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February 10, 2014

Russia wins first gold medal of Sochi

SOCHI, Russia — A master showman and four-time Olympic medalist, Evgeni Plushenko knows brilliance on the ice.

He saw it Sunday night inside the Iceberg at Sochi’s Olympic Park from a countrywoman half his age. And he is certain Russia’s figure skating future is secure in the skates of Julia Lipnitskaia.

“She is a genius,” Plushenko said.

Along with eight teammates, the 31-year-old veteran and 15-year-old Olympic rookie won the new event of team figure skating and lifted the host nation to its first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics. Together, they put Russia back atop a sport it once dominated.

“My main motivation today,” Lipnitskaia said, “was not to let the team down.”

There was no chance of that in an arena packed with her exulting countrymen, including President Vladimir Putin. The Russians skated away from Canada and the United States to win the gold before the final free dance even started.

In no discipline did Russia finish worse than third, compiling 75 points to Canada’s 65 that won silver and the 60 that gave bronze to the Americans.

It was a rout built on the experience of Plushenko, the consummate entertainer who now has two golds and two silvers — a record for modern-era figure skaters.

It was victory capped by the freshness of Lipnitskaia, who donned a Russia baseball cap when she was done with her sublime tour of the ice, sat with her triumphant teammates and grinned like the school kid she is.

“I was calm,” Lipnitskaia said, adding it was her coaches, parents and teammates who were nervous. “I’m happy with my marks, the scores overall, for the team and for all of Russia. I am so pleased all the country could help me.”

That includes Putin, who personally congratulated the team after their victory and picked the perfect competition to make his first at these games. Also in the Iceberg stands: members of the Russian ice-hockey team, Olympic champion gymnast Alina Kabayeva and two-time Olympic champion pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva.

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