SOCHI, Russia (AP) -- By the busload, the world's athletes and visitors rolled toward Sochi's airport and took off for home Monday, fresh from a Winter Games experience that many Russians pronounced a smashing success and that the Olympic movement's chief enthusiastically labeled a victory for the region and the host nation. "Yes! We did it!" one Olympic volunteer exulted as she darted into the night.
After 17 days of global sport and spotlight, Sochi ended the spirited chants of "Ro-ssi-ya! Ro-ssi-ya!" and started cleaning up.
Travelers through the region's airport, rebuilt completely for the games, reported briskly moving security lines and check-in times of anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours, depending on destination. On what was predicted to be the heaviest Olympic-related travel day, the transit situation seemed to come down to this: It was like a busy morning at any normal big-city airport.
By the Black Sea coastline, Olympic Park, which will be hosting events at the upcoming Paralympic Games, had cleared out. Like the city of Sochi around it, the park felt deserted except for the legions of volunteers in multicolored patchwork jackets who still patrolled the area. Most security barriers remained in place in anticipation of the Paralympics, but security was noticeably more relaxed.
These Winter Games, Russian President Vladimir Putin's political showpiece and bragging trophy, convened under storm clouds - international concerns about gay rights and fears of a terror attack among them. But athletes overwhelmingly chose not to use the Olympic stage to make any statements, and the games opened and closed with vigorous (if sometimes spotty) security and no sign of any potentially violent activity.
When it came to logistics and sports, Russia outdid itself. Beyond initial grumblings about unfinished hotels and stray dogs, the Olympic infrastructure performed close to flawlessly. And the athletes: The home team claimed 33 medals, its largest haul ever - even counting the Soviet Union days - and a far cry from the 2010 performance in Vancouver that disappointed Putin and so many Russians.
"Russia has delivered on its promise," said Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee.
The successes - and a visually rich closing-ceremony tour through Russian history that ended with a handoff to the next Winter Games host city, Pyeongchang in South Korea - produced a party-like-it's-1999 atmosphere across the finally chilly Olympic Park during Monday's early hours.
Young Sochi Games volunteers, restrained and professional for 17 days, busted loose, running around outside Fisht Stadium with whoops, hollers and squeals. Selfies gave way to enthusiastic group shots - and group hugs. "Thank you for coming! Thank you for being here!" volunteers shouted to passing visitors as Olympic Park emptied out.
"Amazing. Look at this. Look at what we got done," said Viktor Virchenko, a heavily mustachioed folk dancer from nearby Stanitsa Leningradskaya who was cheerfully stalking Olympic Park early Monday in traditional woolen hat and 19th-century regalia. "I am very proud," he said.
IOC President Thomas Bach, closing the games Sunday night, eschewed the wording of predecessors that sometimes tried to assess the overall quality of a particular Olympics. Instead, he focused on calling them "the athletes' games" and spent many words praising both the region and Putin. Russia, Bach said, came through when it needed to.
"What took decades in other parts of the world was achieved here in Sochi in just seven years," he said.
Which raises the question: What happens to Sochi next, now that it has been effectively built up from scratch? After billions in investment and a world-class event pulled off successfully, it has a G-8 summit and Formula One racing just around the corner.
But can it be a resort region with long-term viability, or will it - despite its mountains and water so conveniently close together - suffer the fate of some other former Olympic cities and struggle to bring the masses to its doorstep? Bach, for one, says it "definitely has a future" after a previous bid and two decades of preparation.
"Seeing now, 20 years after this transformation, it was really amazing," he said in the hours before the Olympics ended. "And now it will be important to secure the legacy of this games."
Many Russians give all credit to Putin.
"Good for him, our president. He built all this, developed all this. We didn't have this kind of resort before," said Sergei Lesnikov, a 54-year-old hockey coach from the city of Kirov. ""After the Olympics it will remain. ... Tell your friends and family to come and see it here. It's not so bad."
