Stars and stories of Vancouver 2010
The 2010 Winter Olympics has provided compelling action on ice and snow, and a wealth of stories of endeavour, courage and heartbeak.
Everyone had a story to tell, but here we round up the stars who have lit up the Vancouver Games.
>Bilodeau became a national hero after winning gold on day three in Vancouver. Phoograph: PA
One day a humble moguls skier, the next the first ever Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil. The 22-year-old succeeded where none of his compatriots could in Montreal in 1976 or Calgary in 1988. From the moment the Games kicked off, the search was on for the hosts' first gold, but the baton was passed on as events came and went without success. Finally, on day three, Bilodeau delivered and became the darling of a nation. He cited his older brother Frederick, who has cerebral palsy, as his "inspiration" and Bilodeau Sr became almost as recognisable, appearing with Alexandre on chat shows, news channels and all across the newspapers.
The former Harry Potter lookalike - he used to wear small round specs like the child wizard - stormed back to win double gold medals in the normal and large hill ski jumping events, eight years after he came from nowhere to accomplish the same feat in Salt Lake City. Then, he was named Switzerland's sportsman of the year. After a period in the wilderness, he's got a good chance of that honour again, though he might face competition from Olympic downhill champion Didier Defago, giant slalom winner Carlo Janka and some bloke called Federer.
The snowboarding icon added another layer to the legend with his show-stopping victory in the men's half-pipe. With the gold medal already secured after a mesmeric first run, the 23-year-old treated the watching world to his now trademark trick, the double McTwist 1260, a mind-blowing manoeuvre involving two flips and three-and-a-half lateral rotations. The Californian was already a superstar when he won the title in Turin in 2006, but since then he has progressed the sport more than any other athlete in its history. As well as the double McTwist - or "Tomahawk" - he popularised the terrifying double cork 1080 with the help of a gigantic private half-pipe built by sponsors deep in the Colorado mountains.
The former bad boy of the US team, Miller banished the bad memories of Turin in 2006 with a full set of medals from Vancouver. Bronze in the downhill, silver in the super-G and gold in the super-combined cemented Miller's status as one of the most gifted skiers of his generation. After winning two silvers in Salt Lake City he left Turin without a single medal from five events - and dogged by acrimony over his "party" lifestyle. The fallout led to a split from the national set-up and he formed his own Team America. But that's all in the past. He's still a colourful character, but back in the fold Miller flourished with the in-form US team in Whistler.
The American speed queen came into the Olympics with a big reputation after winning five of the six World Cup downhills held so far this season. She was touted as being a potential medallist in all five disciplines - and already being dubbed "Miss Vonncouver" - but in the run-up to the Games there were doubts she would even compete after injuring her shin. The 25-year-old rose to the occasion by storming to the Olympic downhill title in spectacular fashion in her first event. But she could not repeat the feat, and despite winning bronze in the super-G, she crashed out of the giant slalom, slalom and super-combined. Her tumble in the GS meant team-mate and foe Julia Mancuso, who was already on course, had to begin her run again. In tears, Mancuso, who had already won two silvers, faded to eighth. And the Vonn-Mancuso rivalry deepened.
Britain's only medallist at the Games led from start to finish to win the women's skeleton crown at a canter. The amiable Williams defied a world ranking of sixth and proved her second place at last year's world championship was a sign of greater things to come. The down-to-earth 27-year-old from Bath glided through each round with a smile, an easy manner and a cool head to eclipse a host of more fancied sliders, including team-mate Shelley Rudman, the Turin silver medallist, and Canadian favourite Melissa Hollingsworth. Williams's achievement earned her the flag-bearing duties at the Closing Ceremony and will no doubt lead to further celebrity.
The short-track speed skater was bidding to become the most successful American athlete ever at the Winter Olympics and he didn't disappoint. Ohno picked up a silver and two bronzes in Vancouver to take his tally to eight medals in all (two gold, two silver, four bronze) to eclipse speedskater Bonnie Blair's six medals. A colourful character - he won the TV show Dancing with the Stars in 2007 - Ohno could have won more ironmongery but was disqualified for pushing in the 500m final after crossing the line second.
From Britain's medal target of three at the Games, at least one was expected to come from curling. David Murdoch's men's team were the world champions, while in 19-year-old Eve Muirhead the women were thought to have unearthed a gem.
