How did the Russians top the medal table in Sochi with 33 after collecting only 15 in Vancouver last time? Giving passports to the right people definitely helped.
Vic Wild, the American snowboarder who married a Russian competitor, picked up two slalom golds while Victor An, the Korean short-track speedskater who’d been jettisoned by his federation after winning three golds in 2006, picked up another trio plus a bronze for his new country. Russia never had earned even one men’s medal in either of those sports.
Knowledge of the Sanki sliding track undeniably helped, too. Alexander Zubkov won both the two-man and four-man events and his countrymen missed a brace of bronzes by a combined .06 seconds behind US pilot Steve Holcomb. Alexander Tretiakov won Russia’s first men’s skeleton crown, while Elena Nikitina claimed its first women’s medal and the lugers picked up a pair of silvers.
The bulk of the rest came from the country’s traditional sources — figure skating and cross-country skiing (five apiece), biathlon (four), and long-track speedskating (three).
The Motherland’s medalists collected massive bonuses — 4 million rubles ($110,000) for gold, 2.5 million ($68,500) for silver, and 1.7 million ($46,500) for bronze, as well as a new white Mercedes emblazoned with the Russian Olympic logo. Those who don’t yet have driver’s licenses, such as teenaged figure skaters Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaia, have been assigned chauffeurs. By winning gold for Russia instead of the United States, which pays $25,000, Wild collected an extra $170,000 plus the wheels.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach says he has no problem with athletes changing countries as long as the rules are respected — three years before the Games with both countries assenting and no quid pro quos involved. “We are living in a world where migration is part of our life,” says Bach. “You have many reasons for athletes changing nationality. Sometimes it is love, sometimes it is profession, sometimes it is a new orientation in life and I think we have to respect this.”
Time on their side
The tally of doping positives from the Sochi Games is six, most of them for stimulants — hockey players Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden) and Vitalijs Pavlovs (Latvia), cross-country skiers Marina Lisogor (Ukraine) and Johannes Durr (Austria), bobsledder William Frullani (Italy), and biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle (Germany). This time the retroactive testing window will be increased from eight to 10 years, with samples being rechecked for human growth hormone once the newest test has been approved. “If we don’t find you now, we may find you later,” warned International Olympic Committee medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist, “and we certainly will find you sooner or later” . . . Both athletes who were competing in their seventh Winter Games ended up winning medals. Russian luger Albert Demchenko claimed a silver at 42 (his second) as did Japanese ski jumper Noriaki “Kamikaze” Kasai, who collected his second at 41 . . . Calling it a season, if not necessarily a career, are Olympic ice dance champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The only American medalists in an individual skating event will skip the world championships in Japan this month, as will fellow global titlists Patrick Chan of Canada and Kim Yu Na of South Korea. Filling in for Davis and White will be rookies Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton.
Expanding horizonsNot only is women’s ice hockey certain to be on the 2018 program, the field likely will be expanded from eight to 10 teams for 2022. Had that been the case in Sochi, the Czech Republic and Denmark would have qualified . . . Why were Americans and Canadians allowed to referee Olympic men’s hockey matches involving their countries? “This is one of the conditions that the NHL and the NHLPA wants, that they have the participation of the NHL refs,” said international federation president Rene Fasel. “As long as we have NHL refs coming from Canada and the US, this will be the case. I’d love to see, hopefully in the NHL, European referees in the future.” While much was made of US ref Brad Meier officiating the Russia match, Canada’s Kevin Pollock refereed his country’s round-robin finale with Finland and Kelly Sutherland (with Meier) worked the gold-medal match between Canada and Sweden . . . Aksel Lund Svindal may not have won an Alpine medal in Sochi but he’s in line for a few consolation prizes on the World Cup circuit. The Norwegian speed racer, who already has clinched the downhill and super-G titles, going into the final two weekends in Slovenia and Switzerland, has a 77-point lead on Austrian defending champion Marcel Hirscher in the men’s overall race. While Hirscher leads both the giant slalom and slalom standings, Olympic titlist Ted Ligety still has a shot at a fifth GS crown in seven years — he’s 100 points behind with two races to go. Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who leads the downhill chase, is a healthy 157 points ahead of Austria’s Anna Fenninger in the overall women’s standings. Mikaela Shiffrin is 80 points up on Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter in her bid to retain the slalom title.
Shani Davis may have left Olympus empty-handed, but he still has a good chance of winning both the 1,000- and 1,500-meter season titles on the World Cup speedskating circuit, which wraps up this weekend and next in Germany and the Netherlands, and has a reasonable podium chance at the subsequent world all-around championships on the Dutch track in Heerenveen, if he decides to compete in an event that he has won twice. The question is, how much longer the 31-year-old Davis wants to keep lacing on the long blades. “If you are going to train and dedicate yourself to the craft of speedskating or any sport in general, you don’t go into it with the mind-set of not being able to medal,” he said. “You have to envision yourself doing big things and I think that’s part of the reason why I stuck around these last four years.” . . . Despite the usual complaints that the race is boring and that the Dutch win it most of the time, the International Skating Union will keep the men’s 10,000 meters on the Olympic speedskating program even though only 14 athletes competed at the distance in Sochi. While some of the “nolo contenderes” figured that they had little chance of busting up an orange sweep, the fact that the team pursuit came three days later was a bigger factor in the withdrawals. No matter when the 6-miler is scheduled, though, it’s still tedious to watch. Eric Heiden, who set a world record in the event in Lake Placid, didn’t stick around to spectate after he’d skated. “Fifteen minutes of the same guy,” he said . . . With the World Cup biathlon circuit coming down to its final three weekends in Slovenia, Finland, and Norway both the men’s and women’s overall titles are up for grabs. France’s Martin Fourcade, who won two golds at the Games, has a 121-point gap on Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen in his bid for a third straight men’s title while Norwegian defending women’s champ Tora Berger is only up by 8 on Darya Domracheva of Belarus, who won three events in Sochi . . . If there’s men’s doubles in luge, why not a women’s event? “Oh, no, it would be too much,” says Russian competitor Tatyana Ivanova. “Two girls in one room is a mess. If two girls were on a luge, they would pull each other’s eyes out.” . . . Why was Joss Christensen the hands-down winner of the Olympic freestyle slopestyle event? Said Swedish judge Simon Tjernstroem: “Switch right side gap 270 on, pretzel 270 out on the down-flat-down; switch-on, 450 out of the up rail, to left side 270 on, pretzel 270 off on the down; to a butter, switch slide to corked 450 off on the cannon feature. Then, left side double corked 1260 double Japan on the first booter, to switch right side dub 1080 tail grab, and a switch right side triple corked 1260 Japan on the big booter.”John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from Olympic committees, sports federations, interviews and wire services was used in this report.