SOCHI 2014 WINTER OLYMPICS
GREAT BRITAIN delivered its best Winter Olympics performance in 90 years, winning four medals over the last 17 days in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Lizzy Yarnold became only Team GB's 10th ever Winter Olympic champion, winning gold in the skeleton, while Jenny Jones won a first ever medal for Britain on snow in the slopestyle snowboarding.
Both of the curling teams also made it onto the podium. David Murdoch's men took silver and Eve Muirhead's women won an emotional bronze as Britain matched exactly their record in the inaugural Games in Chamonix with one gold, one silver and two bronzes.
In doing so this time, Team GB importantly exceeded the minimum medal target of three, set by UK Sport, the country's high-performance funding agency.
The investment of almost £14m over the past four years has paid off then, and now winter sports rightly looks set to receive a boost for the next Games in Pyeongchang in South Korea in 2018.
Yes, Britain is never really going to compete right at the top end of the Winter Olympics medal table against the likes of Russia, Norway, Canada and United States.
But the signs are already there that those glorious British sporting moments which seemed to come around all too sparingly at Winter Olympics may start to happen just a little more regularly.
Certainly, that has been the case for the last two-and-a-half weeks, and it began at the very beginning. The Games were officially only two days old when Britain first tasted success.
Jenny Jones, a 33-year-old from Bristol, had blazed a trail in her sport over the years, winning three gold medals at Winter X Games having learned her trade while working as a chalet maid in the French Alps.
Finally, in Sochi, her sport had received Olympic recognition, and Jones did not miss her chance.
She even held the lead following her score of 87.25 on her second run but then had to watch and wait while 10 athletes tried to beat her score.
Only two managed it, and Britain's historic first medal on snow was secured when the final contender, Austrian Anna Gasser fell.
Sadly, that moment was spoilt slightly for me by a jingoistic BBC commentary team who roundly celebrated Gasser's demise by screeching hysterically down the mike.
The incident showed the risks behind employing close friends and team mates to deliver the commentary.
And, while it was hardly the crime of the century and may have even added to the event for some, it was just as well the BBC could excuse the behaviour on this occasion by admitting "[the] excitement got the better of them".
Strangely enough, rather more measured tones greeted Lizzy Yarnold's gold though this was as much as a result of the 25-year-old's own dominance than anything else.
Yarnold led by almost half-a-second following the first two runs, and then extended this to 0.78 seconds after setting a track record in her third run.
The fourth run thus became something a procession for the former heptathlete from Sevenoaks in Kent, who was introduced to skeleton in 2008 by the UK Sport-backed programme Girls4Gold.
Hardly at her best, Yarnold actually stretched out her margin of victory still further, ultimately winning by a massive 0.97 seconds.
And, consequently, she maintained Great Britain's brilliant record of having won a women's skeleton medal in every Winter Olympics since the event was introduced in 2002.
Curling has also been a sport which has furnished Britain with a good helping of success over the years, notably in 2002 when skip Rhona Martin famously led her team to Olympic gold.
Martin is now a coach to her team's youthful successors who are themselves spearheaded by their determined skip Eve Muirhead, competing at her second Olympics at the age of just 23.
The women came into the event as reigning world champions but found the round-robin stage tough going, eventually qualifying for the semi finals in fourth with a 5-4 win-loss record.
Nevertheless, there had been some notable signs of their talent, no less than when they took a record seven from one end in a 12-3 victory over the United States.
But, having given away a 3-0 headstart after two ends, Canada were just too strong in the semis, and Muirhead's tearful team were a picture of devastation.
They showed some guts then not just to limp over the line when 3-1 down after four ends of the bronze medal match against Switzerland.
Level at half time after taking a two in the fifth, Britain began to control the match, blanking the seventh end and restricting the Swiss to one with the hammer in the ninth.
It meant Britain had the hammer, the vital last stone, going into the final end - and Muirhead used it to her full advantage with a nerveless draw into the house with her last shot for bronze.
The men's team, led by David Murdoch, also endured some torturous tussles in the Ice Cube Curling Centre, and they too finished the round-robin with a 5-4 win-loss record.
In the men's competition, though, that was not good enough for an automatic place in the semi finals with Norway finishing with an identical 5-4 ratio after a costly defeat to Denmark.
Britain thus faced a playoff against the flamboyant Norwegians for a place in the last four, and a tight match again went down to the last end.
Norway led 5-4 going into it but Britain had the hammer. Nevertheless, the pressure was all on Murdoch who had been left with a tough double take-out to leave Britain lying two for victory, or a simpler draw shot for one to take the tie into an extra end.
Murdoch had been attacking throughout the competition, narrowly missing a similar death-or-glory shot against Canada in the round-robin. Bearing that in mind, would he stick to his principles or play it safe?
The Lockerbie man thankfully chose the former - and, this time, he made it to ensure Britain had both of its teams in the semi finals.
