The ice hockey qualifier at the futuristic Bolshoy Ice Dome by
the shores of the Black Sea in Sochi will not determine any medals
but it will play out before a capacity crowd of around 12,000, most
of them roaring on the home team.
For older fans, minds will inevitably turn to the Lake Placid Games
of 1980, when a team of American college players defied the odds to
beat the Soviet Union's "Big Red Machine" 4-3 and go on to win an
The "Miracle on Ice" encapsulated the shift in the balance of power
between Cold War foes, yet despite fundamental changes since,
Russian President Vladimir Putin has evoked the period when
addressing Western criticism of preparations for the Games.
That rhetoric has since faded into the background, however, as a
generally well organized Olympics, and some thrilling sporting
action in Sochi and in the Caucasus mountains that loom in the
distance, has won over many doubters.
A relaxed Putin sipped red wine and chatted with the U.S. Olympic
team in Sochi on Friday, and heaped praise on U.S. athletes, who are
tied in fourth position with Norway in the medals table.
"What I like in you is that you have strong competitors in almost
every discipline, in almost every event you fight for medals," said
the leader, whose legacy will rest in part on whether the Games are
The buildup to Russia's first Winter Olympics was far more frosty.
U.S. President Barack Obama decided not to come to Sochi and,
following criticism of Putin's stance on gay rights, sent a
delegation including gay officials.
There have also been accusations of widespread corruption and
profligacy surrounding the Olympics, which some estimates say cost
$51 billion, making them the most expensive ever held.
Putin has dismissed those charges, and some Russian officials put
the price tag much lower.
SUITS OR SKATERS?
In a blow to the host nation, Russian skicross racer Maria
Komissarova was seriously injured while training at the PSX Olympic
skicross venue at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Doctors made an immediate decision to operate, and Ria Novosti news
agency reported that the athlete had fractured her spine with a
dislocation. The crash was the first serious athlete accident of the
Back in the Olympic park, the biggest concern for the Americans was
to turn around wretched form in the speed skating.
After a string of flops, the skaters plan to ditch their high-tech
outfits and go back to skin suits in the hope that different apparel
will drag them back into contention.
The body governing the sport and the International Olympic Committee
have yet to approve the switch, but have no issue with the change as
long as it complies with the rules.
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"We are constantly evaluating all aspects of race preparation and
execution to help our athletes improve their output and maximize
their physical and psychological advantages," said U.S. speed
skating boss Mike Plant.
Speculation about the causes of the U.S. athletes' poor start began
after double Olympic champion Shani Davis, a favorite for gold after
winning three of four World Cup races this season, finished eighth
in Wednesday's 1,000m event.
Women's 1,000m World Cup leader Heather Richardson and world record
holder Brittany Bowe also floundered over the distance in the
women's event on Thursday, leaving the United States still searching
for their first medal at the Sochi oval.
Some of that concern was focused on the new "Mach 39" suits made by
Under Armour, which Lockheed Martin helped design and was marketed
as the fastest-ever in the sport.
All eyes will be on Davis as he goes in the men's 1,500 meters on
Saturday, but he faces tough opposition from Koen Verweij, who is
aiming to maintain Dutch dominance on the ice in the Adler Arena.
SEVEN GOLDS ON EIGHTH DAY
There are two golds up for grabs in the rough and tumble world of
short-track speed skating on the eighth full day of competition in
In the 1,500 meters, China's Zhou Yang defends her 2010 title, while
in the men's 1,000 meters short track final, home favorite Viktor
Ahn coasted into the final while his main rival, Canadian Charles
Hamelin, crashed out.
Up in the mountains, Anna Fenninger maintained Austria's grip on the
women's Alpine skiing super-G title, in a race where just finishing
proved a big challenge for the early starters.
Snow conditions have been a major talking point throughout the
Games, with clear skies and temperatures of around 14 degrees
Celsius in the mountains making the surface soft and slushy,
particularly later in the day.
In and around the impressive Olympic village in Sochi, people have
been wandering around in T-shirts and swimming in the sea, in a
surreal atmosphere for a Winter Games.
Sweden provided the latest upset when they won gold in the women's
cross-country 4x5km relay, while hot favorites Norway could only
Russian Alexander Tretiakov is well set to win a first Russian gold
in skeleton, heading into Saturday's final two heats with a useful
advantage over Latvian Martins Dukurs.
Austria's ski jumping team, surprisingly shut out of the normal hill
final, hopes to restore honor in the large hill event where Poland's
Kamil Stoch will be the man to beat.
(Additional reporting by Reuters Winter Olympic team in Sochi and
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