits were actually slowing them down, while skater Maria Lamb accused the U.S. Speedskating leadership of working against the interests of the team. "Over the last few years, a few of us have raced better in spite of the organization rather than because of it," she said, according to the Associated Press.
- The U.S. Curling Team
The women's U.S. curling team won just one of nine games in Sochi, ending the competition dead last. The men didn't do much better. The team won just two games and finished second to last ahead of Germany.
- U.S. Women's Hockey Team
The U.S. was minutes away from reversing its long legacy of finishing second to Canada, when everything fell apart. A two-goal lead at the end of the third period suddenly vanished as a mix of bad luck and American mistakes pushed the game into overtime, and ultimately into the Canadians' favor.
- The U.S. Individual Figure Skaters
The Sochi Games were the first Olympics since 1936 in which neither a man nor woman from the U.S. won a medal in an individual figure skating event. Though the U.S. did send a strong group into competition, each and every individual skater fell at least once during his or her competition. The slip-ups cost points none of the skaters could afford to lose in a strong field of contenders getting even stronger with every passing Olympic Games.