Wednesday brought the US long-awaited relief from its medal drought with a resounding snowboarding victory while Russia triumphed at the figure-skating rink.
Team USA added two medals to its medal table at the halfpipe: the gold for Kaitlyn Farrington and the bronze for Kelly Clark. Australian Torah Bright won the silver, and another American teammate Hannah Teter placed fourth, narrowly missing the podium by a score of just 0.25.
And with that, writes the Monitor’s Olympic correspondent Mark Sappenfield, “we can breathe a little sigh of relief" after a chain of disappointments over the previous couple of days. "Out went the women's halfpipe team, released into the Caucasus night like Valkyries with earbuds and sick tricks to bring justice back to the Olympics, American-style. God bless mom, apple pie, and double corks.”
Meanwhile, Russia notched the top two spots in pairs figure skating, with a victory by Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who led the competition after a flawless short program, and a silver medal for another Russian duo, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov. Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy took the bronze following a couple of stumbles during their free skate.
The Trankov-Volosozhar win returns Russia to the top of the Olympic podium in pairs figure skating, after Vancouver 2010 snapped the country's winning streak that went back a half century, to 1964.
In the women's hockey tournament, Canada defeated the United States to finish as leaders of Group A. Both teams now head for the semifinals and are universally expected to meet again in the event’s final. Mark Sappenfield explains why:
The fact is, the United States and Canada really only get a good game when they play against each other. The other games are mostly a matter of moral victories for their opponents. When Finland lost to the US, 3-1, earlier in the tournament, it took pride in "winning" the third period, 1-0...
[T]he clear No. 3 team in world hockey, Finland, still looks like it's hanging off a cliff by its fingernails any time it plays the US or Canada. Occasionally, it has won, as can sometimes happen in hockey. Finland happens to have perhaps the best goalie in the world in Noora Raty, and when it beat the US in November, Raty summarized the game thus to the Los Angeles Times: "At one point I was kind of laughing, 'How am I making all these saves?' "
In Saturday's 3-1 loss to the US, the No. 3 team in the world was outshot 43-15.
The women's downhill event ended in a gold-medal tie between Tina Maze of Slovenia and Dominique Gisin of Switzerland. Their times were equivalent to the hundredth of a second (stirring questions of why even more accurate measurements aren't posted to determine a winner, despite being available). Lara Gut of Switzerland won the bronze.
Stefan Groothuis of The Netherlands won the men’s 1,000-meter speedskating race, clenching his fourth gold medal in five speedskating events at these Games. The silver went to Canada's Denny Morrison, who wasn’t initially scheduled to compete in the event but came in when a teammate gave up his spot. But it was a disappointing night for American skater Shani Davis, who had won this event at the two previous Winter Games but today finished eighth.
Germany continued to dominate the luge track, with a victory in doubles for Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, a pair known as “The two Tobis.”
As the day came to a close, here is how Mark Sappenfield summarized Team USA's progress and prospects:
[Today's set of awards] keeps the USA on pace to match what it did in Turin. OK, so that would be a letdown after winning 34 and 37 medals in Salt Lake and Vancouver, respectively. But teams always do better in home Olympics, and Vancouver was essentially a home Olympics. Sochi, decidedly, is not.
With a third of the Olympic calendar finished, the US has nine medals and three gold, which would average out to about 27 and nine over the whole Games. Team USA had 25 and nine in Turin.