And Russia itself? Though the memorable images of the Sochi Games include Cossack militiamen beating young women activists, the overall impression is one of competence, optimism - and, of course, athletic prowess.
The country's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Kozak, paints a rosy picture of today's Russia - and tomorrow's: "The games have turned our country, its culture and the people into something that is a lot closer and more appealing and understandable for the rest of the world."
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. cruised down pit road, stopping just long enough for Rick Hendrick to climb halfway inside his window for the short lift to Victory Lane.
Once there, Junior slipped from the beloved No. 88 Chevrolet, bounded past TV cameras and hugged every single crew member he could find to thank them for getting him his second Daytona 500 victory.
This was a celebration 10 years in the making.
It probably won't be the last this season.
And maybe not the biggest.
"We're going for the jugular this year," Earnhardt said after Sunday night's win in the season-opening Daytona 500.
NASCAR's most popular driver had to wait out a rain delay of more than six hours, then a chaotic close to end a 55-race drought dating back to 2012. His breakthrough win came at Daytona International Speedway, where he'd finished second in three of the previous four 500s and won "The Great American Race" a decade ago.
His emotions were clearly mixed in the moments after the finish. He screamed the win was better than the first as he took the checkered flag, then did an about-face in Victory Lane.
"I'm grateful to have one it twice now. I was grateful to have won it once," he said. "In about six months, I'll be as urgent to try to do it a third time as I was after the first."
When he finally arrived for his post-race news conference, soaked in beer and champagne nearly two hours after the win and a little over 11 hours after the race first began, he practically sprinted into the room. Arms raised, he yelled "Woo!"
"I bet someone hasn't come in here and screamed in 30 years," he said early Monday morning. "They used to!"
They were screaming as he crossed the finish line - those who stayed in the grandstands through the rain delay, and his die-hard fans all across the country.
"The world is right right now - Dale Junior just won the Daytona 500," teammate Jeff Gordon said. "That's a sign it's going to be a great season."
Rain stopped the race about 45 minutes after it began for a delay of more than six hours. When it resumed, Earnhardt dominated at the track where his father was killed in an accident on the last lap of the 2001 race.
He led six times for a race-high 54 laps - all after the rain delay - and seemed to have it under control until things got chaotic near the end. There were 42 lead changes and four multi-car accidents as the field closed in on the checkered flag.
An accident with seven laps to go triggered by pole-sitter Austin Dillon, driving the No. 3 - Earnhardt's father's number made its return to the Daytona 500 for the first time since 2001 - set up a final two-lap shootout to the finish.
Earnhardt got a great jump past Brad Keselowski on the restart, and had Gordon behind him protecting his bumper. But Denny Hamlin came charging through the field and Earnhardt suddenly had a challenger with one lap to go.
Then an accident farther back involving former winners Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray brought out the caution and the win belonged to Earnhardt.
"We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart," Earnhardt said. "This is amazing. I can't believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn't happen twice, let alone once."
Hamlin, who won two other races in the buildup to Sunday and was trying to become the first driver to sweep Daytona, wound up second in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He was strongest before the rain delay, but had an issue with his radio when the race resumed and had difficulty hearing his spotter.
"It was tough and disappointing because I definitely could have used my spotter there at the end," Hamlin said. "I'm trying to look up at the scoreboard, trying to figure out how many laps are left. I'm so 50-50 on whether I'm (mad) or I'm happy. I just don't know. Any other year, I probably would have been jumping up and down."
Keselowski finished third in a Team Penske Ford, and said after watching a replay he knew he had no chance to win once drivers behind him committed to their moves and Hamlin came charging alongside him.
"I don't feel like there's anything I could have done differently," Keselowski said.
But as a driver who got his break when Earnhardt hired him to drive for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, Keselowski was able to deal with his disappointment.
"If there's ever a guy who is due, it's the guy who finished second three out of the last four years. He was due," Keselowski said. "So I'm happy for him and happy for all those guys. He's probably my best friend in the garage outside of my teammate."
