For the first time as a team, Canada's figure skaters stepped onto an Olympic podium Sunday, winning the silver medal in the inaugural team event at the Sochi Olympics.
It was a three-day battle that pitted the Canadians against the Russians in the final two days of competition, concluding with a Russian victory. The host country scored 75 points to claim the gold, followed by 65 for Canada and 60 for the United States.
Canada headed into the final day of competition Sunday – when the men's, women's and ice dance free skate were contested – needing to close a near-insurmountable six-point gap the Russians had established after day two. The event sees each nation put forward skaters for every discipline, claiming 10 points for first place, 9 for second, and so on.
For the Canadians to mount a comeback, they needed to skate perfectly, and hope the Russians faltered.
Canadian figure skater Kevin Reynolds put in one of his best performances, but it was some cold, hard math by the Russians that allowed them to squeeze Canada out of the gold in the end.
Reynolds, known for his ability to execute complex jumps with ease, landed three quads with near-perfect precision in the team men's free skate. His Russian counterpart, the veteran Evgeny Plushenko, only attempted one quad.
But it was all that was needed.
The Russians calculated that Plushenko had to only land one quad – a decidedly conservative performance for him – to seal enough points to help Russia take the competition. Plushenko's victory allowed Russia to all but secure the gold medal before the women's long program and ice dance free skate.
Reynolds said he was happy with his effort, pulling out all the stops to land the three quads. He suffered only one stumble on a triple.
"The quad is a very risky jump. Usually I hit two out of three no problem," Reynolds said. "The third one is due to conditioning and how comfortable I'm feeling on the day."
Plushenko and his coach said the single quad was part of the plan the Russians had devised to play it safe, knowing they didn't have to win the three events Sunday, only that they needed to place high.
"It was completely no matter to be first or second or even third," Plushenko's coach Alexei Mishin said.
"We did not do the plan to improve [Plushenko's] image," he said, adding the strategy came down to "a very practical question: to help the Russian team be as high as possible."
The medal was Russia's first gold of the Sochi Olympics. Russian President Vladimir Putin was on hand to congratulate the country's skaters. Russian ice dancer Nikita Katsalapov said Putin congratulated them on the medal, but reminded the skaters not to lose focus for their individual events next week, where Russia is a contender in several events.
Plushenko's score of 168.20 narrowly edged out Reynolds, who scored 167.98 with the stumble. However it did raise some questions as to how his safer program could come out on top in a judging system that is designed to reward risk taking such as the jumps landed by Reynolds.
Mishin said his skater was rewarded for other elements of the performance, and for the "charisma" he demonstrated on the ice. Plushenko skated "with a broken aorta," the coach said. While it was not clear, due to a language barrier, what exactly that meant, the coach's words and hand gestures seemed to suggest it had something to do with guts, or possibly 'leaving it all on the ice,' to put it into the parlance of North American sport.
"Compared with other skaters maybe he did less, but he is a personality," Mishin said.
In the women's free skate, Kaetlyn Osmond placed fifth after falling once. It was only the 18-year-old's second time on Olympic ice, after performing in the team short program a day earlier. By winning the silver medal, the Marystown, Nfld., skater becomes the first female athlete from Newfoundland to win an Olympic medal.
"I just knew I had to skate a strong program, and I was really confident going into this program.… I knew I just had to put out a program that I was doing in practice. It still wasn't technically a program I was doing in practice, but it was still really strong," Osmond said.
Osmond, who was interrupted on Saturday during her pre-skate nap by officials calling for a random doping test, said she faced no such distractions on Sunday. "Today was really nice, I got to rest up and there was no interruptions so it was good," she said.
In the ice dance free skate, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir finished second with a score of 107.56. Their American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White were first with 114.34 points. The Russian team of Elena Ilinykh and Katsalapov placed third with 103.48 points.
Both the Canadians and Americans have built their programs around complex lifts and the difference-maker on Sunday appeared to be the clean execution by Davis and White on several of them, compared to difficulties Virtue and Moir had on one of theirs.
Virtue said she caught an edge on one lift which caused them to be slightly out of step. Though happy to have claimed a team silver medal, Virtue and Moir were visibly unhappy with their skate.
"We got smoked today," Moir said. "Not even close."
The pair said they plan to go over their performance in detail to see where corrections need to be made for when they go head-to-head with Davis and White for the ice dance medal a week from now.
"That's the unique thing about this event is, already we're thinking about next week and how we can improve on our score," Virtue said.
Team Figure Skating Total Points
1 Russia 75
2 Canada 65
3 U.S. 60
4 Italy 52
5 Japan 51
6 France 22
7 China 20
8 Germany 17
9 Ukraine 10
10 Britain 8