During the first full day of the 2014 Winter Olympics' figure skating, teams dazzled to position themselves for the upcoming medal rounds.
By the time the last event of the day wrapped up at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, the host nation had already ensured a top spot in the team standings.
Undeterred by an already comfortable cushion, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov rocked the raucous venue by topping the team pairs free skate event with a 135.09, stretching Russia's lead from five to six points over Canada.
That's not to say there was a scarcity of competition, though. Here is a look at the team standings after Saturday's action, courtesy of Sochi2014.com:
Source: Sochi2014.com. Q = qualified
To kick things off, the USA's team dance tandem of Meryl Davis and Charlie White put on a flawless performance, winning the ice dance event with a score of 75.98. Renowned figure skater Michelle Kwan couldn't help but admire the presence Davis radiated, per Fox Sports' Peter Schrager:
"Meryl looks so beautiful. She looks like an angel out there." -- @MichelleWKwan seconds before Davis/White take the ice.— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) February 8, 2014
It was a landmark 10 points gained for the Americans, who needed a first-place effort to ensure a top-five spot for the team free skate. The formidable Canadian duo of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir wound up in second at 72.98, bolstering Canada's efforts to place second.
|1||Meryl Davis & Charlie White||USA||75.98|
|2||Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir||CAN||72.98|
|3||Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev||RUS||70.27|
|4||Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat||FRA||69.15|
|5||Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte||ITA||64.92|
|6||Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi||GER||58.04|
|7||Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland||GBR||52.93|
|8||Cathy Reed & Chris Reed||JPN||52.00|
|9||Siobhan Heekin-Canedy & Dmitri Dun||UKR||49.19|
|10||Huang Xintong & Zheng Xun||CHN||47.88|
However, the big story on the ice continued to be the host Team Russia, which held strong in the ice dance with the duo of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev placing third. That kept the momentum alive and aided Russia's effort to maintain the lead in the team standings.
Yulia Lipnitskaya, a 15-year-old Russian prodigy, wound up being the big source of buzz, as she scored highest (72.90) in the ladies short program, notching 10 points in front of the home crowd with an excellent array of moves.
The New York Times' Juliet Macur even went as far to compare Lipnitskaya to prolific American skater Sasha Cohen:
Russia's Yulia Lipnitskaya reminds me of Sasha Cohen. Gorgeous positions. At 15, she skates with the emotion of someone much older. #sochi— Juliet Macur (@JulietMacur) February 8, 2014
With such a precocious all-around skill set, fantastic rotation and peerless execution in all areas, Lipnitskaya was undoubtedly deserving of the highest acclaim from the judges.
That put the onus all the more on controversial USA selection Ashley Wagner, who fell twice at the U.S. Championships in Boston but still got a spot on the squad that would represent in Sochi.
|6||Mae Berenice Meite||FRA||55.45||5|
In a pivotal program that needed to be a hit with the judges, Wagner managed to deliver a 63.10, good enough for fourth—even if she wasn't thrilled with the result, as captured by Roxanna Scott of the USA Today:
The score was still enough for seven points and it gave the Americans a shot at pulling closer to Russia in the team skate. USA Today's Christine Brennan felt that Wagner had exonerated herself from her prior mishaps with the run:
Score for @AshWagner2010: 63.10. In first place with three to go. USA definitely makes the cut. Wagner redemption complete.— Christine Brennan (@cbrennansports) February 8, 2014
Team USA needed to kick it up a notch, though, because closing the gap on Russia would prove to be difficult in the team pairs free skating with only five countries participating.
|1||Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov||Russia||135.09||10|
|2||Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moskovitch||Canada||129.74||9|
|3||Stefania Berton & Ondrej Hotarek||Italy||120.82||8|
|4||Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir||United States||117.94||7|
|5||Narumi Takahashi & Ryuichi Kihara||Japan||86.33||6|
Thus, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir attempted a quadruple Salchow jump, which the judges rewarded handsomely. The degree of difficulty of the trick—even though it wasn't landed gracefully—brought a pleasantly stunned reaction to the rink, per NBCOlympics.com's Nick McCarvel:
Castelli two-foots quad Salchow throw but stays up! Wow! Great effort #Sochi2014— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) February 8, 2014
Such risky tactics were only enough to secure the Americans fourth place out of five, which helped widen the gap between the third-place USA and Russia.
Catching Canada for the silver would even be a valiant effort at this point for the USA, who should hope to just make the podium at this point.
Look for Russia to win the team figure skating gold medal. Barring some sort of epic collapse, its talented squad is deep enough and has established a strong enough lead that it should hold.