Hendrick took fourth and fifth with Gordon and last year's race winner, Jimmie Johnson, in what quickly became a company-wide celebration.
"He's been knocking on the door of the 500 for a lot of years. He got it done tonight - did an awesome job," said Johnson, who beat Earnhardt to the finish line a year ago.
The win means Hendrick already has one of his four drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Under the new win-and-get-in format announced last month, Earnhardt is now eligible to race for the title and can spend the next 25 races preparing for the postseason.
"We might be in the Chase - I ain't going to worry about that," Earnhardt said from Victory Lane. "Trust me, man, we're going to have a blast this year."
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) -- Ted Ligety won the giant slalom at the Sochi Games with a dominating performance Wednesday, becoming the first American man to win two Olympic gold medals in Alpine skiing.
Leading after the first run, Ligety sped down the Rosa Khutor course in a two-leg combined time of 2 minutes, 45.29 seconds.
Steve Missillier of France finished second, 0.48 behind, and Alexis Pinturault, also of France, was third, 0.64 behind.
Overall World Cup leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria finished fourth, 0.94 behind.
Ligety's first gold came in combined at the 2006 Turin Games as a 21-year-old - before he had ever won a World Cup race.
The only other American to win two Olympic golds in Alpine skiing was Andrea Mead Lawrence, who took both the women's slalom and giant slalom at the 1952 Oslo Games.
Four other American men - Bode Miller, Phil Mahre, Tommy Moe and Bill Johnson - have won one Olympic gold.
Ligety had such a large lead after the opening run - 0.93 seconds - that he could afford to ease up a bit on his second trip down, when he was only 14th fastest. But that was more than enough to give the U.S. its first gold in Alpine skiing of the Sochi Games.
Ligety celebrated by swirling around in the finish area while still on his skis then raised his arms while sitting down on the snow. The crowd realized he had won even before he crossed the line, and showered him with applause for the last few gates.
Conditions were perfect, with the temperature hovering near the freezing level and skies partly cloudy.
In both runs, Ligety showed off his unparalleled technique of arcing turns, leaning down and touching the snow with his hips, gloves and thighs at every opportunity to get the best angles. Other skiers displayed sharper turns but Ligety's were far more fluid.
"Ted goes so round that his turn is naturally a longer radius," said Miller, who finished 20th in what he said was his final race in Sochi. "He generates more speed and links one turn to the next and because he has so much space, he never pinches or gets in trouble because he's always way far from the gate."
Ligety has been the best giant slalom skier for several years, although after failing to win a medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games, this was his crowning achievement.
Ligety won nine of 14 World Cup giant slalom races this season and last season. He took gold in GS at the last two world championships and won the season-long World Cup title in the discipline four of the last six years.
"I think he's one of the best GS skiers in history," Miller said. "He's so much better at it than everybody else. ... He just is so consistent. He makes no errors."
At last year's worlds in Schladming, Austria, Ligety also won gold in super-G and super-combined, making him the first man with at least three golds at a worlds since Jean Claude Killy earned four back in 1968.
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Saint Louis University is riding a 17-game winning steak to a Top 10 rankings.
The Billikens have a record of 23-2 and a perfect 10-and-oh in the Atlantic 10. The Bills sit at number 10 in the latest AP poll. Syracuse remains undefeated and still sits atop the poll. SLU heads to George Mason on Wednesday.
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) -- Thick fog lingering over the mountains Monday caused the biggest weather disruptions of the Sochi Olympics so far, with a biathlon race and a snowboard event both postponed until Tuesday.
The fog rolled in over the mountains in Krasnaya Polyana on Sunday night and was still shrouding some of the Olympic skiing venues in a cloud-like mist by late Monday afternoon. That prompted organizers to call off the men's biathlon mass-start race and men's snowboardcross almost simultaneously.
