The U.S. Olympic team got a huge boost from its men's slopestyle skiers when they swept the gold, silver and bronze Thursday. They are among a remarkable trend in Sochi: Many of America's highly touted Olympic veterans have failed to live up to their reputations, while lesser-known athletes have stepped in to fill the void.
Here's a look at that development, and others, from day 6 of the Winter Olympics.
America’s slopestyle sweep
The U.S. owned the first-ever men’s slopestyle skiing event on Thursday, sweeping the podium — a feat the Americans hadn't accomplished since their 2002 rout in the men’s snowboard halfpipe.
Joss Christensen won gold and was joined on the podium by teammates Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper.
“It’s the kind of thing you don’t even let yourself think about,” U.S. coach Skogen Sprang said, according to the Associated Press. “I still don’t believe it happened.”
Kenworthy, meanwhile, will take home something else with his silver medal: a stray dog. In his down time, he’s been working to find homes for many of Sochi’s many strays. He’s committed to adopting one himself.
While many of the U.S. team’s most highly touted athletes have failed to earn medals, its lesser known extreme-sports competitors have risen to the occasion.
So far, all of America’s gold medals have come in the freestyle and snowboarding events. Those athletes have been shining examples of the American over-achievement that was lacking elsewhere.
Their sweep Thursday in the men's slopestyle skiing event was just the latest.
Earlier, it was snowboarders Kaitlyn Farrington winning gold and Kelly Clark bronze in the women’s halfpipe on Wednesday.
Team USA's women in particular have picked up the slack. They won seven of the U.S.’s first eight individual medals in Sochi.
Some of the high-profile American athletes still have time to shine. That includes Alpine skier Ted Ligety, and figure skaters Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner.
U.S. moves up in medals
Thanks to its all-American slopestyle finish, the U.S. team has moved to third in the overall medal standings.
It has 12 total medals, four of them gold and two of them silver.
That puts the U.S. a smidgen behind second-place Netherlands, which also has 12 total medals and four golds. But the Dutch have one more silver than the Americans.
Norway leads with 13 total medals, including four golds.
Host Russia ended Thursday in fourth place, with 11 medals.
Drama at the Palace
Figure skating is a sport that invites high drama.
But it's usually nothing like this.
The drama in Thursday’s topsy-turvy men’s competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace began with the withdrawal of injured Russian legend Evgeni Plushenko — who immediately announced his retirement.
That was followed by a scary tumble by top-ranked American Jeremy Abbott, who lay for several seconds on the ice before returning to his blades and finishing his program respectably.
Then 19-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan stepped into the void with a high-octane routine that scored a 101.75 — a record for a men’s short skate competition. It dwarfed three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada’s second-place score of 97.52.
Third place belonged to Javier Fernandez of Spain, who scored 86.98.
Another surprise came from the competition’s other American, Jason Brown, who put himself into contention for bronze with a sparkling, if technically conservative, routine. His 86.00 was good enough for sixth place.
Medals in the two-part event will be decided Friday, after the free skate program.
U.S. hockey romps
Four years after losing in the gold medal game to Canada, the U.S. men’s hockey team is off to a torrid start.
They beat Slovakia 7-1 in the opening round of competition on Thursday.
Six of those goals came during the second period. Paul Stastny scored two of them.
The game was supposed to be a tough one, since Slovakia has several NHL stars on its roster.
The offensive onslaught helped the Americans’ momentum as they head into a Saturday showdown with Russia.