Arguably, given the elation from their playoff success, the men had more momentum heading into their semi final, and it showed as they beat reigning world champions Sweden.
Again, it came down to Britain needing a two with the hammer from the final end. Again, Murdoch delivered, drawing into the house and perfectly leaving his stone on the button.
Victory had guaranteed Britain a medal but, sadly, the final was a journey too far for Murdoch and his men, as Canada ruthlessly took advantage of a slow start to lead 5-1 after three ends and 8-2 after six.
There were no death-or-glory shots to be made this time - nevertheless, Murdoch could still afford a smile.
This was his third Olympics and finally he had achieved a medal after disappointments in Turin in 2006, and particularly in Vancouver in 2010.
For the rest of the team, though, this was a first Olympics experience - and, indeed, much of the Team GB squad in Sochi has youth on its side.
Teenager Katie Summerhayes finished seventh and 20-year-old James Woods was fifth in the slopestyle freestyle skiing event
Meanwhile Billy Morgan, just 24, was 10th in the final of the men's slopestyle snowboarding having come top in the semi final round.
Overall, there were 13 top-eight finishes from British athletes and teams. The spirit of London 2012 was very much present in the British camp in Sochi.
Then, of course, there was poor Elise Christie, the short track speed skater.
Understandably disqualified in a racing incident in the 500m final, the 23-year-old was bizarrely adjudged not to have completed her heat in the 1500m after skating 1cm to the left of the finish line.
An emotional interview followed, as a clearly distraught Christie tried to make sense of the ruling while she also revealed that she had been the target of cyber bullying on Twitter.
Christie subsequently deleted her account and Team GB asked for social media providers, such as Twitter and Facebook, to offer more protection to its athletes.
Overall, though, it must be said that there has been excellent support for the British team, especially on Twitter.
#YarnyArmy and #lovecurling have trended, and followers of snowboarder Jones soared from 8,453 on 8 February to over 45,000 on the day she won her bronze.
For Christie, though, these seemed destined to be the Olympics that never were - and so it proved in her favoured event, the 1000m, where she received a penalty for the third time, despite being taken out by China's Jianrou Li.
A heartbreaking series of events then, and one can only hope Christie refuses to wilt and instead comes back stronger at a future Olympics.
Time is certainly on her side too, and Britain's reputation in the Winter Olympics is growing again so it would be a crying shame if she continued to miss out.
GREAT BRITAIN AT THE WINTER OLYMPICS
|1928||St Moritz (SUI)||0||0||1||1|
|1932||Lake Placid (USA)||0||0||0||-|
|1948||St Moritz (SUI)||0||0||2||2|
|1956||Cortina d'Ampezzo (ITA)||0||0||0||-|
|1960||Squaw Valley (USA)||0||0||0||-|
|1980||Lake Placid (USA)||1||0||0||1|
|2002||Salt Lake City (USA)||1||0||1||2|
GREAT BRITISH WINTER OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS
1924 Men's curling
1936 Men's ice hockey
1952 Jeannette Altwegg (figure skating)
1964 Tony Nash & Robin Dixon (two-man bobsleigh)
1976 John Curry (figure skating)
1980 Robin Cousins (figure skating)
1984 Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean (figure skating)
2002 Women's curling
2010 Amy Williams (skeleton)
2014 Lizzy Yarnold (skeleton)
Away from Team GB, and Russia topped the Sochi 2014 medal table following a late rush of gold medals including the four-man bobsleigh on the final day.
To President Vladimir Putin's obvious delight at the closing ceremony, the hosts finished with 13 golds, two ahead of long-time leaders Norway.
Previous hosts Canada were third with 10 golds including all four in the men and women's hockey and curling events. That left the United States down in fourth, their worst ranking since 1998.
Beaten in both hockey tournaments by the Canadians, some of the other big American stars - like Alpine skier Bode Miller and snowboarder Shaun White - failed to shine.
The biggest medal table shock, though, was Germany being beaten to a top-five placing by their neighbours Netherlands, a result of total Dutch domination in the speed skating events.
In all, the Dutch won 23 of their 24 medals from speed skating including all eight of their golds.
By contrast, the Germans dominated the luge, winning all four events in the sport for half of their golds - but it was still not enough to beat the Dutch.
Realistically, though, all eyes in these Games were on the Russians.
And, while Putin may not have got his wish for Russian hockey gold, the hosts' overall showing was much improved on their efforts four years ago in Canada when they finished down in 11th.
The staging of the event also passed off without any major incidents, the biggest faux-pas being an embarrassing malfunctioning hydraulic Olympic ring in the opening ceremony.
Yet even this had been turned on its head with unexpected good humour at the closing ceremony as the dancers arranged themselves to replicate the error in a self-depreciating manner.
If that had raised a smile or perhaps even a chuckle, attention now turns again to Putin and the Kremlin in respect of much weightier matters following the events over the last week in Ukraine.
Already, the rhetoric from Moscow appears to be escalating as the sun sets on Sochi and life moves on...