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A smothering fog in the mountains near Sochi, Russia, forced the rescheduling of men’s biathlon and snowboard cross Monday. Down the hill and inside the Olympic figure-skating venue, things weren’t exactly clear, either.
This much we know is certain: U.S. figure skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White put up a world-record score in the free program to give their country its first Olympic gold in ice dance.
Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic gold medalists, earned the silver with a combined score that was five points back of the Americans, a rather significant margin.
How that positioning came to be created a rage of debate, especially in a sport with a dotted, wretched history for fairness.
In Sochi, the questioning started more than a week ago, when the French sports paper L’Equipe reported there was a backroom deal in which the Americans would score favourably for the Russians in the team figure skating event, in return for the Russians scoring favourably for the Americans in ice dance.
In last Sunday’s short program, the top American and Canadian ice dance duos both skated well, with Davis and White finishing 2.6 points ahead of Virtue and Moir. That set off a predictable reaction: that a fix was in the mix and Canada could do no better than silver after the free program was done.
Naturally, many in the Canadian and American media looked at the results in a differing light. The Canadians thought Virtue and Moir had been hosed in the short program, while one U.S. sports writer tweeted Davis and White were overall “visibly greater.”
Canadian figure-skating fans also took to social media to express their disappointment. L’Equipe had called it; the Russians won the team event; the Americans won the ice dance.
Rising above the angst and anger were the athletes themselves. Virtue and Moir never pointed fingers or blasted the judging. Instead, they spoke highly of their American rivals, noting how hard Davis and White had trained over the years.
Even if you can’t trust figure skating to get it right, you have to applaud the athletes for their willingness to pursue excellence, no matter what the judges do. As Moir remarked after the short program: “[He and Virtue] looked at each other and said, ‘It doesn’t matter’ because that was the moment we wanted to have.”
In saying that, the newly minted silver medalists were at their gold-medal best.
The Canadian women’s hockey team got a good game out of Switzerland, taking a 3-1 win as preparation for what comes next: On Thursday, Canada and the U.S. will clash for the gold medal for the fifth time in Olympic history. The Canadians have won the gold the last three Olympics; the Americans won it in 1998.
In the exhibition games they played before the Sochi tournament, the Americans used their speed to attack Canada and exploit weaknesses. It was after a poor outing in November that Hockey Canada and head coach Dan Church parted company and Kevin Dineen was hired.
For the record, there was a Canadian who won gold Monday, but he wasn’t a competitor. Pierre Lueders, Canada’s most-decorated bobsled pilot, helped Russia finish first in the two-man event. As the head of the Russian bobsleigh and skeleton federation, Lueders coached veteran driver Alexander Zubkov to first place. (Zubkov had retired after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics but was coaxed back at 39. He now has three Olympic medals in his career and might retire again.)
Canada finished sixth (Justin Kripps), seventh (Chris Spring) and ninth (Lyndon Rush) in the two-man event, and now readies for the four-man competition later this week.