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Notes from the Sochi Olympics

Thursday - 2/20/2014, 4:16am  ET

A roundup of news from the Associated Press in Sochi:

RUSSIAN HOCKEY: Alex Ovechkin. Pavel Datsyuk. Ilya Kovalchuk. Evgeni Malkin. The stars all seemed to be aligning this time around in Russia, where hockey is a national treasure and the fans yearn for the dominant days of the old Soviet Red Army teams. And they were aligning at home, in this resort town on the Black Sea, in an arena built to show off the nation's hockey prowess.

With all this in mind, the fans were certain that the glory days were returning. They packed the Bolshoy Ice Dome, painted their faces in the national colors and blew horns as they walked the steps into the arena to cheer on their heroes.

When it was all over, when the mighty Russian men's hockey team with the big stars and the massive expectations failed to earn a medal for the third straight Winter Olympics, thousands of their demanding fans streamed out of the shiny new arena and squinted as their eyes caught the setting sun.

Many had no words to express the disappointment that came with Russia's 3-1 loss to Finland on Wednesday. This was supposed be the team to end a 22-year gold medal drought and provide a hopeful nation with the defining moment of an Olympics on home turf.

The team got off to a roaring start with a 5-2 win over newcomer Slovenia, but they followed that with a shootout loss to the Americans and a shootout win over Slovakia before they were bounced by the Finns.

USA's LIGETY WINS: This was the race Ted Ligety knew he should win.

So did everybody else.

And that, Ligety explained Wednesday after becoming the first American man in Olympic history with two Alpine skiing gold medals, was precisely what made the feat so tough.

Sometimes, being a popular pick can be overwhelming. Ligety learned that four years ago, and dealt with the matter far better on this day.

Scraping the snow with his gloves and hips while taking wide turns around gates, his body swaying left and right with a pendulum's precision, Ligety finished the two-leg giant slalom with a combined time of 2 minutes, 45.29 seconds, winning by nearly a half-second.

His gold is the first for the U.S. Alpine team at the Sochi Games. Yet Ligety's overriding emotion as he fell to the ground in the finish area was something other than pure joy.

"It was a huge relief," said Ligety, a 29-year-old based in Park City, Utah. "All season long, everybody talks about the Olympics, Olympics, Olympics. At a certain point, I was just like, 'Let's do it already. Let's get this thing over with, so we can stop talking about the pressure and everything with it.' So it's awesome to ... finally do it and get the monkey off the back."

LIPNITSKAIA FALLS: Anxiety and energy. Conviction and courage.

They all combined Wednesday -- along with one stunning fall -- to set up an unpredictable race for the Olympic gold medal in women's figure skating.

Nerves almost got the best of Yuna Kim in the short program Wednesday night. Then she showed she is still the favorite to win another title.

Her lead is almost as slim as it could get, .28 points over a woman from the host country -- no, not Julia Lipnitskaia. Russia's Adelina Sotnikova, with a snappy routine that had the crowd on its feet before she finished her final spin, was second, while Lipnitskaia plummeted to fifth after her fall on a triple flip.

PUSSY RIOT WHIPPED BY POLICE: Cossack militia attacked Russia's Pussy Riot punk group with horsewhips on Wednesday as the artists -- who have feuded with Vladimir Putin's government for years -- tried to perform under a sign advertising the Sochi Olympics.

The group has resurfaced as a thorn for Russian authorities this week for the first time in nearly two years, just as Putin had been using the Winter Games to burnish his image at home and charm critics abroad with the most expensive Olympics ever.

Six group members -- five women and one man -- donned their signature ski masks in downtown Sochi and were pulling out a guitar and microphone as at least 10 Cossacks and other security officials moved in. One Cossack appeared to use pepper spray. Another whipped several group members while other Cossacks ripped off their masks and threw the guitar in a garbage can.

Police arrived and questioned witnesses, but no one was arrested.

The Cossacks violently pulled masks from women's heads, beating group member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova with a whip as she lay on the ground.

The incident lasted less than three minutes and one Pussy Riot member, a man wearing a bright yellow tank top, was left with blood on his face, saying he had been pushed to the ground.

"They hit me all across my body, look at my bruises," Tolokonnikova said afterward.


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Tags: olympics