Russia's figure skating team brought to the country the first gold medals. Source: Reuters
Emma Terchenko, special to RBTH
The Sochi Winter Games have gotten off to a slow start for Team Russia. On the first day of competition, Russia’s figure skaters propelled the country into first place in the team event going into Sunday’s finals.
Ice dancers Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev was ranked third behind their U.S. and Canadian rivals, but the star of the night was 15-year-old European Champion Yulia Lipnitskaia, who took first place in the women’s free skate event after a stellar performance, surpassing Italy’s Carolina Kostner and Japan’s Mao Asada.
The figure skating team event is appearing in the Olympics for the first time at the Sochi Games.
Saturday turned out to be a dramatic day for Russian biathlon competitor Anton Shipulin, who finished a disappointing fourth in the men’s 10km sprint, missing third place by only a second. The first winner of a biathlon medal at Sochi was Norwegian veteran Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.
Russian speed skaters Ivan Skobrev and Denis Yuskov also came away disappointed after failing to win any medals in the men’s 5000m race. All three medals in that event were taken by Dutch athletes – Sven Kramer, Jan Blokhuijsen, and Jorrit Bergsma – while Yuskov finished sixth, in 6 minutes and 19 seconds, with Skobrev coming in seventh, just 0.3 seconds behind.
However, in his post-race interview, Skobrev told his fans not to despair, since “there are still many races ahead of us, and I think that we simply must win some medals at these Olympic Games.
Russian athletes were far more successful on Sunday, primarily to the victory of the Russian figure skating team, whose efforts won the country’s first gold medal in Sochi. Russia’s victory became a foregone conclusion even before the last event of the competition.
Evgeni Plushenko, Yulia Lipnitskaia, Ksenia Stolbova, and Fedor Klimov all gave exceptional performances, while Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov took third place in ice dancing. Plushenko thanked the fans for their support and said that team figure skating was the future of the sport.
The hosts’ first medal at the Sochi games unexpectedly came from speed skater Olga Graf, who won bronze in the 3,000m race. Graf’s medal in this event was Russia’s first in 20 years. Celebrated Dutch athlete Irene Wust won gold in that race.
Biathlete Olga Vilukhina also added to Russia’s medal count, coming second in the 7.5km sprint. Although Vilukhina shot flawlessly, the Russian lost to Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina by 19.9 seconds; Ukraine’s Vita Semerenko took third place. The other Russian athletes in the event were Yana Romanova, who finished 19th; Olga Zaitseva, who came in 28th, and Ekaterina Shumilova, at 59th.
Russian veteran Albert Demchenko took silver in the men’s luge singles. The forty-one year-old was second only to World Champion Felix Loch of Germany, who performed flawlessly in all four runs.
The heat was on at the cross-country men's skiathlon, but Russia’s Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin were unable to beat Dario Cologna, Marcus Hellner, and Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who finished first, second, and third respectively.
Vylegzhanin finished fourth while Legkov took 11th place, despite both often being among the leaders of the race. Legkov’s ski was stepped on and he lost of one of his poles.
Vylegzhanin, for his part, was held back by Sundby, who blocked the Russian’s path with his leg. The Russian team even put in a formal complaint against Sundby, but the Norwegian only received a formal warning.