(CNN) — It was a golden moment in a depressingly bleak week.
Ukraine’s female biathletes provided a temporary and joyful distraction from the ongoing troubles at home with a gold medal performance in the women’s team biathlon relay on Friday at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The team led from start to finish in the 4×6 km race, taking gold in a time of one hour 10 minutes 2.5 seconds, 26.4 seconds ahead of defending champions Russia with Norway a further 11.2 seconds behind in third.
Vita Semerenko, a bronze medalist in the women’s 7.5 km sprint earlier in the Games, led Ukraine’s women off before handing over to Juliya Dzhyma for the second leg.
Valj Semerenko’s twin sister Valj lost some time at the shooting range on the third leg but not enough to deny Ukraine their first Olympic biathlon gold as anchorwoman Olena Pidhrushna fell into the arms of her teammates at the finish line.
“Before the race people wrote us many messages and wishes, waiting for victory,” Pidhrushna said after clinching her country’s first Winter Games gold in 20 years.
“Until the very last moment, even this morning I read my emails, saying like ‘Girls, start and win for us all, for Ukraine.’ We are so happy that the people of Ukraine are happy back home and that something good happened for our country.”
Pidhrushna, who called for a minute’s silence at the press conference following the event, was asked about her husband, Alexie Kayda who is a member of the opposition in the Ukrainian parliament.
“He talked to me and he said he didn’t know how to support me and improve my mood. Before a race, he tells me that he loves me and that he believes in me,” she said.
“I can only thank for him for trying to protect me from everything that is happening at home. We only know the minimum of what is happening there and that is a good thing.”
Former pole vault world record-holder Sergei Bubka, who now heads Ukraine’s Olympic Committee, couldn’t contain his delight. “Ukraine wins gooooold!” he tweeted before praising Pidhrushna and co. for their efforts for winning Ukraine’s first biathlon gold.
Bubka, who won gold at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, told CNN’s Amanda Davies that he was praying for a good result after violence had erupted in Ukraine’s capital Kiev causing scores of deaths.
“We need this. We need this and we pray for that,” Bubka said Thursday.
“We discuss with them to give them confidence and eliminate pressure from sport and situation at home.
“We tell them we love them and believe in them. ‘Do what you do every time. It’s your time and it’s your day. We need this.’
“We want to show to everyone that Ukraine exists and is united through sport and Olympics.”
Canada breaks U.S. ice hockey hearts again
Canada piled on the agony for U.S. ice hockey fans with a 1-0 victory in the men’s semifinal match at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Friday.
Exactly 24 hours after breaking the hearts of the U.S. women’s team, Canada’s men inflicted more misery on the Americans who, for the second successive Olympics, come off second best to their neighbors.
The solitary goal came at the start of the second period — Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars scoring in the 22nd minute to set up a final meeting with Sweden — who earlier maintained an unbeaten run in the competition with a 2-1 over Finland.
The Swedes, who have won all their games so far in the tournament, had to come from behind after Finland’s Olli Jokinen opened the scoring in the 27th minute.
But they weren’t ahead for long as Loui Eriksson scored five minutes later before Erik Karlsson scored the winner in the 36th minute.
The U.S. will play the Finns in the bronze medal match on Saturday.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took the opportunity to remind President Barack Obama of the result and the bet the pair had made following a meeting in Mexico earlier in the week.
Shiffrin skis into record books
U.S. teenager Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest skier to win the Olympic slalom title, following up her 2013 world championship victory in the same discipline.
The 18-year-old raced into the record books with a combined time of one minute 44.54 seconds to finish 0.53 seconds ahead of Marlies Schild of Austria.
Kathrin Zettel, also of Austria, finished third.
“It is tough to describe my feelings,” Shiffrin said. “This has been a dream of mine for a very long time.”
Colarado-born Shiffrin showed her class under the floodlights at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.
A composed first run saw her finish 0.49 seconds ahead of Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, with Tina Maze — seeking her third gold of the Games — 0.67 seconds trailing in third at the halfway point.
But while the Slovenian slid down the standings to eighth and Hoefl-Riesch to slipped to fourth, Shiffrin held her nerve after nearly falling on the icy surface in the second run before skiing home to take gold.
“It was a crazy moment. I was going very fast and I thought I was not going to make it, it scared me,” Shiffrin said.
Ski cross 1-2 for Canada
France’s men may have swept the board in the men’s event on Thursday, but it was Canada’s women who were the big winners in the women’s ski cross finals in the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park Friday.
Marielle Thompson took the gold with Kelsey Serwa claiming silver, and Sweden’s Anna Holmlund winning the bronze medal.
“It’s crazy. I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet. I just had a big wave of emotion. I’m so so happy, especially to be up there with my teammate,” Thompson said.
“We’re all about girl power from the start. We’re just having fun all day. I know Kelsey and we tried to help each other all the way down the course.”
Russian short track double
Russia claimed two of the three gold medals up for grabs in the Iceberg Skating Palace on Friday.
Victor An sent the home crowd wild as he claimed gold in the 500 meters final, narrowly beating 19-year-old Dajing Wu from China with Charle Cournoyer taking the bronze for Canada.
Korea picked up gold and bronze in the women’s 1,000m final as Seung-Hi Park became the only female to win two short-track golds in Sochi, taking her overall Olympic medal tally to five. Park’s compatriot Suk Hee Shim won the bronze with 20-year-old Kexin Fan from China taking silver.
Park said she and Shim hadn’t discussed tactics prior to the final.
“We didn’t have any special plan since every situation is different. We just try to use teamwork and do well together. Fortunately we were able to do really well. We have been practicing the whole season together and it paid off,” Park said.
In the final short track event of these Games, Russia roused an expectant crowd with an Olympic record in the men’s 5,000m relay winning time of six minutes 42.100 seconds as An claimed a sixth career Olympic gold — a record in his discipline — while the hosts took their gold medal tally to nine, level with the U.S. and Canada.
Canada sweeps to curling double
In the Ice Cube Curling Center, Canada’s men matched the gold medal-winning performance of their women 24 hours earlier with an easy 9-3 win over Great Britain in the final.
Canadian skip Brad Jacobs said: “I’m ecstatic, it’s awesome, amazing. There are a million other words that can explain it, but that’s all I can think of right now.”
His opposite number, David Murdoch was understandably more downbeat.
“I’m disappointed,” Murdoch said. “It was an opportunity of a lifetime, but it wasn’t meant to be today. We did everything we could to try and start well, but we just had a poor start and that gave them a lot of confidence as well.
“Going 5-1 (after three ends) there was always going to be an uphill struggle and it didn’t matter what we did in the second half.”
Earlier, Sweden’s men claimed the bronze medal following a 6-4 extra-end win over China.
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