Olympic Roundup: U.S. skiers and hockey team enjoy big day

Feb. 13, 2014 at 2:48 PM
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SOCHI, Russia, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- American freestyle skiers won three Olympic medals Thursday, the U.S. hockey team won three points and the world's greatest biathlete did not win a thing.

It was a day of widely varied emotions at the Olympics, one in which two Chinese women who skate very fast emerged as champions, but also one in which a Russian who skates with artistic precision saw his career likely end without having a chance to compete.

Yevgeny Plushenko came onto the ice to warm up for Thursday's short program, landed a jump, reached for his back and then headed to the judges' table to say he would not be able to skate.

During his career he has won one Olympic gold medal, two silvers and three world championship titles. After countless jumps and spins, his 31-year-old back had finally given way.

His withdrawal was not a shock, however, since he complained about his back after Russia's victory in the inaugural Olympic figure skating team event.

He had also skipped his final workout.

"I am normal people," he said in a television interview. "I am not a robot."

Plushenko's absence opened the door for the rest of the figure skating contenders and Japan's Yuzuru Hanuy took advantage by leading after the short program.

The Russian veteran's disappointment followed a letdown for Ole Einar Bjorndalen, Norway's 40-year-old master of the biathlon. He, too, appeared worn out Thursday as he faded badly in his attempt to establish a career record for most Olympic medals.

Bjorndalen and Norwegian cross-country hero Bjorn Daehlie both have 12 medals to their credit. Bjorndalen barely missed a 13th earlier in the Olympics when he finished fourth in the pursuit, but Thursday's performance did not come close to bringing him a medal.

He missed four targets, one at each of the shooting stops, and finished 34th. He had won a medal in the 20-kilometer race at each of the last three Olympics. Bjorndalen will have three more chances to break the record and could easily win two of them since Norway will be the overwhelming favorite in both the men's and mixed relays.

It was a good day for the United States.

Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nicholas Goepper won gold, silver and bronze in freestyle skiing's slopestyle competition.

They turned in the third medal sweep of these Olympics, the Netherlands recording the other two in speed skating, and their three medals were the most won by one nation during Thursday's action.

That gave the Americans 12 medals overall, tied with the Netherlands for second place behind Norway's 13.

Germany leads the way in golds with seven, four of those in the luge. Canada, the Netherlands, Norway and the United States all have four gold medals.

The Americans also celebrated an opening victory in the men's hockey tournament, where Team USA piled up six goals during the second period to defeat Slovakia 7-1 Russia had only a one-goal lead in the third period in the other Group A game, but two late scores created a 5-2 victory over Slovenia.

Those wins gave the Americans and the Russians three points as part of a system that some feel should be adopted by the National Hockey League. In Olympic hockey, a win in regulation gives a team three points, a win in overtime earns two points and an overtime loss is worth one point.

Defending champion Canada won its first Group B game with a 3-1 decision over Norway.

China was the only country to win more than one gold medal Thursday, coming up with a pair of them from their speed skaters.

Li Jianrou won a typically wild short-track final, taking gold in the 500-meter race after the other three contestants crashed and slammed into the wall.

Zhang Hong then came up with a surprising win on the oval in the 1,000-meter event, handing the Netherlands only its second loss in six speed skating races at these Olympics.

Zhang had finished no better than sixth on the World Cup circuit this season and the starting position she was given (in the seventh of 18 pairs) indicated the organizers did not expect her to contend for a medal. Instead, her time of 1:14.02 was far better than those turned in by the members of the steamrolling Dutch team.

Irene Wust and Margot Boer won silver and gold for the Netherlands, which has grabbed 12 of the 18 speed skating medals awarded. No Dutch athlete other than a speed skater has won a medal at these Olympics.

And while there were some happy moments and some sad ones around the Games Thursday, Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk could say she has recently had some of both.

The bad news was that she broke her foot last month. The good news was that did not prevent her from winning a gold medal Thursday in the 10-kilometer cross-country race.

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