As thousands of Russian fans filled the Iceberg Skating Palace with deafening chants of "Raw-see-ya" during the team figure skating competition Saturday, Canada's athletes started a chant of their own.
Watching from the sidelines, Canada's skaters began chanting back "Ca-na-da. Ca-na-da." It was as though the 1972 Summit Series for hockey had never ended, ice dance skater and Canadian team captain Scott Moir said.
The team figure skating event, which is new to the Olympics, has proven to be an intense affair amid reports of a judges' pact to deny Canada the gold and Canada's skaters being forced to undergo unusual drug testing. After the second day of the three-day event, Canada sits within reach of a medal in second place with 41 points, six back of the Russians who have 47. The United States is third with 34 points, followed by Italy at 31, and Japan with 30.
After the first full day of official competition Canada has three medals:
- Sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe won gold and silver respectively in women’s freestyle mogul skiing;
- Despite a broken rib, snowboarder Mark McMorris won bronze in men’s slopestyle.
With three events left in the team skating event on Sunday — the men's and women's free skate and the ice dance long program — it may be that the medal order has already been set, with the Russians holding a large enough lead in first, Canada safely in second, and the U.S. and Italy farther back and battling for third.
To catch the Russians, Canada would have to make up a six-point spread, meaning Canada would have to win the last three events, and Russia would have to place third or lower in each. That is unlikely to happen. However, kicking off the Olympics with a silver medal in the team event will be considered a success for the Canadian squad as they prepare for multiple medal runs in their individual events.
Heading into the Olympics there were questions about how the team skating event would be received. The way it is structured, each country competes in the short and long programs for every discipline and the skaters earn points based on how they place. First is worth 10 points, second gets 9, and so on.
But because the competition comes before the figure skaters are to perform in their individual events starting next week, there was talk the team competition may lack fire and that it would merely serve as a warm-up for those higher-profile medal chases.
But any such questions have been dispelled with the team event delivering a fist-pumping intensity from the fans that is not usually seen in the more refined circles of figure skating.
"We were told that an Olympic crowd was going to be much different than a figure skating crowd," said Kirsten Moore-Towers, who represented Canada in the free skate Saturday with pairs partner Dylan Moscovitch. "The people who told us definitely weren't wrong."
The crowd was so raucous at times that Moscovitch said he felt like he was competing in something more rowdy, like speed skating.
"It was definitely different standing in your starting position waiting for the music and people are still yelling, making noise," Moscovitch said.
Adding to the drama of Saturday was the emergence of two controversies that hung over the competition.
Early in the day, French sports magazine L’Equipe alleged in an article that the United States and Russia had struck a deal to mutually assure higher marks for their countries in certain events, in order to keep Canada from the gold.
According to the report, the pact would see the U.S. judge dish out favourable marks to Russia in the team event, where the U.S. was not considered a contender for the gold medal. In exchange, the Russian judge was to boost the scores for Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White in the ice dance next week, which would keep Canada's defending gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from winning.
Then as the competition got going Saturday, Canadian officials questioned openly whether their skaters were being unfairly targeted by random doping tests in Sochi. In the past few days, seven Canadian skaters have been ordered to subject to random doping tests — all of them competitors in the team event. That was more than any other country so far, officials said.
Even more unusual was the knock on Kaetlyn Osmond's door in the athlete's village on Saturday at noon, while she was having her pre-competition nap. Canadian officials said they couldn't remember the last time they had seen a random doping test ordered so close to competition.
But amid those controversies, the team competition rolled on. Osmond placed fifth in the women's short program with a strong skate that showed no nerves for an 18-year-old skating on Olympic ice for the first time. Moir and Virtue, who ran into problems on their twizzles (the side-by-side spins ice dancers do) finished second in their short program to Davis and White.
But heading into the last skate of the day, the pairs free skate, it was the Russians Canada was chasing, and needing to close a five-point gap.
Russia, however, is a pairs powerhouse, and Moore-Towers and Moscovitch were forced to settle for second.
"It was fun," Moscovitch said of the team event. "It was good focus practice, that's for sure."