Russia surged to the top of the Olympic medal count standings Saturday for the first time, drawing on strong performances in speed skating and skeleton.
Victor An, the former South Korean short track speed skater who became a Russian citizen for these Games, won gold in the 1,000-meter short track race Saturday. He was tailed by his Russian teammate Vladimir Gigorev who took home silver in the event.
Russia won a surprise gold in men’s skeleton after Alexander Tretiakov knocked off the defending World Champion, Martin Dukurs from Latvia, who settled for silver. The event also yielded Team USA’s sole medal of the day when Matthew Antoine claimed bronze.
US medal favorites Shani Davis and Julia Mancuso landed off the podium in their events, the men’s 1,000-meter speed skate and the women’s super-giant.
Russia now has 15 total medals, followed closely by the Netherlands and the US who have 14 each. Germany still holds the highest number of gold medals at seven.
In other events, Austria’s Anna Fenninger pulled off a surprise victory in the women’s downhill super-giant and her teammate Nicole Hoso took bronze. Poland’s Kamil Stoch continued his dominance of men’s ski jumping, pulling in a gold in the large hill after taking home the top hardware in the normal hill jump earlier this week.
In non-medal events, the US and Russian men’s ice hockey team played a thrilling match in round one of group play. The US won in a shootout to take the game 3-2.
“The Russians looked stone-cold even with the US,” wrote Mark Sappenfield the Monitor’s correspondent in Sochi. “Yes, each team had different strengths and weaknesses. The US lacked the skill of Russia's top two forward lines. Russia lacked the forward and defensive depth of the Americans. But on balance, it was a wash, and the 2-2 score seemed just about right.”
In an Olympics that has had hints of Cold War undertones between the US and Russia, the atmosphere, too, was Olympic in the best sense. Not a single boo for the Americans. No trace of lingering ill will. Just a passion for the sport that, for the Olympics, seems just about perfect.
And though the Russians in Olympic Park might not have gone home winners Saturday night, they will go home with greater confidence that, when the games actually matter, their team will be ready.