Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: Biggest Surprises from Day 6
Day 6 at the Sochi Games had its share of U.S. dominance (see: slopestyle skiing) and upsets, namely in women's cross-country 10 kilometer classic and in the women's short-track 500 meters.
And it didn't just involve gold-medal performances. Rather, there were several impressive efforts to get up for—bronze and even an eighth-place effort, in one instance.
Read ahead for a slate of surprises from athletes who, quite literally, span the globe.
Clean Sweep for U.S. in Slopestyle
Joss Christensen won the gold medal with two sparkling runs in the men's slopestyle freeskiing competition, bettering two teammates, as the U.S. stood alone on the podium. Just think, Christensen almost didn't make the team.
He was the last skier selected for the team, as Lindsay Jones for USA Today notes, and he made his coaches proud. Christensen put together a 95.80 and a 93.80 to effectively destroy the field. His low run of 93.80 would have won the gold medal.
Christensen's effort was enough to make today's list, but adding his teammates—Gus Kenworthy and Nicholas Goepper—to the mix makes it all the more compelling. Skogen Sprang, Team USA's coach, said it best, per USA Today:
I mean, it's freaking amazing. I'm still kind of in shock. You don't really talk about that before. The chance was there, but you don't really expect it to happen. You can't expect it to happen. I knew they all had a chance to medal, whether it was one of them, or two of them, or three of them, you just do what you can to get them all ready. They did their jobs, stomped their runs, and crushed it. I'm stoked for all of them.
Frontrunner Plushenko Withdraws from Free Skate and Retires
Evgeni Plushenko, a favorite in the men's individual event, has withdrawn due to a back injury. According to reports, he hurt his back during warmups. The 31-year-old won the gold in the 2006 Torino Games.
Plushenko also announced his retirement, which makes his exit from this event increasingly upsetting for him, figure skating fans and his country.
Plushenko was a controversial pick to make the Russian team after finishing second in nationals, but since he's such a fan favorite and the Games were in his home country, he was added to the team, per Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star.
Now, sadly for those who've grown used to his performances, he will be watching the competition with everyone else.
As unlikely as it was, we probably wouldn't have seen this routine, but it was fun to hope.
Kowalczyk's Broken Foot a Non-Issue in 10 Kilometer Win
Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk has been steady in cross-country with consistent finishes in the top 10. She won gold in the 30K mass start four years ago. Her best finish in the 10K was fifth in the 2010 Vancouver Games. Yet it was whom she beat Thursday in the 10K that makes her win that much sweeter.
Charlotte Kalla, of Sweden, was the defending gold medalist from 2010 and added a silver medal in the ladies' skiathlon at these Sochi Games to boot.
Kowalczyk finished 18.4 seconds ahead of Kalla, and did so with a fractured foot.
"It's something big for me because I broke my foot two weeks ago," said Kowalczyk per The Associated Press (via The Denver Post). "I was fighting with myself with this injury."
Li Stays Upright, Upsets on the Short Track
China's Jianrou Li, known more for the 1,000 meters and 3,000-meter relay in short-track speedskating, won the gold in the 500 meters over Italy's Arianna Fontana. Li was as shocked as anyone when she won—especially when the rest of the field fell down around her.
The tight turns and jockeying for position make short-track speedskating dangerous but also a fascinating watch. Li managed to stay upright on the final lap and won gold. The win kept China's win streak in the 500 alive. Li's teammate, the injured Wang Meng, was the two-time defending champion in the event.
For Fontana, everything she touches turns to silver. In two of the last three World Championships, Fontana has won silver in the 500. She won the bronze in the 2010 Olympics.
As for Li, there's nothing like your coach raining on your win by saying it's for the person whose absence is the only reason you were in this position in the first place.
“I cried because I was so excited,” Li said, per the AP (via The Boston Globe). “My coach told me this medal is for Wang Meng as well, so I felt very moved.”
Bailey's 8th-Place Finish Best Ever for US in Biathlon
Lowell Bailey, of Lake Placid, NY, recorded the best finish in the men's biathlon individual 20K in United States history.
In a sport routinely dominated by Scandinavians, Bailey's finish to crack the top 10 was nothing short of extraordinary.
Bailey finished the course in 50:57.4.
Zhang Bests Wust in 1,000 Meters
The Dutch breed speed skaters the way Germans breed lugers, and for China's Hong Zhang to beat the Netherlands' Ireen Wust is nothing short of an upset in the ladies' 1,000 meters.
Zhang completed the 1,000 meters in a time of 1:14.02, .67 seconds ahead of Wust, to win the gold. Zhang had finished seventh in this event the last three years. Wust is a powerhouse with golds in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters in previous Olympic Games, and she was just as favored to nab one in the 1,000.
Still, the Netherlands did have four skaters in the top six.
Nikitina in Third Place in Women's Skeleton
Elena Nikitina, Russia's 21-year-old skeleton athlete, finished 15th at World's this year and, as it stands, she's in third place after the first two heats in Sochi. She's right there with Elizabeth Yarnold of Great Britain and Noelle Pikus-Pace of the United States for serious medal contention.
If she can hold place—and hold court, as it were—it would be a major accomplishment for someone who has a history of finishing down the list. She does own a silver medal from a World Cup event in Calgary, but aside from that, she has never reached the medal stand in a world competition outside of Juniors.