Olympic Daily News - Monday, February 17th

The Sports NetworkFebruary 17, 2014 

Sochi, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - It was finally time for Meryl Davis and Charlie White at the Olympics.

The two-time world champion Americans won ice dancing gold Monday at the Sochi Games, edging defending Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

Davis and White earned silver four years ago in Vancouver, finishing behind their practice partners, and on Monday became the first Americans to win the ice dancing Olympic championship.

Skating last on Monday after winning the short dance on Sunday with a record score of 78.89, Davis and White were brilliant again on Monday and skated effortlessly, winning the free dance with a score of 116.63 for a two-day record total of 195.52.

Virtue and Moir started the free dance in second place and took the ice first among the contending couples. A flawless performance gave them 114.66 points in the free dance and a combined total of 190.99.

The bronze went to the Russian duo of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, who electrified the home crowd with a dynamic skate to "Swan Lake." Ilinykh and Katsalapov earned a free dance score of 110.44 for a total of 183.48.

France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat finished fourth overall with a two-day total of 177.22, while Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev were next at 172.92.

Bobrova and Soloviev, 2013 world bronze medalists, had the unenviable task of skating after Ilinykh and Katsalapov and simply could not match their countrymates.

Ice dancing competition over the past four years has simply come down to the two couples from North America.

In addition to the gold medal four years ago, Virtue and Moir captured the world title in 2010 and 2012. Davis and White finished behind the Canadian duo at the '10 and '12 worlds, while finishing ahead of them for world gold in 2011 and 2013.

The United States had never won gold in the competition, which made its Olympic debut at the 1976 Innsbruck Games. In addition to the silver won by Davis and White four years ago, the tandem of Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto captured silver in 2006 and the team of Colleen O'Connor and James Millns won bronze in 1976.

Two other American couples finished among the top nine. Madison Chock and Evan Bates placed eighth, just ahead of the sibling duo of Maia and Alex Shibutani. Canada's Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje finished seventh.

RUSSIA TAKES TWO-MAN GOLD; U.S. GRABS BRONZE

Rzhanaya Polyana, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Russia won the gold medal in the men's two-man bobsled competition Monday, while the United States secured its first medal in the event in over 60 years by bringing home bronze.

Alexander Zubkov, with brakeman Alexey Voevoda, piloted the Russian sled to the best time in every run, culminating in a 56.49-second fourth run that gave the top Russian team a total time of 3 minutes, 45.39 seconds.

The U.S. sled piloted by Steven Holcomb compiled a total time of 3:46.27 -- just .03 seconds quicker than Russia's second two-man team -- to give the Americans their first two-man medal at the Olympics since 1952.

The 33-year-old Holcomb claimed his second Olympic medal after helping the U.S. win gold at Vancouver in the four-man.

Zubkov, the flagbearer for Russia, won his first Olympic gold after two-man bronze in 2010 and four-man silver in 2006, while Swiss Beat Hefti secured his first Olympic silver and fourth medal overall after piloting the top squad from Switzerland to a total time of 3:46.05.

The top Canadian team, piloted by Justin Kripps, trailed the U.S. for third by just .09 seconds after three runs, but faltered during their final run and finished in sixth, just ahead of the second Canadian team.

DOMRACHEVA CONTINUES DOMINANCE WITH GOLD IN WOMEN'S MASS START

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Darya Domracheva of Belarus secured her third gold medal of the Sochi Olympics Monday after gliding to victory in the women's 12.5-kilometer biathlon mass start competition.

Domracheva, who won the 10-km pursuit and the 15-km individual race earlier in Sochi, turned in a time of 35 minutes, 25.6 seconds, besting Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic by 20.2 seconds.

The reigning mass start world champion, Domracheva used her sharpshooting and swift skiing to create an insurmountable lead. She didn't miss a shot until her final stop, when she was well ahead of the pack.

The 27-year-old Belarusian became the first female biathlete to win three golds at a single Winter Olympics.

Norway's Tiril Eckhoff, making her Olympic debut, finished 7.3 seconds after Soukalova to take bronze.

American Susan Dunklee crossed the finish line in 36:57.9 to place 12th, marking the best ever finish by a U.S. woman in Olympic biathlon competition.

The men's 15-km biathlon mass start, which was originally scheduled for Sunday, was postponed for the second straight day Monday due to dense fog in the area. The men's snowboard cross was also postponed from Monday to Tuesday.

