Olympic Roundup: Veterans star at Olympics, with one exception

Feb. 8, 2014 at 3:07 PM
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SOCHI, Russia, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- A collection of veterans accustomed to winning at the Olympics did so again Saturday, the first full day of the Sochi Games. Sage Kotsenburg was an exception.

One Norwegian star equaled the record for medals won during a Winter Olympics career, another added to her large collection of triumphs and a speed skater from the Netherlands embarked on the double victory he had hoped to pull off four years ago.

The defending champion in women's moguls was unable to repeat, having to settle for a bronze medal, and the two women who finished in front of her just happened to be sisters.

And then there was Kotsenburg, a 20-year-old rookie to the Olympic scene who speaks the language of snowboarding and admits he makes things up as he goes along. Kotsenburg, a native of Idaho with the kind of daredevil approach needed to succeed in his sport, became the first gold medalist at the 2014 Olympics.

He won the snowboarding slopestyle event in its Olympic debut, a competition in which athletes hurl themselves down the side of a hill that has been laden with rails and jumps.

To snowboarders, a trip down the course is a "drop" and when he woke up Saturday Kotsenburg had not even qualified to drop in the finals. He had to finish among the top four qualifiers in the semifinals early in the day just to have an outside shot at a medal.

Once that hurdle was cleared, he stunned his fellow competitors with a score of 93.50 in the first of his two attempts on a course that during training had dealt injuries to two potential medalists -- including Kotsenburg's teammate Shaun White.

Each of the 12 finalists had two chances at the course, with the best one counting. Since Kotsenburg was only the third one to compete, most of his challengers had two opportunities to go all out in a bid to catch him. None of them did.

Kotsenburg pulled off a "1620" during his big run, which sends him on 4 1/2 rotations in hopes of landing without wrecking multiple body parts.

"I just kind of do random stuff all the time," Kotsenburg said. "I never really make a plan. I had no idea I was going to even do a 1620 in my run until like 3 minutes before I dropped."

Norway's Staale Sandbech finished second behind Kotsenburg and Canada's Mark McMorris wound up third.

Kotsenburg's medal was one of two earned by the United States Saturday. Norway collected two of the five gold medals awarded and had four medals overall.

As the day and evening progressed, the award podiums were filled people who have grown familiar with having medals placed around their necks.

Ole Einar Bjorndalen of Norway won the biathlon sprint for the third time despite missing one of the 10 targets in the shooting phase of the competition. It was his 12th Olympic medal, tying him for the record with another Norwegian hero -- cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie.

Yet another star from Norway, Marit Bjoergen, won the skiathlon cross-country race in a closing sprint with Sweden's Charlotte Kalla. It was fourth Olympic gold for Bjoergen and her eighth medal overall. She won five medals in Vancouver and two more at these Games would equal the Olympic record by a woman.

Sven Kramer of the Netherlands won his second straight 5,000-meter speed skating gold in the Olympic record time of 6:10.76 and led a sweep of the medals for his country. Kramer hopes to win the 10,000-meter race as well, one he thought he had captured four years ago only to be disqualified for an improper lane change.

In the final event of the night, sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-LaPointe finished 1-2 in the freestyle skiing moguls, preventing Kearney from repeating as champion.

In preparation for Sunday's men's downhill, American Bode Miller once again had the fastest practice run of the day. The hazardous course took its toll during training runs, but Miller said it was just the kind of test skiers should relish.

"I would pay to ski here," Miller said.

In other Olympic action, Felix Loch of Germany (another defending champion) took the lead midway through the luge singles and the United States defeated Finland 3-1 to open the Olympic women's hockey tournament. Canada also downed Switzerland 5-0.

The host country had little to cheer about on the first full day of the Games, but figure skaters from Russia moved close to a gold medal in the sport's first Olympic team event. Russians have won three of the five competitions thus far in team figure skating and, with three more to go they lead Canada by six points.

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