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A day after the Russian men’s hockey team was embarrassed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the hosts were given something to ease their pain.
It came in the form of a gold medal in women’s figure skating – an honour the country has coveted for decades but never before claimed.
Skating in front of a raucous home crowd, 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova landed numerous triples in her long program Thursday, to claim the elusive gold over South Korea’s Kim Yu-na. After finishing her program, the skater from Moscow wept openly at centre ice, elated at her performance.
She would have to wait several more skaters to know if the South Korean, competing last, could keep pace. Though Kim skated a cleaner performance than the Russian, Sotnikova won more points for difficulty. When Kim’s scores flashed on the board, the pro-Russian audience erupted in a standing ovation.
Sotnikova was awarded a long program score of 149.95 points, for a total of 224.59 over the two-day competition.
Kim, the gold medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Games, took silver with 144.19 points in the free skate, for a combined 219.11. Italy’s Carolina Kostner claimed bronze with 142.61 points in the free skate, and a total of 216.73.
Kim appeared surprised by her score, thinking she had beaten Sotnikova, while some skating commentators were also caught off-guard by the Russian’s high tally.
Sotnikova also surprised herself. “I found something totally different in myself today,” she said afterward. “I think I found a new me.”
And for Russia, it was a new reason to cheer at the Olympics. (It’s been said there are two sports the Russian officials care most about winning: Hockey is, by far, first; figure skating is second.)
The win completes an impressive haul for Russia, which also won gold and silver in the pairs event, gold in the team competition, and bronze in the ice dance.
But it was Sotnikova’s gold that carried the most significance.
For all its dominance in the sport, the women’s event has always stymied Russia. Irina Slutskaya took silver in 2002, and bronze in 2006. Kira Ivanova won bronze for the Soviet Union in 1984.
Russia had been pinning its 2014 gold-medal hopes on 15-year-old wunderkind Julia Lipnitskaya. But she fell in both her short and long programs, and finished fifth overall.
While Russia came away with the gold, Canada gained what it hopes will be valuable experience for what its young complement of skaters.
Kaetlyn Osmond, an 18-year-old from Marystown, Nfld., finished 13th with a combined score of 168.98, while Toronto’s Gabrielle Daleman, 16, finished 17th, with a combined 168.98 points.
Both skaters were competing in their first Olympics and both knew heading in that they likely weren’t going to contend. But Osmond, in particular, is hoping to start working towards 2018.
“Last year, [Osmond] kind of burst on the scene with such good results, and that was great. And now, I think we have to really build from now for the next four years,” said her coach, Ravi Walia. “You never know where she’ll be in four years. Maybe she’ll be trying to contend for a medal.”
Program faces a rebuild
For Canada’s figure skaters, Sochi was a lesson in battling through injury and adversity.
After helping Canada win silver in the team event, Kaetlyn Osmond struggled in her individual short program, falling on a key jump that put her out of contention. She rebounded with a better performance Thursday, but the competitions took a toll.
“I don’t remember being that tired at the end of a program before,” she said afterward, revealing she was battling a nagging hamstring injury. “I’ve been fighting with that. But I was happy to be able to pull through the program.”
Sochi produced three figure skating medals for Canada – all silver – in the men’s, ice dance and team events. It is the most Canada has won at an Olympics in figure skating.
The program now finds itself in a period of renewal.
Silver medal-winner Patrick Chan indicated Sochi was probably his last Games, as did ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.