So far, so great for the home country in Sochi—at least when it comes to figure skating.
While the opening ceremonies are still yet to take place, the proverbial opening day on Thursday proved fruitful for the Russians. Yevgeny Plushenko, a gold medalist in 2006 at Turin and two-time silver medalist, scored a shocking 91.39 following a stellar skate in the men's short program.
Sure, the 31-year-old Russian finished in second. Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan pretty much wiped the floor with the entirety of the field, his near-perfect score of 97.98 dwarfing the competition and showing the otherworldly skills of a 19-year-old who will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
But with the Sochi crowd beaming and roaring for Plushenko after every landed trick, you almost would have forgotten about someone like Hanyu if he weren't so perfect. Nevertheless, the media scrum was huddled around the aging great as he seemed understandably pleased with his performance.
“It was incredible, right?” Plushenko said, via NBC Sports' Nick McCarvel. “It was great to skate in front of a home audience. I am so happy to skate today. It was a good program.”
As noted by McCarvel, Plushenko's appearance in Sochi was a bit of a surprise as is. He finished second at the Russian National Championships behind 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, who in most cases would have been selected for the Olympic team as a result. Instead, the Russian selection committee went with the tried and true option over the meteoric star.
And it worked.
Plushenko went through a very solid if imperfect program, landing a quad-triple toe loop combination followed by a triple Axel and triple Lutz. He skated to “Tango de Roxanne," but his soundtrack oftentimes felt like the uproarious Russian crowd.
Outside Plushenko and Hanyu, the short program was an otherwise mundane affair. Patrick Chan of Canada (89.71) was the only other skater to get close to the top two, and the United States' great hope, Jeremy Abbott, stumbled during his program and wound up earning a seventh-place finish.
With more than a decade of skating under his belt and enough experience to drown out his entire competition, Plushenko could have basked in the moment. There were enough people who questioned the addition of the somewhat-elderly skater—31 might as well be 51 in this world—that some bragging could have been in order.
Instead, the veteran seemed to know more than anyone what he was here to do: have laser focus and win some medals.
The team figure skating event is a new addition to the Winter Olympics, one that has left many perplexed at what exactly the rules are. Each event, as you can likely tell by the scoring system thus far, is worth 10 points. Those points are awarded in reverse sequential order after the event results are determined, meaning the victor gets 10 points, second place gets nine points and so on.
The four events in the first round of competition are the men's short program, women's short program, mixed pairs and ice dancing. For each of the countries, being inside the top five is an absolute must to advance to the free skate/dance.
“In two days we have the free program,” Plushenko told the assembled media, via McCarvel. “We will talk later.”
Perhaps more importantly than Plushenko's individual success, his surprise second-place run gave Russia nine points in the team skate portion of proceedings. Coupled with Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov tantalizing the audience in their first-place run in the mixed team program, Russia currently holds a two-point lead over the field in the overall standings.
The Russian pair obliterated the competition with a 83.98 score, more than 10 better than second-place Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada. Duhamel and Radford skated a stellar program, but they managed "only" a 73.10.
Russia and Canada seem to be the two nations to beat after two events. China (15 points) and Japan (13) are the only two nations within shouting distance of the favorites. The United States is in a three-way tie with France and Germany with 10 points.
The Russians are all but mathematically locked into the next part of proceedings. They would have to put together an absolute mess of a second day in the other two events, followed by countries close enough mathematically pulling out surprise victories.
Most coming in saw this as a three-way battle between Russia, Canada and the United States. On opening day, the United States faltered. Canada, in typical fashion, hung around and is waiting to strike.
But Russia? There was plenty reason for residents to cheer on Thursday.
(All results and scores via NBCOlympics.com.)
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