KUSHNIR CLAIMS SECOND STRAIGHT AERIALS GOLD FOR BELARUS

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Anton Kushnir of Belarus won gold in the men's aerials Monday at the Sochi Games, claiming his country's second straight Olympic title in the freestyle skiing event.

Belarusian skier Alexei Grishin, who won gold four years ago in Vancouver, failed to even make it to the three-round final before his compatriot Kushnir made it two straight Olympic aerials titles for the country.

Kushnir had the highest-scoring jump of the day in his third attempt of the final round. His gold-winning jump earned a score of 134.50 from the judges to easily outpace silver medalist David Morris of Australia.

Grishin's aerials win in 2010 marked the first-ever gold medal for Belarus at the Winter Games, but the country has earned five golds in Sochi. Darya Domracheva has claimed three gold in women's biathlon and Alla Tsuper took the Olympic title in the women's aerials.

The finals began with 12 skiers before the field was whittled to eight after the first jump. Only four skiers make it to the third and final jump.

Morris' final jump earned a mark of 110.41 and China's Jia Zongyang was third with a score of 95.06. Jia's countryman Qi Guangpu finished fourth.

All three skiers to make the podium in Tuesday's event were first-time Olympic medalists.

After earning the last of 12 spots for the finals, American skier Mac Bohonnon was the seventh of eight skiers to move into the second jump of the finals. He had a score of 105.21 to reach the final eight, but Bohonnon failed to qualify for the third jump. The 18-year-old was fifth in the second round with a score of 113.72, leaving him 1.33 points shy of the fourth berth in the last round.

Bohonnon was the lone American in the field. Jeret Peterson, who claimed silver for the U.S. in Vancouver, tragically killed himself less than 18 months after competing in 2010.

Travis Gerrits was the only representative for Canada and he finished in seventh place after Bohonnon and Oleksandr Abramenko of Ukraine.

GERMANY BEATS AUSTRIA FOR SKI JUMPING TEAM GOLD

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Germany's Severin Freund helped his team claim ski jumping gold over the Austrians Monday at the Sochi Games, sealing the victory on the final attempt of the competition at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center.

Germany ended the team event with 1,041.1 points to dethrone the two-time defending Olympic champion Austrians, who were 2.7 points behind for silver.

The Germans entered the final jump of the team event with a lead of just 3.4 points over Austria, setting up an all-important final jump for gold between Freund and Gregor Schlierenzauer.

Schlierenzauer, winner of three medals four years ago in Vancouver for the Austrians, scored a 131.4 in his last jump. Freund couldn't match that score, but his mark of 130.7 was enough to give Germany the gold.

The Germans won their first gold in this event since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. They were silver medalists behind Austria at the Vancouver Games.

It was the first men's ski jumping medal of the 2014 Games for the powerful Austrian team, which could not reach the podium in either of the individual events.

Japan won bronze with a total score of 1,024.9, claiming the country's first medal in this event since winning gold at the 1998 Nagano Games. Poland, with double-gold medalist Kamil Stoch, finished fourth.

The United States team of Peter Frenette, Nicholas Fairall, Anders Johnson and Nicholas Alexander failed to qualify for the eight-team final round. The Americans finished in 10th place with a score of 402.5 in Round 1, putting them 59 points behind Finland for the last berth in the finals.

Canada finished last of the 12 teams competing in the first round.

AMERICANS DOMINATE SWEDEN; GOLD MEDAL REMATCH WITH CANADA AWAITS

Sochi, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - There was clearly no looking ahead for the U.S. women's hockey team.

The Americans accounted for the first 26 shots in their semifinal against Sweden and rolled to a 6-1 victory, earning a spot in the gold medal game on Thursday against Canada.

Alex Carpenter, Kacey Bellamy and Amanda Kessel scored to stake the Americans to a 3-0 lead before the Swedes even registered a shot against U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter late in the opening period.

The United States outshot Sweden by a whopping 70-9 count in the rout. Monique Lamoureux, Megan Bozek and Brianna Decker also scored for the Americans, who haven't won gold since women's hockey made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Games in Nagano.

Canada, which advanced on Monday with a 3-1 win over Switzerland, lost to the U.S. in the 1998 title game, but has since won the last three Olympic gold medals, beating the Americans in the championship game in 2002 and 2010.

