SOCHI, RUSSIA - The way the Russians have been skating in the team figure skating competition at the Sochi Olympics, they won’t need any shady deals to win the gold medal.
With rumours swirling around the Iceberg Skating Palace Saturday that the Russians and Americans had supposedly hatched up a deal to prop each other up, and possibly screw Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir out of the gold, the home country skaters have taken it upon themselves to prove to their supporters they can win this new Olympic event fair and square.
And they almost certainly will win the new event Sunday night.
With three events left, the Russians have a near-insurmountable six-point lead over Canada, 47 points to 41. Canada has almost certainly locked up the silver medal with a seven-point lead over the third place Americans.
Russia’s dominance in the team event began with 2006 Olympic gold medallist Evgeni Plushenko dazzling the competition Thursday night to win the men’s short. That was followed by a winning performance in the pairs short by the Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov — another legitimate win.
And then Saturday night, 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, the 2012 world junior champion, skated a near-flawless performance to win the women’s short. In the final event of the day, the pairs freeskate, the Russian team of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov emerged victorious.
That’s four wins out of five events for the Russians, the only exception the Americans winning the ice dance short. With one more day of competition left in the team event — the men’s, women’s and ice dance long programs on Sunday — the Russians are in total control, without any questionable judging thus far.
But a second scandal came to light on Sunday, also involving the Canadians.
According to Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk, every skater, or at least one member of every team entered in the team competition for Canada, has been drug-tested in Sochi, including women’s singles skater Kaetlyn Osmond, who was awoken from a nap in her room on Saturday and taken away for testing just hours before her short program.
Slipchuk said drug testing isn’t unusual at Olympics, but the frequency of tests on Canadian skaters (seven so far) since arriving in Sochi has raised eyebrows with Canadian officials.
“It’s just interesting,” said Slipchuk. “And today with the timing (of Osmond’s), it’s tough — the day of competition. If they would have showed up at four o’clock ...”
Slipchuk said Skate Canada has forwarded its concerns to the Canadian Olympic Committee. When asked if he believes there is something underhanded happening — if someone with the Russian organizing committee, for instance, is trying to throw them off with targeted or extra testing — Slipchuk said he wasn’t sure, but would be looking for answers.
“When we’ve told people how many of our skaters have been tested, they’ve been surprised,” he said. “Our guys don’t get thrown off easy so I don’t think it will impact (us). I guess it’s another one of those things that you go through and have to be prepared for.”
Osmond, 18, certainly didn’t let the inconvenience of a game-day drug test throw her off. The Edmonton-based skater was solid in her short, her first-ever Olympic skate, finishing fifth with a score of 62.54, a season best. Defending Olympic ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir finished second in their short program to American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White (75.98-72.98), mainly the result of some missed-timed twizzles in their program.
“I think that slowness was probably a result of a loss of balance or a loss of speed after the first twizzle,” said Virtue. “I managed to stay on one foot, so I was hoping to still get that level, but I think it slowed down a bit too much.”
Saturday’s team event ended with the pairs long, and the Waterloo-based team of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch placed second with a score of 129.74.
Other than the drug testing, and the fact that the gold medal is probably out of reach, the Canadians skaters have really enjoyed the atmosphere of skating in Russia, especially the enthusiastic crowds.
“I don’t know about you guys, but it felt to me like I was at a hockey game, like I was watching the ’72 Summit Series in a room, cheering ‘Russia, Russia,’” said Moir. “It was kind of cool and growing up as a hockey player it made me feel like I was ready to go.”