The rescheduling didn't seem to be a major concern for the athletes, though.
"This is standard for snowboarding and ski events. Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate," American snowboardcross rider Nate Holland said.
The biathlon race had already been pushed back from Sunday evening to Monday morning, and was then postponed to mid-afternoon before being called off for another day. It will now be held Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., organizers said. A decision on the women's mass-start race still scheduled for its original 7 p.m. start was set to be made later Monday.
"Well, I am going to sleep again," double Olympic champion Martin Fourcade tweeted in French after the race was postponed. "We'll see each other tomorrow!"
At the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, the snowboardcross was also first delayed then postponed. Organizers first canceled the seeding runs for the event, then pushed back the elimination races before calling it a day. The elimination races will now start at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, with the seeding runs scrapped.
The Alpine events were not affected because Monday was an off-day, but organizers called off a free skiing session to keep the course intact for Tuesday's women's giant slalom.
Women's race director Atle Skaardal said the fog could still affect that event if it remains.
"I don't know if they'll see anything," Skaardal said.
The ski jumping venue is at a lower altitude and was not shrouded in the thick fog. A training round for Nordic combined athletes was held without disruptions, and the ski jump team event was also expected to go ahead as scheduled.
The fog is causing a new challenge for the athletes following days of sunshine and unseasonably warm weather. At the Laura Cross Country Ski and Biathlon Center, the high temperatures toward the end of last week had softened the snow and led to some cross-country skiers cutting off the sleeves on their suits.
In biathlon, fog is an even bigger problem because it limits the visibility on the shooting range.
"You have to be able to hit the targets," said Jerry Kokesh, the editor of the International Biathlon Union's official website, adding that the course becomes more dangerous as well. "Uphills are not a problem, but downhills are. ... That can be a serious safety concern."
The first week of the games went by without any major disruptions to the schedule before Sunday's biathlon race was postponed, despite concerns going into the Olympics about the warm climate in Sochi. IOC spokesman Mark Adams said every Winter Olympics normally faces some rescheduling because of the weather, and that Sochi has been relatively unaffected.
"In terms of what's going on there, I think it's actually quite ironic that the biggest issue we've had so far is due to winter fog," Adams said. "Winter sports is very unpredictable. It's a very dynamic field of play. At present, the conditions are good and we are continuing. We haven't had any major complaints up there."
Certainly not from Holland, the snowboarder, who said it was better to wait another day than to compete in poor conditions.
"It's the Olympics, we want to have the best rider win and not have anything screwy," Holland said. "So we'll be back tomorrow and let her roll from there. It's time to drop the hammer and the sickle on this course."
AP Sports Writers Will Graves, Jon Krawczynski, Andrew Dampf and Pat Graham contributed to this report.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- LeBron James usually has his fun in June, when the Miami Heat have won NBA championships the last two years.
Doesn't mean he's OK with losing in February.
And he certainly won't stand for his team getting picked on.
Three straight times he had left a loser, and he was even more driven for this All-Star game after a half season of his conference getting ridiculed for its mediocrity.
"We've been getting killed a lot this season, talking about the Eastern Conference is pretty bad, it's a two-man race and we're not holding up our end of the bargain," James said. "So it was special to get this win."
Kyrie Irving had 31 points and 14 assists and was voted the MVP, Carmelo Anthony made a record eight 3-pointers and scored 30 points, and the East stopped a three-game losing streak with a 163-155 victory over the West on Sunday night in the highest-scoring All-Star game ever.
"We took this one personal a bit," Irving said.
James had a steal and dunk on the first possession, long before defense usually shows up in the All-Star game.
"We wanted this win," James said. "They beat us the last three years and they had a lot of bragging rights, so to be able to come through being down 18 was huge."
Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin each finished with 38 points, four shy of Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star game record, for the West. But the East scored the final 10 points to pull out a game it trailed by 18.
"They started making shots and we didn't get stops and we went a little bit cold," said Griffin, who shot 19 of 23, setting a record for field goals made.