"We're very pleased and taking the moment to recognize where we're at and what we're going to be playing for on Thursday," said U.S. head coach Katey Stone. "Again, we're building here and the best is yet to come we hope."

Sweden has just one victory in 28 meetings with the U.S., but it was a big win -- a 3-2 shootout triumph in the 2006 Olympic semifinals. The Americans gained a measure of revenge four years later with a 9-1 rout of the Swedes in the 2010 Olympic semis.

Anna Borgqvist was credited with the lone goal for Sweden late in the contest, spoiling Vetter's shutout bid. Vetter finished with just eight saves.

Valentina Wallner started in net for Sweden and was pulled after yielding five goals on 47 shots. Kim Martin Hasson turned aside all but one of the 23 shots she faced in relief, including a penalty shot by Jocelyne Lamoureux late in the third.

The Americans grabbed a 1-0 lead on a power play. Kelli Stack carried the puck through the offensive zone along the right wing and circled behind the net before firing a pass into the slot for Carpenter, whose shot was headed wide but deflected off the skate of a Swedish defender and slid into the net.

Bellamy increased the advantage just 1:06 later when a blast from the left point eluded a screened Wallner, and Kessel chipped in a rebound from the left side of the crease with 8:41 remaining in the period to make it 3-0.

The Swedes took a timeout after the third goal and had a couple of chances on the power play late in the period, but managed just one harmless shot.

An interference penalty on Sweden's Pernilla Winberg early in the second period led to Monique Lamoureux's power-play goal, and Bozek's point blast slid under Wallner with 7:43 left in the second for a 5-0 cushion.

Wallner was pulled soon after.

The Swedes finally snuck a shot past Vetter, as Borgqvist deflected an Emma Eliasson point shot into the back of the net with 6:56 remaining.

The Americans had a hard time beating Martin Hasson, who made a nice pad save on Jocelyne Lamoureux's penalty shot attempt. Lamoureux tried a spin move in front of the crease and Hasson kept the right pad extended to turn aside the backhand attempt.

Martin Hasson finally yielded a goal with 3:02 to play when Decker's shot from the slot rang off the crossbar and Swedish defenseman Emilia Andersson inadvertently kicked it into her own net.

Sweden will play Switzerland for the bronze on Thursday.

Canada TOPS SWISS, REMATCH WITH USA ON TAP

Sochi, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Natalie Spooner scored twice and Hayley Wickenheiser added a pair of assists, as Canada gained its fifth straight gold-medal contest by topping Switzerland, 3-1, on Monday.

Melodie Daoust also lit the lamp for the Canadians, who look to win their fourth straight Olympic title in yet another rematch with Team USA on Thursday.

The Americans cruised into the final thanks to a 6-1 rout of Sweden in the earlier semifinal, but have fallen short twice against their northern neighbors (2002, 2010) since winning it all in Nagano 16 years ago.

Shannon Szabados had her long shutout streak ended, but picked up the win thanks to 21 saves.

Jessica Lutz provided the sole offense for the Swiss, who reached the medal round for the first time and will take on the Swedes for bronze.

Florence Schelling played well in defeat, making 45 stops, including 36 in a row to end the contest.

The Northeastern product made 22 saves during the second period to keep Switzerland's deficit at 3-1 after 40 minutes of play, then received help to keep it a two-goal margin from an overzealous Canadian forward.

Canada's fourth goal of the contest was wiped out as the clock approached the eight-minute mark of the third. Although the disc somehow found the back of the net in a goalmouth scramble, officials negated the tally by ruling Schelling was run into by Meghan Agosta-Marciano on the scoring chance.

Spooner later hit the post on a breakaway, and the rest of her teammates couldn't solve Schelling and create some distance with 10 shots in the final stanza.

Switzerland can take solace in the fact that it will post its highest-ever ranking in the Olympics, win or lose, three days from now. The landlocked nation placed fifth in Vancouver four years ago.

Spooner opened the scoring at 7:29 of the first, swooping from the right wing to the left and firing a high shot just under the crossbar from the inner edge of the near circle.

Spooner later caused a 5-on-3 goal to be disallowed due to a crease violation, but seconds afterward, provided a legal screen and a tip of Wickenheiser's blast during the ensuing 5-on-4 edge at 11:10.

