Olympic Roundup: Russia moves to top of heap in home Games

Feb. 22, 2014 at 2:13 PM
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SOCHI, Russia, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The next-to-last day of the Sochi Olympics was one of record achievements by nations and individuals. It was also a day of what might have been for U.S. hockey.

With only three finals remaining to be contested at the first Winter Olympics ever held in Russia, the host nation moved to the brink of wrapping up the race for the most medals won.

Victories in two very different kinds of sports along with a bronze at the speed skating oval gave the Russians 29 medals, two more than the United States.

It became all but a certainty that Russia would finish with the most medals after the Americans suffered through a bad day. The U.S. hockey team was overwhelmed in the bronze medal game against Finland, Ted Ligety fell in the second run of the slalom final and only one of the United States teams could move into medal contention during the first two bobsled runs Saturday.

If Russia does collect the most hardware, it will be just the second time that has happened since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The 29 medals won thus far are six more than the previous Russian record set in Lillehammer 20 years ago.

No one, however, can reach the all-time record of 37 medals won by the United States in Vancouver.

The gold medal title in Sochi is up for grabs with Norway and Russia going into the last day with 11 each. Both will be have competitors in the 50-kilometer cross-country race on Sunday and Russia took the lead on Saturday midway through the four-man bobsled event.

These Olympics will end with a new all-time leader in most medals won in the Winter Games and there will be a co-record holder for most golds and most medals won by a female.

In addition, the Netherlands completed an accomplishment that should set a standard for generations to come. The speed skating events came to a close with the Dutch speed skaters having won 23 out of a possible 32 medals.

The newest of the the medal records that have been established at these Olympics came Saturday from Marit Bjoergen of Norway, who won the 30-kilometer cross-country gold and led a sweep for her country.

She has 10 career Winter Olympics victories and six gold medals. No female has ever won more in either category.

Bjoergen tied a pair of athletes from the old Soviet Union for most medals and most golds. Raisa Smetanina won 10 medals in cross-country races during an Olympic career that ended in 1992 and speed skater Lidia Skoblikova earned six golds over the course of two Games in he 1960s.

It had already been determined before Saturday that Norway's Ole Einar Bjorndalen would leave the Olympics with the most medals in the history of the Winter Games. But Bjorndalen was unable to add to that total Saturday when he and his teammates finished fourth in the biathlon relay.

Bjorndalen had a chance to break a tie with cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie for most gold medals won, but they will remain tied with eight. Bjorndalen, however, has the overall medal record with 13, thanks to wins in these Games in the sprint race and the team mixed relay.

He had a chance for as many as four more medals and came up just short in two of those races.

When it comes to unbeatable records, the Dutch speed skaters added to their heroic efforts Saturday with wins in both the men's and women's team pursuit races.

In 2008 the Austrian alpine skiing contingent won 14 medals and that appeared to be a Winter Olympics record that would stand the test of time. The Netherlands will finish the 2014 Olympics with 23 speed skating medals, eight of them being gold.

Irene Wust won her fifth medal in Sochi, more than anybody else, by leading the women's pursuit team to victory.

One of the more entertaining moments of the entire Olympics came a week ago when the United States and Russia played a hockey game that involved eight shootout rounds before the Americans pulled out a victory.

Neither of those teams, however, wound up with a medal.

Finland proved to be the culprit in both cases, defeating the Russians in the quarterfinals and then blasting the Americans Saturday in the bronze medal game.

Finland won 5-0 with 43-year-old Teemu Selane capping his international career and his sixth Olympics by scoring twice.

The United States appeared to be gathering momentum throughout the tournament and easily dispatched the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. There was not a single goal for the Americans, however, in either the semifinals or finals.

Among the medalists in the men's and women's snowboarding parallel slalom finals Saturday was Vic Wild, who captured his second gold of the Olympics. Wild was born in Washington state, but became a Russian citizen three years ago when he married Alena Zavarzina. He has been living in Moscow ever since.

Zavarzina, who won a bronze medal in the women's parallel giant slalom earlier in the week, but finished only 13th in the regular slalom on Saturday.

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