So much drama and thrills on Day 6 of the Sochi Olympics.
First off, the developments that shocked and stunned the figure skating world. It was a dramatic and surprising day in the men's figure skating short program. At every recent Olympics, it is the men's side that have provided some of the biggest surprises and upsets in the Olympics, with so many slips and falls, and today's men's short program displayed the disappointment and agony once more.
It was a devastating upset for Russia, after winning the team figure skating gold and pairs figure skating gold and silver, to bear painful witness to the end of legendary Russian skater Evgeni Plushenko's career. He was Russia's only entrant in the event and now they are out of the competition, putting the brakes on the country's hopes to regain the dominant position in the figure skating world. Former world champion, Torino 2006 gold medalist, Salt Lake 2002 and Vancouver 2010 silver medalist, fell in training and his injuries (and the toll on his body from surgeries) were painfully on display when he hurt himself in a failed jump. And he withdrew from competition to the shock and dismay of the Russian crowd.
There was all ready speculation that Evgeni Plushenko, 31, was not up to performing in the men's event, given his numerous back and knee surgeries and recent performance at Russian nationals, where Maxim Kovtun, 18, beat him to the top spot. But the Russian federation decided, after a closed door performance by Plushenko, to give their one spot in the men's competition to Plushenko. The Russians had a chance to bring in Kovtun, but they decided not to and take a gamble with Plushenko. A gamble that now leaves them without a man in the event.
Now, truth be told, I always thought Plushenko was a character. His whole macho, over the top antics and self promotion also proved entertaining for me. While other skaters are all smiles and demure when speaking to the public, Plushenko was always kind of blunt and refreshingly honest in his very strong opinions. He made the perfect adversary; he was the kind of guy you wanted to see get his comeuppance, but at the same time, respected his skills and his candor. And when he withdrew and subsequently announced his long overdue retirement, the disbelief and dismay of the Russian audience soon deflated the energy of the crowd.
And things only seemed to get worse from there, as the first few skaters did not perform very well. So many competitors slipped and fell and seem to put in lackluster performances. Even American Jeremy Abbott fell hard on his quad attempt and laid on the ice for a few moments to the gasps of the crowd. But with the crowd cheering him on, he was able to get up and continue, delivering a wonderful and energetic performance with the crowd supporting him all the way. The fall cost him a medal contention, but the crowd was pleased with his efforts. And the energy would start to return with American Jason Brown, though lacking a quad jump, put in a stellar, clean, lively performance that earned the 19 year old a number 6 spot at the end of the short program. Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic put in a wonderful performance that continued to push the crowds excitement back up.
Look for 20 year old Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, who debut at 11th at Vancouver 2010 as a 16 year old, to make a serious challenge for bronze. He is recovering from back and ankle injuries, but he has only gotten better since Vancouver 2010, and is the current world silver medalist; I actually think he should've won the world championship over Chan because he put in a much better performance. Currently, he is trained by his hero, Vancouver 2010 champion, Evan Lysacek, and is coached by the legendary Frank Carroll.
I'd like to add that even with Plushenko's exit marking the end of the old order, I am still pleased to see the old veterans doing battle for Olympics glory one last time: Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, Vancouver 2010 bronze medalist, in his 3rd Olympics; France's Brian Joubert, former world champion, in his 4th Olympics; Czech Republic's Tomas Verner, in his 3rd Olympics. It has been my pleasure to watch these guys over the course of their careers and I wish them well.
Moving on: The Americans sweep the men's freestyle skiing slopestyle competition. The best of two runs wins the event, on a course where skiers have to ski on rails and do tricks and perform very high jumps and flips and turns, . It was quite a treat for the audience to watch these athletes fly in the air and display their awesome techniques and survive hard crashes. And all the Americans put in outstanding runs to claim all three spots on the podium. Joss Christensen soars to gold, Gus Kenworthy lands on silver, and Nick Goepper jumps to bronze.
And in a stunning display of mind over matter, of all heart and willpower, Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland won the women's 10km classic cross country race with a broken left foot!
|What's the best cure for a broken foot? A gold medal!|
Happiness and heartache was plentiful in the chaotic and dangerous and furious sport of short track speed skating:
First up, Li Jianrou of China lucked out and seized the moment, in the women's 500m short track when Great Britain's Elise Christie caused a crash that took out South Korea's heavily favored Park Seung-hi and Italy's Arianna Fontana, who were in 1st and 2nd position until the crash. And as the top 3 leaders slid across the ice and smashed into the walls, 4th place Li Jianrou had a clear path to finish the race to win the gold! It is an emotional race, tears of joy for Li Jianrou, whose compatriot and heavily favored Fan Kexin, failed in the semifinals. No one expected Li Jianrou to medal, but in the crazy and mad world of short track, anything can happen! And it's tears of sorrow for Christie, who's disqualifed, losing her silver to Fontanna, bumping Park Seung-hi to bronze.
Over on the men's side, after an agonizing two minute wait for a ruling, the American short track team advances to the 5000m relay team event, after surviving a crazy crash with South Korea in the semifinals! South Korea's Lee Ho-Suk's hand caused a collision with American Eddy Alvarez in the last 4 laps of the race, leaving the Netherlands and Kazakhstan to take the two qualifying spots amidst the carnage!
Meanwhile, at the women's 1000m speed skating race, Hong Zhang of China rose above the tide to beat out the orange crush for the gold. The Dutch settle with Ireen Wust taking silver and Margot Boer claiming the bronze.
And what an incredible Olympics for Martin Fourcade of France who wins gold in the men's individual 20km biathlon, just 3 days after winning the 12.5km pursuit. Erik Lesser of Germany shoots his way to silver; and Evgeniy Garanichev of Russia wins the bronze.
And finally, the Germans continue their luge domination in the Olympic debut of the luge relay. Germany takes gold, Russia takes silver, and Latvia takes bronze.
What a day! Full of shocks and surprises and so much drama. And more is on the way!