It was 3-0 just 23 seconds later on a Daoust marker, but Schelling was perfect from there.

Lutz put her nation on the board, sliding a loose puck home on a power play with 5:14 gone in the second frame.

Swiss forward Laura Benz left the contest briefly after the midway point of the period, after taking a hard check from Canada's Gillian Apps.

On the resulting advantage Szabados robbed Alina Muller in front with a glove stop to keep the lead at two.

Schelling did the same inside of three minutes left to deny an open chance from the right side by Marie-Philip Poulin, then kicked out her pads to stop a hat-trick bid from Spooner a minute later.

HEAVY FOG FORCES OLYMPIC POSTPONEMENTS

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen was leading the men's 10-kilometer sprint at the 1998 Nagano Olympics when the race was canceled because of heavy snow and fog.

According to the International Biathlon Union, that was the last time one of its Olympic events needed to be rescheduled until the men's mass start was postponed this past Sunday because of fog.

It was 16 years and three full Winter Olympics between those postponements.

It took just one more day for it to happen again.

The 15-kilometer race was one of two events that had to be canceled on Monday as another layer of thick fog blanketed the mountains outside Sochi.

The reality of unseasonably mild conditions at the so-called Spring Olympics gave way to uncertainty as organizers scrambled to also reschedule the men's snowboard cross, which had its first round lopped off.

The cancellations might have been an inconvenience for athletes and fans, but organizers ran into a bit of luck in being able to reschedule the competitions for Tuesday, an open day on the slate for both biathlon and snowboarding.

In canceling the men's race Sunday, the IBU said matters were not only bad for spectators in the stadium, but also on the Laura course, where the dense fog made for dangerous track conditions.

That's doubly true for riders in snowboard cross, who compete on a winding course filled with obstacles and steep turns. The sport has seen its share of scary accidents, including Sunday, when American Jackie Hernandez slammed her head in a crash and suffered a concussion.

Conditions were clear when Hernandez fell, proving you don't need fog for the sport to be dangerous.

"This fog, it's super dense up there," U.S. rider Nate Holland said on Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times. "It's the Olympics, we want to have the best riders win and not having anything screwy."

Added Holland: "You think what you're going to do off these features and you can't see anything. You'd have to ride by braille."

Until Monday, weather stories out of Sochi had been about how warm it was, with temperatures even rising into the 60s. Cross country skiers cut the sleeves off their competition uniforms for a race. One skier from Norway cut his pants above the knees, turning them into shorts.

The mild temperatures, though pleasant for visitors, wreaked havoc on volatile courses for the snow events. Slushy conditions on the snowboard halfpipe led to complaints from riders that it was dangerous.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Sochi organizers hadn't purchased enough of the right kind of salt -- yes, salt -- to keep some competition surfaces properly iced.

Salt, particularly the long-grain variety, melts snow so that it may turn into ice when temperatures drop overnight. Icy conditions are preferable in some sports to keep speeds up and make navigation easier.

The newspaper detailed a clandestine operation to have 24 tons of salt shipped by plane from a company based in Switzerland to the mountain venues outside the Olympic host city.

Russia spent a record $51 billion on the Sochi Olympics but the cost of its Hail Mary salt order was only around $3,500.

"It could have ended in disaster," Hans Piersen, a former Swiss Olympic skier- turned salt expert, told the Times. "But it was good teamwork."

It's just Bjoerndalen's luck, or lack thereof, that he is also competing in the first Olympic biathlon race to be rescheduled since Nagano. The fog not only postponed his latest race, it may have delayed a bit of Olympic history.

Bjoerndalen is chasing the all-time Winter Olympics medal record. He won the men's 10-kilometer sprint on Feb. 8 for his 12th medal to tie him with retired Norwegian cross country skier Bjorn Daehlie for the most all-time among Winter Olympians. Daehlie won 12 medals between 1992-98 -- including eight golds, one more than Bjoerndalen.

Bjoerndalen, 40, should win a medal with Norway in the men's biathlon relay on Saturday and could also medal if he races in the mixed relay on Wednesday, so speculation about him breaking the record might well be a formality.

MEN'S SNOWBOARD CROSS POSTPONED DUE TO FOG

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - The men's snowboard cross was postponed Monday because of heavy fog at the Olympic course that didn't clear in time for the races to be held.

