(CNN) — It was the holy grail — the gold medal that President Vladimir Putin and his fellow Russians had dreamed of.
It wasn’t just about reasserting Russia’s standing on the ice hockey stage, this was about pride, tradition and proving that the host nation’s star players could deliver in front of the watching world.
Putin took his seat inside Sochi’s expectant Bolshoy Ice Dome, the Russian people dared to dream and a party appeared destined to break out across the country.
But there was one small problem — somebody forgot to tell Finland.
When Ilya Kovalchuk opened the scoring for Russia in the first period, it appeared that the host nation would be celebrating come the end of the contest.
But Finland had other ideas — fighting its way to a historic 3-1 victory which broke Russian hearts and left Putin looking glum at the most expensive Winter Olympics in history.
“I cannot explain my feelings. Inside I am absolutely empty,” Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk told reporters.
“The emotion we feel right now is disappointment, disappointment that we didn’t live up to the hopes placed on us.
“There were great hopes placed on us and we didn’t live up to them.”
Finland, which finished third in Vancouver four years ago, equalized through Juhamatti Aaltonnen’s effort before Teemu Selanne completed the comeback ahead of the first intermission.
Mikael Granlund added a third early in the second period to seal the win and silence a stunned crowd.
Finland will now face the highly-fancied Swedes in the semifinals after defeating Slovenia 5-0.
Carl Hagelin scored twice with Alexander Steen, Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson also on target.
Three-time defending champion Canada overcame a brave effort from Latvia with a 2-1 victory, and will now face the United States in a rematch of the 2010 final.
The Americans, who beat Russia earlier in the competition, eased into the semis with a 5-2 victory over the Czech Republic.
Biathlon star Ole Einar Bjoerndalen made history by winning a record 13th medal at the Winter Olympics as Norway claimed gold in the mixed relay.
The 40-year-old overtook fellow countryman and cross country ski star Bjoern Daehlie, who won 12 medals during his career.
Bjoerndalen, who has now won eight gold medals, teamed up with Emil Hegle Svendsen for the men’s legs and Tora Berger and Tiril Eckhoff for the women’s, as Norway cruised home.
The Czech Republic took silver with Italy in third.
Bjoerndalen, taking part in his sixth Games, won his first medal at Nagano in 1998. He has 19 world championship titles to his name and started his Sochi competition by winning the 10 km sprint.
Bjoerndalen came close to winning his 13th medal in the 20 km individual last week but had to settle for fourth place.
He also missed out on a medal in Tuesday’s mass start where he made four errors in the final shooting — mistakes not repeated on this occasion.
“My shooting was really good, I was more focused than yesterday but today it was working again,” he told reporters.
“I was really nervous before the race because you don’t work for yourself only, but also for the team.
“I had not prepared myself for this it’s a dream. Our performance is unique.”
Bjoerndalen can add a 14th medal to his collection in Saturday’s relay event.
Ted Ligety became the first U.S. male alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals following his triumph in Wednesday’s giant slalom.
Ligety, 29, who won the super combined title in 2006, exorcised the demons of four years ago in Vancouver — where he failed to finish in the medals.
“I have answered Vancouver questions for the last four years,” he told reporters.
“I didn’t do very well there. That hasn’t bothered me that much. I moved on past that and my best years have been since then and, in a lot of ways, because of that. Those are always questions I get, even at World Cup.”
Ligety had little problem dealing with the pressure on this occasion, carving out an advantage of 0.92 seconds after his first leg before coming home 0.48 ahead of Steve Missillier, with fellow Frenchman Alexis Pinturault claiming bronze.
“It was a huge relief,” he added following his victory.
“I have been wanting to win this medal for my whole life and even more so, in a realistic sense. in the last few years. All season long everyone 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.’
“It’s awesome to be able to come here and be able to compete and do it, and finally get the monkey off the back.”
Six-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller has confirmed that he will not take part in Saturday’s slalom after suffering a knee injury in the giant slalom, where he finished 20th
The American, who missed the whole of last season after undergoing knee surgery, became the oldest alpine ski medalist at the age of 36 years and 127 days when he finished third in the men’s super-G at Sochi.
“I’m bummed I’m out for the slalom, I wanted a miracle. Thank you all for the amazing support, it’s been incredible,” tweeted Miller.
Miller won super-combined gold in 2010 while also claiming silver in the super-G and bronze in the downhill. He also won two silver medals at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.
