the spontaneous commentary underscored the unabashed joy athletes feel "It's like Disney World for athletes and I got to meet Mickey Mouse."
-- Women's curling gold medalist Kirsten Wall of Canada, on meeting NHL star Sidney Crosby
SOCHI, Russia --Sometimes Olympians say the darnest things. The rare nuggets out of Sochi have highlighted the Winter Olympics this past month after a steady diet of pedestrian responses streaming numbly out of news conferences and competition sites.
The dearly departed Art Linkletter could have turned this into a zinger of a show.
For every negative word that has sucked the oxygen from the Olympic room, when competing on the world stage.
Most everything else along the Black Sea and up into the Caucasus Mountains has been background noise. The strange toilet seats, partially built hotels, the stray dogs, springtime weather and video of Cossacks horse-whipping Pussy Riot.
All of it was part of the overall fabric of the first Winter Olympics in Russia.
Little of it probably will provide lingering memories of this 17-day winter sports carnival.
"I didn't make it, but maybe he will give me a trip to Egypt."
-- Austrian bronze medalist Benjamin Karl, on the president of his country's ski federation promising a trip to Hawaii if he won a gold medal in snowboarding.
The so-called "Dude sports" have helped re-calibrate the Olympics from a fuddy-duddy production into something lively and attractive to younger audiences. We could always count on the snowboarders to be their free-spirited selves while launching off steep and dangerous ledges and tumbling through space as if strolling down the street. They were equally as refreshing after safe landings.
"Oh no. It would be too much. Two girls in one room is a mess. If two girls were on a luge, they would pull each other's eyes out."
--Tatyana Ivanova of Russia, on the idea of women participating in doubles luge
The traditional sports still remind us of why we suddenly care so much about something other than major sports.
Here are a few noteworthy milestones that occurred well off the American radar:
Those performances provide context into what makes the quadrennial games so compelling. It often boils down to personal sacrifice far, far from fleeting fame.
"We eat as much as possible and slap each other in the face."
-- Andrew Matthews, Great Britain bobsledder on pre-race routines.
Sochi organizers might have borrowed the Brits' motivation as they took a quaint Russian ski resort and modernized it all within a few years. It was a massive undertaking with 100,000 construction workers. A year ago, many U.S. athletes who visited the test sites in Krasyana Polyana, Russia, expressed skepticism that organizers could complete the project in time.
Russians had to build a bobsled track, a ski jump facility and greatly improve the region's groomed slopes. They also had to create mountain towns and roads where none existed.
All the doubts washed away on the first day of competition Feb. 6. The bobsled track has favored the home team, as it does in almost every Olympics. But none of the athletes have had serious crashes attributed to poor track conditions.
Across the spectrum the Sochi Games' facilities received broad praise when weather conditions weren't affecting them.
"It was either waterproof or no mascara because if I start crying, I do not want to look like a witch."
--Rising Colorado ski star Mikaela Shiffrin, on what makeup to wear in case she won a gold medal
As the Sochi Games draw to a close, many athletes might shed a tear while saying "pa-ka" to Russia. They were greatly moved by the legion of friendly volunteers -- young men and women who descended on Sochi from across the vast lands of Russia to help. "They truly have made this a spectacular experience," said hockey player Julie Chu, America's flagbearer for Sunday's Closing Ceremony.
The young volunteers represented a new face of Russia for those who had not visited the country recently, or cling to old-fashioned Cold War era stereotypes. They were almost always open to strike up a conversation and share a little about themselves. But they also never wavered from one Russian formality. For every thank you came a simple reply: Pa-zhal-sta.