Russia was basking in the afterglow of its first gold medal of the Winter Olympics yesterday, as the Russian team’s figure skating victory enthralled the host nation and banished memories of when the sporting superpower stumbled in Vancouver four years ago.
Home fans roared the hosts to gold on Sunday when figure skating’s ultimate showman, Yevgeny Plushenko, sealed the team title.
“When we got off the ice, [Russian President] Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] congratulated us and said: ‘Good job,’” ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova said. “It was really nice and completely unexpected.”
The inaugural team event, decided at a packed Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, was also a personal triumph for Putin, who has staked his reputation on staging a successful Games.
State TV followed the beaming 61-year-old as he shook hands with and congratulated the skaters, drank beer and urged the Russian team on to greater sporting heights
“Good job guys, my congratulations to you all,” Putin said to the skaters. “You have a lot of work ahead of you here, so don’t relax.”
After a buildup to the Olympics overshadowed by threats of militant violence, international criticism of a contentious “anti-gay propaganda” law and allegations of widespread corruption, Putin appeared delighted with how things are going.
He hopes to use Russia’s first Winter Games — the most expensive ever held at a cost of US$51 billion — to project the country as a resurgent nation deserving of a place among the world’s elite powers.
“It is fully justified to say that the Olympic project, the Olympic construction work as a whole, was one of the most significant anti-crisis measures in the country,” Putin said in comments to state TV broadcaster Rossiya 24 aired on Sunday.
Putin said there is no evidence backing allegations of widespread corruption that have dogged the seven-year infrastructure project, but a survey by independent pollster Levada showed that 7 percent of Russians believe the cost of the Games soared because funds have been embezzled or mismanaged.
Back on the ice, Irene Wust of the Netherlands won the women’s 3,000m speed skating crown, but the biggest roar went to Olga Graf, who finished a surprise third to give the host nation its first medal.
Graf punched the air in delight upon seeing her time, but her expression turned to embarrassment as she unzipped her suit to the waist before suddenly realizing she had no t-shirt underneath.
“I heard the crowd cheering for me and I didn’t expect such support from the audience,” the skater said. “I totally forgot that I had nothing under my suit.”
Another Russian, Olga Vilukhina, took silver in the women’s biathlon 7.5km sprint, behind Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia.
Swiss cross-country skier Dario Cologna surged to a surprise victory in the men’s skiathlon, while American Jamie Anderson clinched the inaugural women’s snowboarding slopestyle gold.
German Felix Loch smashed his track record in securing a second successive Olympic men’s singles luge gold, while in the men’s normal hill ski jumping competition, Poland’s Kamil Stoch prevailed.
Russia’s three golds in Canada was its worst tally at a Winter Olympics and Sochi is seen as a chance to promote not only political power, but also sporting prowess.
The Kommersant newspaper reported that it took Russia five days to register its first gold at the last Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010, compared with day two this time.