Competition was rescheduled for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. local time (1:30 a.m. ET) barring any more weather-related problems.

Tuesday was an open day for snowboarding with no previous races on the slate.

Seeding runs, which determine placement for the final rounds, will not take place. Instead, all 39 riders will move directly to the final rounds and will be placed according to FIS points.

The seeding runs were canceled on Monday but organizers still hoped the rest of the races could be run. The start time for the next race, the 1/8 final, was pushed back before all the races were eventually canceled for the day.

When the competition is held, a new Olympic champion will be crowned. American Seth Wescott, who won the first two Olympic gold medals awarded in the event, isn't competing.

Nate Holland, who finished fourth in 2010, leads the U.S. team trying to keep the gold in American hands and Canada's Robert Fagan returns after finishing fifth at Vancouver.

Olympic organizers also postponed the men's biathlon 15-kilometer mass start for the second day in a row because of the same issue.

MEN'S BIATHLON RACE POSTPONED BECAUSE OF FOG

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - The men's 15-kilometer biathlon mass start was postponed again on Monday because of fog.

The race was also postponed Sunday for the same issue -- the first time since 1998 that an Olympic biathlon competition was rescheduled, according to the International Biathlon Union.

The race was rescheduled for Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. ET) barring any more weather-related issues.

When it's held, France's Martin Fourcade will be aiming for his third biathlon gold medal of the Sochi Olympics. He earned the silver in the mass start four years ago at the Vancouver Games.

Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen will get another crack at setting the all-time Winter Olympics medal record. Bjoerndalen won the men's 10-kilometer sprint on Feb. 8 for his 12th medal, seven of them gold.

That tied him with Norwegian cross country skier Bjorn Daehlie for the most all-time among Winter Olympians. Daehlie won 12 medals between 1992-98 -- including eight golds.

Bjoerndalen, 40, should win a medal with Norway in the men's biathlon relay on Saturday and could also medal if he races in the mixed relay on Wednesday. He is the oldest Winter Olympian to win an individual gold.

Interestingly, Bjoerndalen won the previous Olympic biathlon event to be rescheduled -- the 10-kilometer sprint at the 1998 Nagano Games, which was interrupted by heavy snow and then fog.

The United States has never won an Olympic biathlon medal. Tim Burke has been the team's best performer in this event and will ski for the U.S.

Olympic organizers also were forced to postpone the men's snowboard cross Tuesday in Krasnaya Polyana because of fog.

CANADA FINISHES UNBEATEN IN WOMEN'S CURLING

Sochi, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Now the pressure mounts for the Canadian women's curling team.

Canada became the first women's team to finish unbeaten in round-robin Olympic play with a 9-4 victory over South Korea on Monday. After winning all nine matches, the Canadians will have to stay perfect in order to win their first women's curling gold since 1998.

Next up in the semifinals on Wednesday will be Great Britain. The Brits split a pair of matches on Monday to finish 5-4, beating Russia 9-6 before an 8-7 loss to Denmark. Japan dropped an 8-4 decision to Sweden in the evening session to finish 4-5, enabling the Brits to avoid a tiebreaker.

Switzerland also finished 5-4 and avoided a potential tiebreaker by claiming a 10-6 win over China. The Swiss earned the third seed thanks to a win over Great Britain and will face second-seeded Sweden in the semifinals.

The Swedes are the two-time defending Olympic champs. They finished 7-2 in round-robin play after the night session win over Japan.

A dismal Olympic showing for the U.S. women came to a close in the morning session with an 11-2 loss to South Korea. The Americans finished last at 1-8.

Norway and Great Britain will play a tiebreaker in men's curling after both lost on Monday to finish 5-4 in round-robin play. Denmark notched a 5-3 win over Norway and China edged Great Britain, 6-5.

The tiebreaker winner will meet top-seeded Sweden in Wednesday's semifinals. The Swedes were idle Monday after finishing 8-1 in round-robin action.

Canada, the two-time defending men's curling Olympic champion, will meet China in the semifinals. The Canadians were also off Monday after completing a 7-2 round-robin ledger. China also finished 7-2 after the 6-5 win over the Brits.

The U.S. men finished ninth in the 10-team tournament with a 2-7 mark after a 6-3 loss to Switzerland on Monday. Germany wound up behind the Americans at 1-8 after an 8-7 loss to Russia.

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