Newspaper article International New York Times

First Gold Appeals to the Soul of Games Host ; Russia Restores Its Reign in Figure Skating with a Victory in New Team Event

Newspaper article International New York Times

First Gold Appeals to the Soul of Games Host ; Russia Restores Its Reign in Figure Skating with a Victory in New Team Event

Article excerpt

The host nation won its first gold medal on Sunday, finishing first in the new team figure skating competition.

In an arena filled with waving flags, the coronating presence of President Vladimir V. Putin, bouquets of tossed flowers and a whiff of scandal, Russia won its first gold medal as host of the Sochi Olympics, first place in a new team figure skating competition and reasserting its prominence in the marquee sport of the Winter Games.

The victory Sunday at the Iceberg Skating Palace brought a buoyant moment for the home country and a restorative achievement for a dominant figure skating team that had failed to win a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It was the first time since 1960 that Russia or the Soviet Union had failed to win gold in the sport, but it turned out to be a brief drought linked to the sporting tumult that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"It's important, because it is not an individual event but a team event, and it brings joy to the whole country," said Tamara Moskvina, who has coached Russian pairs skaters to four Olympic gold medals. "Figure skating is our tradition. It combines technique and art, and Russia has great tradition in those fields."

A team competition was introduced in Sochi to bring more visibility to a sport whose vitality and credibility had been sapped by predetermined outcomes, a scoring system inaccessible to casual fans and the anonymous nature of the judging.

Canada won the team silver medal, and the United States took bronze.

As the medalists celebrated, though, skating again had veered into accusations of impropriety. L'Equipe, a French sports newspaper, recently quoted an unidentified Russian coach as saying that the United States and Russia had conspired to fix the team event and the pairs and ice dancing competitions at the expense of Canada.

Denials and shrugs have been issued all around. And it was clear in the team event that if Russia did seek illicit help, it did not need it. By any objective measure, the victory came by merit.

"For all this talk of a deal, the Russians would have won anyway," said David Wallechinsky, the president of the International Society of Olympic Historians. …

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