There was a snowboarding husband-and-wife triumph in the parallel giant slalom as Vic Wild won gold in the men’s event just minutes after his spouse Alena Zavarzina claimed bronze in the women’s competition.
Wild, who was born in the U.S. but switched to Russia in 2011 following his marriage to Zavarzina, made his decision after funding for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association slalom program was cut.
“I went the hard way,” the 27-year-old told reporters. “Russia has lots of good riders. Russia has the opportunity for me to win races, not for me to go to the Olympics.
“Russia is the country that has given me the opportunity to win the medal. If I was still riding for the USA I’d be back home, maybe with some mediocre job, doing something mediocre. That’s not who I wanted to be.”
Zavarzina was thrilled with her success but was keen to praise her husband following his move to Russia.
“I’m very happy that Vic got gold,” she said. “This is what he worked for. He’s so far from his hometown, he did an amazing job.
“He had to switch countries, switch nationality, accept something that some people would never accept.
“He has to deal with the Russian mentality, with stuff he’s not used to, working with people who don’t understand him most of the time.”
In the men’s event, Switzerland’s Nevin Galmarini was second with Russia’s Zan Kosir in third.
Pre-race favorite Patrizia Kummer claimed Switzerland’s 50th Winter Olympic gold medal in the women’s event.
Tomoka Takeuchi of Japan finished second to become the first woman from Asia to win a medal in snowboard in Olympic history.
‘Queen of Skating’
Martina Sablikova, the Czech Republic’s “Queen of Skating,” continued her domination of the women’s 5,000 meters by successfully defending her Olympic title.
Sablikova’s time of six minutes 51.54 seconds was enough to push 3,000m champion Ireen Wust into second ahead of fellow Dutch racer Carien Kleibeuker.
The Netherlands have won 21 of the 30 speed skating medals on offer, including six of the 10 golds, but they failed to overhaul Sablikova on this occasion.
After winning the 3,000 and 5,000 four years ago, the 26-year-old powered to victory despite having adjust her glasses during the race.
“After winning gold in Vancouver, it’s great to win it here in Sochi as well, and this time in front of all my family,” she told reporters.
Canada’s Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse successfully defended their Olympic bobsleigh title after pipping the U.S. by a tenth of a second.
USA-1, led by Elana Meyers and brakeman Lauryn Williams, had held a lead of .011 seconds going into the final run but endured a disappointing final effort.
That allowed Humphries and Moyse to snatch gold, with Americans Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans taking bronze.
“Winning gold is amazing, but walking away satisfied is better. After the third run I knew that if we did the business we could be on top,” Humphries told reporters.
“When you have to rely on someone else or wait and see, it makes it hard.”
Sweden will face Canada in a repeat of the 2010 women’s curling final.
Sweden, aiming for a third successive gold medal, saw off Switzerland 7-5 in the semifinals.
Canada, unbeaten so far, edged out Great Britain 6-4, and skipper Jenny Jones is confident her team can take revenge on the Swedes this time around.
Switzerland and Great Britain will compete for the bronze medal on Thursday.
In the men’s event, Canada will face Great Britain in the final.
Canada defeated China 10-6 while Britain edged out Sweden 6-5.
Norway’s cross country skiing star Marit Bjoergen claimed the fifth gold medal of her illustrious career after leading her country to victory in the women’s team sprint race.
Bjoergen, who raced with Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, had already won skiathlon gold at Sochi to add to the three she won at Vancouver 2010.
It left her one short of the record by a female winter Olympian, jointly held by Soviet speed skater Lidia Skoblikova and Russian cross country skier Lyubov Yegorova.
Kerttu Niskanen and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen of Finland came second with Ida Ingemarsdotter and Stina Nilsson in third.
In the men’s race, Finland produced a stunning victory to claim the country’s first gold in Sochi thanks to the efforts of Sami Jauhojaervi and Iivo Niskanen.
The pair, who took it in turns to perform three sprints each, finished in 23 minutes and 14.89 seconds to see off Russia and Sweden.
In the women’s figure skating, defending champion Kim Yu-Na of Korea claimed top spot in the short program.
Her score of 74.92 was the highest ahead of home favorite Adelina Sotnikova
Italy’s Carolina Kostner, produced a fine performance to finish on 74.12. to finish ahead of U.S. medal hopeful Gracie Gold.
The competition will conclude with Thursday’s free program.