Russia Claims First Gold, U.S. Claims Second in Sochi
(CNN) — Austria’s Matthias Mayer scored an upset victory in the blue rib and men’s downhill while hosts Russia claimed its first gold of the Winter Games in Sochi Sunday in a packed program of competition.
The 23-year-old Mayer recovered from a slow start on the treacherous piste at Rosa Khutor to claim gold with a time of two minutes 06.23 seconds.
Italian Christof Innerhofer took silver, just six-hundredths of a second behind, with Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud in the bronze medal position.
Pre-race favorites Bode Miller of the United States and world downhill champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, finished eighth and fourth respectively.
The 36-year-old Miller, in his final Olympics, had been quickest in two training runs, but mistakes on the middle section of the course, cost him dear.
“I wanted to ski it as hard as I could and not really back off, but it requires a lot of tactics today which I didn’t apply,” he said.
“I feel disappointed. I skied hard and well, and that’s the most important thing. It just didn’t go all right.”
By contrast, Mayer, who chose the perfect moment to win his first major downhill competition, was in dreamland.
“This is unbelievable. I thought maybe in a few years I could dream of this sort of achievement. It was really cool and my family will be excited,” was his assessment.
Mayer’s father Helmut won a silver medal in the super-G discipline at Calgary in 1988 and his son had a pre-race premonition he could go one better.
“I woke up this morning and I knew that I could win this race. I was smiling the whole day, all throughout the inspection. It was my day today,” he added.
The alpine skiing hotbed of Austria has not produced an Olympic downhill champion since Fritz Stroebl in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City and Mayer is following in the footsteps of legends such as Franz Klammer, the 1976 gold medalist in Innsbruck.
Innerhofer looked like spoiling the Austrian party as he bettered Mayer’s time in the upper sections, but he narrowly missed out in one of the tightest finishes in Olympic downhill history.
“It has been a big dream for me to win a medal at the Olympic Games, so I can’t really believe it,” admitted a stunned Innerhofer. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Svindal, so dominant on the World Cup circuit, was distraught to finish outside of a podium places by just 0.19 seconds. “It is pretty much the worst place to be. I’ve been there before and probably will be again,” the 31-year-old said.
Svindal took silver in the downhill in Vancouver 2010 behind Switzerland’s Didier Defago, who was only 14th in his title defense in Sochi.
The classic downhill opened proceedings on the second day of finals, while Russia’s figure skaters rounded off the day by clinching the team competition — watched by President Vladimir Putin.
Veteran Yevgeny Plushenko and 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia won their respective free skate competitions at the Iceberg Skating Palace to give Russia an unassailable lead ahead of the ice dance free dance later in the evening.
“I’m 31 years and this means everything to me. It’s so much history,” said Plushenko, who was the 2006 Olympic champion and has won two silver medals in a glittering career.
The new sport of slopestyle snowboarding has proved a big hit with spectators and television viewers and earlier Jamie Anderson completed a double for the United States.
Her teammate Sage Kutsenburg won the men’s event Saturday and she followed it up with a superb display in the women’s final.
Her massive score of 95.25 proved a class apart with Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi in second place on 92.50 with Britain’s Jenny Jones taking the bronze.
The third gold medal of the day went to Dario Cologna, who won the Skiathlon 15km classic/15km freestyle event in Nordic Skiing.
Cologna suffered an ankle injury at the start of the season and did not race until last month, but it did not prevent the Swiss, who won gold in the 2010 Winter Games, doubling up.
“It’s great — a dream come true. The second gold after Vancouver. It’s very special,” he said.
The first medal for Russia came as Olga Graf took bronze in the women’s 3,000m speed skating.
Ireen Wust maintained the early Dutch dominance in speed skating at Sochi by taking gold from silver medalist Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic.
In the 7.5km sprint biathlon, defending champion Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia took gold ahead of Russian hope Olga Vilukhina.
Russian-born Kuzmina claimed gold in the sprint and silver in the 10km pursuit at Vancouver in 2010.
Germany’s Felix Loch dominated the men’s luge from start to finish to take gold with a combined time of three minutes 27.526 seconds over the four runs.
Russian Albert Demchenko was left frustrated in his bid to become the oldest-ever Olympic champion at the age of 42, but took a fine silver.
Double Olympic champion Armin Zoeggler of Italy took bronze in a high-quality competition.
Poland’s Kamil Stoch took the ski jumping title on the normal hill Sunday with jumps of 105.5m and 103.5m for a total of 278 points.
Slovenia’s Peter Prevc was second, nearly 13 points adrift with Norway’s Anders Bardal taking the final podium spot.
Switzerland’s Simon Ammann, 32, double Olympic champion in 2006 and 2010, finished back in 17th.