SOCHI - Veteran Yevgeny Plushenko and precocious Julia Lipnitskaia lifted Russia to its first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics Sunday while Austrian skier Matthias Mayer stormed to the blue riband men's downhill title. Under the watchful eye of Russian President Vladimir Putin, 31-year-old Plushenko and slender 15-year-old sensation Lipnitskaia ensured a home triumph in team figure skating. Plushenko took the men's free skate final and Lipnitskaia then sealed victory with a stunning free skate to a standing ovation at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
"I'm 31 years and this means everything to me. It's so much history," said 2006 Olympic champion and two-time silver medallist Plushenko. Plushenko scored 168.20 for the free skate to "The Best of Plushenko" with Kevin Reynold achieving 167.92 and Japan's Tatsuki Machida 165.85. Lipnitskaia then outshone her more experienced teammate who won his first world medal before she was born. To the music of "Schindler's List" she skated sublimely to score a personal best 141.51 and to seal the title ahead of America's Gracie Gold and Italy's Valentina Marchei 112.51. Lipnitskaia celebrated in "kiss and cry" corner by proudly donning a Russian team baseball cap which almost slipped over her face.
Earlier Sunday, Mayer, the 23-year-old Austrian, defied a host of ski headline acts to win the men's downhill in 2min 06.23sec on the 3.5km-long course at Rosa Khutor, high above the Black Sea. It was the first Austrian downhill gold since Fritz Strobl at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. Mayer also bettered his father Helmut's silver-medal showing in the super-G at the Calgary Games in 1998. "Of course it means a lot to me," an emotional Mayer said. "It's really difficult to go down the track without mistakes."
Italian Christof Innerhofer took silver at just six-hundredths of a second behind while Norway's Kjetil Jansrud claimed bronze a further 0.04sec adrift. World downhill champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was fourth while another strong favourite, Bode Miller of the United States, was a disappointing eighth. Russia had got on the medals table earlier when Olga Graf took bronze in the 3,000 metres women's speed skating behind winner Ireen Wust of the Netherlands and silver medallist Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic.
Wust held her nerve to steal gold from defending champion Sablikova and recapture the Olympic crown she first won in 2006. Jamie Anderson gave the United States a slopestyle snowboarding double following Sage Kotsenburg's victory in the men's competition. Finland's Enni Rukajarvi was second while Jenny Jones took third to give Britain its first ever Olympic medal on snow. Defending champion Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia became the first woman to win two Olympic titles in the same individual biathlon when she claimed the 7.5km sprint.
The Russian-born Kuzmina won in a time of 21min 06min 8sec to see off Russia's Olga Vilukhina who was 19.9sec behind. Vita Semerenko of Ukraine took bronze, 21.7sec behind the champion. Switzerland's Dario Cologna took the men's Nordic skiathlon, hanging on for the second Olympic gold of his career. Cologna finished in 1hr 08min 15.4sec ahead of Marcus Hellner of Sweden, with Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway claiming bronze. Later Sunday, Switzerland's Simon Ammann, the 2002 and 2010 double Olympic champion, will aim to become the first ski jumper to win five gold medals when the normal hill final is staged.
But the favourites will be Kamil Stoch of Poland, the current World Cup leader, and Austria's Gregor Schlierenzauer, the 2010 team gold medal winner on the large hill. The men's luge could see Russian 42-year-old Albert Demchenko become the oldest Winter Olympic medallist in an individual event. However, defending champion Felix Loch of Germany, who leads after two rounds, remains the red-hot favourite.
But the favourites will be Kamil Stoch of Poland, the current World Cup leader, and Austria's Gregor Schlierenzauer, the 2010 team gold medal winner on the large hill. The men's luge could see Russian 42-year-old Albert Demchenko become the oldest Winter Olympic medallist in an individual event.
Demchenko knows he has a real opportunity to make history after he finished the first day in second position with two more runs to come on Sunday. However, defending champion Felix Loch of Germany, who leads after two rounds, remains the red-hot favourite for the title. There will also be a gold in the women's biathlon 7.5km sprint.