Sochi 2014: Russia Wins First Gold in Team Figure Skating as Julia Lipnitskaia Dazzles

Russia won its first gold medal of the 2014 Winter Games Sunday night in a new team figure skating competition.

The 15-year-old Russian ice skater Yulia Lipnitskaya became the youngest gold medalist since Tara Lipinksi of the United States won the women’s individual competition at 15 at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. Photo: Official website of the Olympic Movement

Hosts Russia won their first gold medal of the Sochi 2014 Olympics in the team figure skating event, with President Vladimir Putin being present at the arena.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cheered from the stands for 15 year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, a rising star who swept the women’s singles portion of the team event.

The team event, making its debut at the Sochi Games, brought skating’s four disciplines – men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance – together as nations clashed to win a single set of medals.

“My main motivation today,” Lipnitskaia said, “was not to let the team down.

She skated into the rink with “Yu-lia” ringing in her ears and looking somewhat overwhelmed. She admitted to nerves, which prevented an excellent performance from becoming a flawless one.

“I got nervous in the middle of the programme, I’m not sure why, it’s completely unlike me, so the jumps weren’t great in the second half, I didn’t feel totally comfortable. The jumps didn’t feel like mine at that point. I wouldn’t say I got tired but some errors still crept in.”

She will be aiming for a second gold in the individual event. “Now I fully know the ice and the arena I can relax a bit and skate better in the individual event than I did today,” she said.

The 31-year-old sports star Evgeni Plushenko won the team long program Sunday with a farewell performance, who now has four career medals, having won the men’s singles competition in 2006, and silver medals in 2002 and 2010.

Plushenko’s achievement is made more impressive by his perseverance through repeated injuries. He said he needed a dozen operations to repair the pounding his body had sustained with jarring landings on ice, says the NY Times.

“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.”

The Americans’ bronze effort was led by world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won both the short and free dance, and helped by national champion Gracie Gold’s superb free skate, which the judges scored second behind Lipnitskaia.

“We were looking forward to this event,” White said. “We feel like we were out there for each other and with each other.”

Davis and White beat their top rivals and training partners, defending champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, in both dance disciplines. Canada didn’t win any segment, but built enough points throughout to take silver, reports the AP.

Russia also turned in strong showings in pairs skating—a discipline it has long dominated—as well as in ice dance, in which Elena Ilynkh and Nikita Katsalapov won a standing ovation from an enthused crowd by skating to Swan Lake.

The wins followed two disappointments for Russia since the Games opened. In the biathlon, Anton Shipulin and Evgeny Ustyugov, who both won medals in Vancouver, disappointed Russian fans Saturday at the men’s 10k sprint, finishing empty-handed.  Russia also missed a bronze in men’s cross-country skiing by a tenth of a second on Sunday when Maxim Vylegzhanin came in fourth.

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