The inaugural team event, decided at a packed Iceberg Skating
Palace in Sochi on Sunday, was also a personal triumph for President
Vladimir Putin, who has staked his reputation on staging a
State television followed the beaming 61-year-old as he shook hands
with and congratulated the skaters, smiled and slapped hands with
young volunteers, drank beer and urged the Russian team to go on to
greater sporting heights.
After a buildup to the Olympics overshadowed by threats of militant
violence, international criticism of a contentious "anti-gay
propaganda" law and allegations of widespread corruption, Putin
He hopes to use Russia's first Winter Games, the world's most
expensive ever held at $51 billion, to project the country as a
resurgent nation that deserves its place among the world's elite
"Good job guys, my congratulations to you all," Putin said to the
victorious skaters around him. "You have a lot of work ahead of you
here, so don't relax."
Kommersant newspaper, which like others splashed the skating story
on its front page, reported that it took Russia five days to
register its first gold at the last Winter Games in Vancouver in
2010, compared with day two this time around.
Russia's three golds in Canada was its worst tally at a Winter
Olympics, and Sochi is seen as a chance to promote not only
political power, but also sporting prowess.
After two full days of competition, Norway leads the medals table,
with two golds, a silver and four bronzes, while Russia shares
fourth spot with Canada.
FIVE MEDAL EVENTS
The first of five events to be decided on Monday is the women's
super combined skiing, and at the halfway stage American Julia
Mancuso leads reigning Olympic champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of
Germany by a healthy margin after the downhill.
Austria's Matthias Mayer won the coveted men's downhill on Sunday
after conquering the treacherous Rosa Khutor run set among the
Caucasus mountains that tower above the main Olympic park in Sochi
on the Black Sea coast.
Champion Alexandre Bilodeau and Mikael Kingsbury are expected to
fight it out for the men's moguls title in freestyle skiing, while
40-year-old Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen will be going for a
record 13th Winter Games medal in the 12.5 km biathlon pursuit,
after winning the sprint event on Saturday.
Back in Sochi, South Korean Mo Tae-bum is bidding to repeat his 2010
success in the 500 metres speed skating.
South Korea-born Viktor Ahn races for Russia in the 1,500m
short-track speed skating after switching nationality following his
omission from the 2010 team. He won the event in 2006 when competing
for South Korea as Ahn Hyun-soo.
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Looking further ahead over the February 7-23 Games, women ski
jumpers will compete in the Olympics for the first time.
Women jumpers had petitioned to be included in every Games since
Nagano in 1998, but it was not until April 2011 that the
International Olympic Committee announced female athletes could
compete on the normal hill in Sochi.
The clash between the United States and Russian men's ice hockey
teams on Saturday is a mouthwatering prospect that will bring back
memories of the "miracle on ice" clash at Lake Placid in 1980 when
the Americans shocked the dominant Soviets to win 4-3.
WINNING LOCALS OVER?
A Russian victory in that game would further enhance the mood among
locals. Even some of those worst affected by years of disruption
caused by huge infrastructure projects in Sochi appear to be won
over by the gleaming new Olympic park.
"It's just fantastic," Sergei Klyuyev, from the Adler area where the
park was built, said as he walked through with his family on Sunday,
admiring the state-of-the-art stadiums.
"There's been building work here for five years, but look at all this
around us. We regret nothing, not even the cost."
Putin has also defended the Olympic project, saying it helped shield
Russia from the worst of the financial crisis.
Not all Russians are convinced, however. A recent survey by
independent pollster Levada showed 47 percent of Russians believe
the cost of the Games has soared because funds have been embezzled
Norway, bidding to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, said in Sochi on
Monday it would limit the bill to around $5 billion.
Included in Russia's eye-watering Winter Games costs is a major
security operation, as Islamist militants based in nearby Chechnya
and other north Caucasus regions have threatened to launch attacks
Some 37,000 security personnel are on high alert in and around
Sochi, although officials believe the risk of militant violence is
greater elsewhere in Russia.
A major attack during the Games would embarrass Putin, who launched
a war to crush a rebellion in Chechnya in 1999.
(Additional reporting by Keith Weir in Sochi and Martyn Herman and
David Ljunggren in Rosa Khutor; editing by Peter Rutherford)
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