Anything seems possible after these Winter Olympics
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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The 2018 Winter Olympics ended Sunday in a stunning array of light, color and joy, a show befitting a Games that will be remembered for their efficiency, decency and possibility.
Staged in the chilly and picturesque mountains 50 miles from North Korea, their arrival heralded by caution and concern, these Olympics came off without a hitch — unless you count the weather delays that wreaked havoc on the Alpine skiing schedule.
But fears of what might have been, of trouble from the North, turned into fervent hopes that these Olympics would be a steppingstone to history, that what began here in sports arenas built of ice and snow might lead to something so much more.
Was it too much to dream that an earnest, unified Korean women’s hockey team and a delightful North Korean pairs figure-skating team could help bring the two Koreas closer, perhaps someday bringing peace or even unification to the peninsula?
Almost anything seemed possible after South and North united as one Olympic team, when the North Korean cheer squad waved unification flags to celebrate a South Korean pairs figure-skating team and when officials from the two nations shared a skybox, a handshake and the promise of further conversation.
As a biting wind whipped through the peaks and valleys of the region, these were the Games that brought winter back to the Winter Olympics after a string of Olympics held in moderate climes.
They also were the Games in which the good guys fought back against the cheaters.
Well, kind of.
Russian athletes were here in spite of their nation’s massive state-sponsored doping program, but they were not here as usual, forced to take a new name — Olympic Athletes from Russia — and compete without their flag and national anthem.
When two Russian athletes were caught doping here, the International Olympic Committee’s plan to allow the Russian flag into the closing ceremony was appropriately derailed, with a guarantee that the whole sordid Russian doping mess would travel right along with the Olympic world as it marched toward the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Norway had a deliriously successful Games, winning more medals than any nation ever has at a Winter Olympics: 39, two more than the United States won in Vancouver in 2010.
Germany and Canada followed behind, then came the fourth-place United States with 23 medals, far below the 37 projected by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
While these might not have been the Games that the United States envisioned, with uneven performances from the mountains to the coastal venue cluster, they still left their indelible mark.
Nowhere was that more true than in ice hockey, where the U.S. women’s team, products of Title IX all, won its first gold medal in 20 years against archrival Canada in a game for the ages.
These were a far-flung Games, with athletes spread from the sea to the mountains. Critics could say that there was no ‘‘there there,’’ no centralized gathering spot as in, say, downtown Vancouver, and they probably would be right. A less organized group could have turned these logistics into a nightmare. But not the Pyeongchang leaders.
To call these Games efficient is to give them the ultimate compliment. It’s possible no Olympic Games have had so many moving pieces all run on time.
So now that the Olympics are over, what will we remember? Skiing surprises? Figure-skating slips and falls? Stars such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Yuzuru Hanyu, Ester Ledecka, Jessie Diggins, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir?
Or will it be a team of 23 young women from two warring nations who were thrown together just two weeks before these Olympics began, coached by a 29-year-old daughter of Canadian hockey?
The unified Korean hockey team never won a game and scored only one goal, but here’s hoping history judges those team members as the most important athletes to have been here.