But Muirhead's side lost three of their first six matches and were left needing to win their last two games and hope other results went their way. They didn't. Murdoch's men faced Sweden in the play-offs to decide the quarter-finalists, but despite fighting back from 5-2 down to force an extra end, they lost 7-6. A nation groaned, and the masses are now likely to forget all about curling for the next four years.
The 19-year-old South Korean was perhaps under more pressure than any other athlete to live up to the expectations of her home country, but Kim Yu Na took the women's figure skating title in serene and spectacular fashion. The South Korean superstar was the runaway leader after the short programme and blew the opposition away with a free skate described by 1980 gold medallist Robin Cousins as "absolutely gorgeous".
The Dutch skating phenomenon powered to gold in the 5,000m and looked almost certain to secure a second halfway through the 10,000m. But coach Gerard Kemkers incorrectly indicated he needed to change lanes and the 23-year-old was disqualified. Kramer was distraught, as you would be, and Kemkers will have to live with his actions for the rest of his life. But after harsh words, the pair have indicated they will continue to work together. Even IOC boss Jacques Rogge said he "suffered" with Kramer, calling him "the best speedskater of his generation". Kramer was also left frustrated after the Netherlands were surprisingly beaten by the USA in the semi-finals of the team pursuit. An Olympic record in the bronze medal race is unlikely to have been much consolation.
The 36-year-old Norwegian biathlon star fell short in his bid to equal Bjorn Daehlie as the most decorated Winter Olympian ever. The 36-year-old won a gold and a silver up at Whistler to take his career haul to 11 Olympic medals (six golds, four silvers, one bronze), one shy of fellow biathlete Daehlie, whose eight golds is also an Olympic record. Bjoerndalen led Norway to victory in the 4x7.5km relay and claimed silver in the 20km individual and insisted he still has designs on Daehlie's mark. "I will prepare for the next four years and do my best and I will be in shape in Sochi," he said.
The Canadian's bronze medal was one of the most emotional of the Games after she fought back the tears and heartache to compete just two days after the death of her mother, who had just arrived in Vancouver to cheer her on. The 24-year-old ranked third after the short programme and held on - willed by an entire nation would be more apt - to claim bronze following the free skate. She then carried the Canadian flag into the closing ceremony.
Skip Kevin Martin led his side to the gold medal after they achieved the unprecedented feat of going throughout the tournament unbeaten. The 43-year-old banished his demons and defied a reputation for losing his nerve in big matches to clinch his second Olympic medal. Martin failed with his final stone in the 2002 Salt Lake City final and again in the 2009 World Championships to David Murdoch's Scotland, but he guided John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Benjamin Hebert to a commanding 6-3 victory over Norway in the final.
If ever a country expected, this was it. Ice hockey is like a religion in Canada, and home fans simply refused to believe that they would not win men's hockey gold. "Our home, our game," was a familiar banner at matches, while every other person during the Games seemed to be decked out in red or white Canada hockey jerseys. However, the team struggled early on, only beating Switzerland on penalties, and losing to USA. Canadians were aghast. But the players seemed to benefit from an extra play-off match against Germany, and rejuvenated, they romped to the final. Waiting were their old foes USA, but this time Canada were triumphant, with who else but 22-year-old pin-up boy Sid "the Kid" Crosby scoring the overtime winner after the pulsating, thunderous match was tied 2-2.
Canada's Olympic bosses were determined to top the medal table at their Games and announced an ambitious $117m five-year project - dubbed "Own the Podium" - designed to help its athletes win more medals than any other nation. They began slowly and there was criticism that the programme was heaping undue pressure on Canadian athletes who were then failing. But a final surge saw Canada soar to 14 golds, the highest total ever reached by a single nation at a Winter Games. The achievement beat the previous best which was jointly held by the USSR and Norway. The irony is that Canada topped many worldwide medals tables that are ranked by golds won before overall total. That's except in Canada itself, where most tables rank according to overall medals won, placing the country third behind USA and Germany. Canada ended with a total of 26 (14 golds, seven silver, five bronze), USA amassed 37 (nine golds, 15 silver, 13 bronze) and Germany scored 30 (10 golds, 13 silver and seven bronze).
The 21-year-old's sickening death on the luge track on the eve of the Olympics cast a shadow over the Games that no amount of gold could totally relight. The track earned itself a killer reputation and all the athletes that followed deserve credit for pushing themselves down it. A moving memorial to Kumaritashvili was erected in Whistler, and the IOC have pledged to ensure the safety of future sliding tracks. But Vancouver 2010 will always be remembered with a lump in the throat.