Irving scored 15 points in the fourth quarter. James had 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
The 318 points broke the record of 303 set in 1987.
Durant finished with 10 rebounds and six assists, but the West was shut out after his 3-pointer gave it a 155-153 lead with 1:59 left. Indiana's Paul George made three free throws, Anthony nailed his final 3-pointer, and James scored to make it 161-155. George closed it out with two more free throws and finished with 18 points.
"Both teams played extremely well, we just lost," Durant said.
The game that usually doesn't get tight until the final minutes was close throughout the fourth quarter, neither team leading by more than four until the final minute.
Chris Paul had 11 points and 13 assists, and first-time All-Star Stephen Curry had 12 points and 11 assists for the West. But the best point guard on the floor was Irving, who shot 14 of 17 and helped the East ring up 87 points in the second half after it surrendered a record 89 in the first.
In a colorful tribute to New Orleans, players wore sneakers and socks that ranged from green and blue to orange and purple, making the game look like a Mardi Gras parade.
The parade was one of layups and dunks for the West, which scored 44 points in the first quarter and 45 in the second. Griffin had 18 points in the first quarter and Durant had 22 at halftime, both two shy of records set by Glen Rice in 1997.
And there was plenty of music, the rosters and starting lineups introduced around a concert by Pharrell Williams, who was joined by his own All-Stars in Nelly, Busta Rhymes, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Snoop Dogg.
Magic Johnson led a band, too, encouraging the All-Stars to join him in singing "Happy Birthday" after the first quarter to Hall of Famer Bill Russell. The NBA's greatest champion was celebrating his 80th.
The All-Stars played better than they sang.
The East finished with 61 percent shooting, needing all sorts of offense after it simply couldn't defend Durant and Griffin.
Durant made six 3-pointers and raised his career scoring average in the All-Star games to a record 30.6 points.
Outside of the ugly sleeved jerseys, it was a good look for the NBA's midseason showcase, bouncing back strongly from an uneven All-Star Saturday night.
The new format of the slam dunk contest Saturday wasn't a hit, but every night is a dunk contest when Griffin is involved.
The guy who once jumped over a car to win a slam dunk contest had eight slams in the first 11 minutes, the backboard often barely done shaking from the last one when he threw down the next.
James Harden started for the West in place of Kobe Bryant, who was elected by the fans but was knocked out by a broken left knee. Bryant said before the game his recovery is "coming slowly" but hopes to be back in another All-Star game.
With Bryant sitting out and longtime regulars Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett not selected, it was a chance for the younger guys to make their mark. The rosters were loaded with players 25 and younger, including first-time starters George, Irving, Stephen Curry and Kevin Love.
The All-Star newcomers also included official Violet Palmer, who became the first female to referee a major U.S. sports league's All-Star game.
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — T.J. Oshie scored four times in the shootout and got the winner in the eighth round, leading the United States past Russia 3-2 Saturday in the thrilling revival of an Olympic hockey rivalry.
Cam Fowler and Joe Pavelski scored in regulation for the Americans in the marquee game of the preliminary round. Jonathan Quick made 29 saves and stopped five attempts in the shootout.
International rules allow the same player to take multiple shots after the first three rounds of a shootout, and U.S. coach Dan Bylsma leaned on Oshie. The St. Louis Blues forward went 4 for 6 against Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Captain Pavel Datsyuk scored two goals in regulation and another in the shootout. The fast-paced game was played in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an energized home crowd in Sochi.
It's official, the St. Louis Rams announced Gregg Williams as the team's new defensive coordinator.
Head coach Jeff Fisher and Williams have six seasons of experience working together. Fisher hired Williams to be his defensive coordinator in 2012. But, Williams was implicated in the Saints bounty-gate controversy and he was suspended by the NFL.
Williams was re-instated last year and served as a consultant for the Tennessee Titans. The two will be reunited again with the Rams for the 2014 season.