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Under Putin's Gaze, Russia Schools the World in Team Figure Skating

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Julia Lipnitskaia.Julia Lipnitskaia wa the star of the show. Photo:reutersRussian President Vladimir Putin gazed down approvingly from the stands as his country schooled the rest of the world in figure skating, winning its first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics in the process reports.

Sunday saw Russia win the inaugural team event in the Olympic figure skating program, an eight-round shootout with ten other nations at the Iceberg Skating Palace on the Black Sea coast.

Julia Lipnitskaia was the star of the show, a 15-year-old prodigy mature beyond her years who was the only competitor to win both short and free programs other than Charlie White and Meryl Davis in the ice dance.

Despite being more than twice his precocious compatriot’s age, Evgeny Plushenko came second in the short program and won his free skate on Sunday as Russia charged to the top of the leaderboard, eventually winning it by 10 points from Canada.

"It's the first medal for Russia this Olympics. I love being first," Plushenko said. "I have such a great team around me; my wife, my coach, my choreographer, my manager. They help me so much and I skated for them, for my sons. I would love to have more medals."

The Canadians came into the event as overwhelming favorite for gold with the biggest squad of any nation, but never recovered from Patrick Chan’s disappointing third place behind Plushenko in the short program.

The United States also got off to a poor start as Jeremy Abbott fell and came fifth, and Ashley Wagner came fourth, with the nation ultimately claiming the bronze a further five points back.

The manner of Russia’s victory was a slight anticlimax: Plushenko’s win left Canada needing to triumph in the women’s singles event that followed. The moment America’s Gracie Gold scored higher than Kaetlyn Osmond, Russia’s first Winter Games gold medal on home soil was confirmed, rendering Lipnitskaia's mesmerizing skate meaningless in the medal allocation.

The night rounded off with American pair White and Davis winning the ice dance over perennial rivals Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue. Russia's European silver medalists Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov came third.

Putin, dressed in a bright red Russian team track suit, came down to the ice to congratulate Lipnitskaia, Plushenko and the rest of the team, also shaking hands with some of their rivals including Charlie White of the United States.

Attention now turns to the traditional individual events, which begin on Tuesday with the pairs short program.

Russiahad charged into the lead on Thursday, when world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won the short program in the pairs and Plushenko finished runner-up to Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.

Half way through the event on Saturday, Russia had accrued a five-point lead courtesy of Lipnitskaia's victory and a win for Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar in the pairs.

It is the first time the team event is being held in Olympic competition.

Countries sent out skaters in all four categories: men's and women's individual, pairs and ice dance. They all performed a short program, and the winners of each segment earned 10 points for their country, the runners-up nine, third place eight, down to one point for last place.

The points were aggregated and the top five nations progressed to the free program while the others were eliminated.

The introduction of the team event gives skaters a second shot at a medal that they have welcomed, but it also comes with the inherent risk of injury before the traditional individual disciplines.

February 10 2014, 10:10

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