Russia dominates team skating competition, sends message to the world

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports
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Russia claims first gold of Sochi games

SOCHI, Russia – As Russia won its first gold medal of the Winter Olympics with victory in the team figure skating competition, Evgeni Plushenko had a clear message for the host nation's rivals:

Get used to it.

Plushenko and 15-year-old sensation Julia Lipnitskaia both scored maximum team points in the men's and ladies' free skate segments, meaning the Russians would take gold in the first-ever team event even with the final ice dance round still remaining.

[VIDEO: Can Gracie claim gold?]

The 31-year-old Plushenko, who took the individual men's gold in 2006 and silvers in 2002 and 2010, insisted that the factor of home-ice advantage will begin to make itself felt the longer the Games go on.

"It was the first one and I think there will be many more, more than people realize," Plushenko said. "Being at home brings pressure, but it can also bring the best out of many athletes. The longer it goes on, the more excited the Russian people will be, and it will inspire our athletes."

[Related: Russia claims gold in team skating competion, U.S. wins bronze]

The noise inside the Iceberg Skating Palace was electric and, predictably, firmly in favor of Plushenko and Lipnitskaia, with wild cheers for the old master and the thrilling young talent a decade and a half his junior.

In the individual event, things will be even more raucous, especially for Lipnitskaia, who has suddenly emerged as the darling of Russian sports, thanks to her crowd-pleasing performances.

Click on the photo for more pictures from Sunday's team figure skating competition. (AP)

She will not skate again until February 19; by then, Plushenko will have taken aim at what would be a record-setting fifth Olympic medal in the men's program.

He wasn't as impressive as he had been in the short program, attempting only one quadruple jump and doubling his last two triples. "I feel a little pain in my back, which is why I did [my] mistake," the 31-year-old veteran said.

His inclusion in the Russian squad initially caused some controversy after he lost at the national championships to Maxim Kovtun but was selected because of his prior experience and pedigree.

"I like [finishing] first," he said. "I am so happy. It is great. Around me I have such a great team. I would like more medals."

The team event added some entertainment and was surely popular with television executives, as it added to the schedule three extra nights of one of the Games' most popular competitions. However, it became somewhat anticlimactic with the top three positions effectively decided before the final night.

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Plushenko was not at his best on Sunday, but he didn't have to be, with Canada's Patrick Chan and Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu having withdrawn to focus on the individual event.

When Plushenko finished first in the men's free skate Sunday, he secured maximum points to put Russia seven points clear and almost out of reach. Lipnitskaia then took the hosts over the line with another winning performance — she earned a score of 141.51, ahead of Gracie Gold's 129.38 — that has established her as one of the clear favorites for the ladies' individual.

[Related: Lipnitskaia steals spotlight]

For the U.S., Jason Brown replaced Jeremy Abbott for the free skate but fell heavily and placed only fourth out of five remaining teams in his category.

Gold came in for the Americans and was pleased with her performance, which bodes well for next week.

Ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White were both outstanding, earning the most team points again and cementing third place for the United States.

Russia ended up with 75 total points, with Canada second at 65 and the United States taking bronze with 60.

Davis and White provided the biggest boost to the U.S. team, winning both the short dance and free dance ahead of their close friends and training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

The only previous medals of the Games for Russia went to biathlete Olga Vilukhina (silver) and speedskater Olga Graf (bronze). But figure skating is an event that this country holds dear to its heart, and Plushenko is one of its icons.

Plushenko was clearly inspired by the home audience. If his prediction is correct, plenty of his Russian teammates may soon follow suit.

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