The gold medal for the inaugural team skating competition at the Winter Olympics won't leave the host country.
In a dominant performance from start to finish, Russia captured the team gold following Sunday's free runs to grab their first overall gold of the Sochi Games. The Russians' 75 points put them 10 points ahead of the second-place Canadians, who performed admirably and were right behind the home side going right into the final competition.
Canada and Russia were so far ahead of the pack that they clinched the top two spots with both the ladies' free and dance competitions remaining. The United States, which started miserably in the opening-day short runs, managed to battle its way back for a bronze-medal finish.
The day's first event was the men's free run, which saw Russia's Evgeni Plushenko continue his surprisingly stellar run in Sochi. After he finished second in the short program, some were concerned with whether Plushenko, 31, would be able to handle the lengthy full run without running out of gas or making a mistake.
But with the home crowd wildly cheering on, Plushenko proved he's still one of the best skaters on the planet. The Russian had a good, not great, run in the men's free, but his combined score of 168.20 points was just enough to defeat Canada's Kevin Reynolds to come away with 10 points.
|Position||Country||Name||Total Segment Score|
|5||ITA||Paul Bonifacio Parkinson||121.23|
He spoke about the support he has received and the impact it has had on him, per the Associated Press via Newsday.com. "This games is the hardest for me," Plushenko said. "All the fans are cheering so hard that you literally cannot do badly because they do everything with you. You get goose bumps."
It's worth noting that Plushenko received the advantage of a somewhat depleted field. Top-ranked Canadian Patrick Chan and short-program winner Yuzuru Hanyu sat out the longer run, as both are expected to compete for medals in the individual competition.
Still, complaining of back soreness and just barely removed from retirement, Plushenko understandably basked in his accomplishment. He has now medaled in four straight Olympic Games—a historic feat—and Nick McCarvel of NBC Olympics noted he beamed with pride for his family:
From there, the day's events mostly felt academic. Russia had opened up a 57-50 lead over Canada with two events remaining, all but locking in the top two finishers. It would have taken two straight Canadian triumphs followed by faltering Russian skaters to even put the result into question.
Yulia Lipnitskaya quelled all talks of a Canadian comeback in the ladies' free skate.
The 15-year-old Russian, who stole the show with an amazing short-program run, continued her jaw-dropping performance in Sochi on Sunday. With an overall score of 141.51, Lipnitskaya clinched herself an overall win and the gold medal for her country.
|Position||Country||Name||Total Segment Score|
More than anything, though, the youngster proved she will be formidable competition going forward. Lipnitskaya showed poise and grace over her long run, expressing a confidence of someone far beyond her 15 years. Skating to "Schindler's List," she went through her program without fault, and those on hand were touched by the emotion of the performance—to the point where flowers rained on the rink for another run.
McCarvel noted that the crowd was so captivated by Lipnitskaya that it barely recognized president Vladimir Putin in the stands:
The clinching Russian victory almost entirely obscured an equally strong performance from 18-year-old American Gracie Gold. The United States had no chance of winning coming into the women's free skate, but Gold gave fans the entire way across the world hope for the future.
Gold's run set the bar that Lipnitskaya found a way to eclipse. In her first Olympic Games, the two-time reigning United States champion was in fine form and looked to be on a mission heading into the individual competition. Gold scored a 129.38, finishing second and clinching the bronze medal for Team USA. Even Gold seemed surprised and pleased when she saw her score, per USA Today's Nancy Armour:
Gracie gets a 129.38. Claps her hands to her face and says, "Wow," when she sees it.— Nancy Armour (@nrarmour) February 9, 2014
Valentina Marchei of Italy finished in third with a 112.51, but there was a clear separation between Gold, Lipnitskaya and the rest of the field.
Going into the ice dancing competition, there was little intrigue left. With the Russians in gold, the Canadians in silver and the United States in bronze, you could obviously tell the dancers were holding themselves back a bit and testing out a few wrinkles for the individual competition.
As all ice dancing competitions tend to be at this juncture, the free skate was a two-way battle between Canadian pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and United States representatives Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Following the short run, the Americans had an opportunity to know the scores of their rivals and took advantage.
Davis and White eclipsed Moir and Virtue with a very solid segment score of 114.34, putting them in good position for the rest of the tournament. Because of the overall team standings, the tension was mostly nonexistent; both sides are far more interested in next Monday's medal event. This is the second straight time the Americans have defeated their northern counterparts in a major event, though, as they also took the 2013 World Championships.
|Position||Start Number||Country||Name||Total Segment Score||Team Points|
|1||5||USA||Meryl Davis and Charlie White||114.34||10|
|2||4||CAN||Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir||107.56||9|
|3||3||RUS||Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov||103.48||8|
|4||2||ITA||Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri||81.25||7|
|5||1||JPN||Cathy Reed and Chris Reed||76.34||6|
Heading into the team skate finale, a slight shadow fell on the ice dancing competition. A recent report in French newspaper L’Equipe accused Russia and the United States of collusion, designed to prevent Virtue and Moir from winning individual gold. The Canadian pair are the defending gold medalists, at times seemingly trading off the biggest events with Davis and White.
Spokesperson Mark Adams said the IOC will not be investigating the claims.
“Of course, we take it seriously,” Adams said, per Sean Fitz-Gerald of Canada.com. “The only point I was trying to make was, having read the report, I didn’t actually see anything beyond an unnamed person making a general allegation.”
No forms of malfeasance seemed to be in place Sunday, as the United States' run was superior from a technical standpoint. But regardless of which country won the final event, the consistency of the Russian skaters won out overall.
And in the inaugural team skating event, if we've learned anything, it's the country with the deepest stable of skaters will come out on top.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: