Sochi, Russia • Outside the Iceberg Skating Palace, urologist Andrei Severyukhin was as certain about the winner of the team skating competition as he was about the colors of the Russian flag he had just had painted on his face.
"It would be unreal if we don’t win gold tonight," Severyukhin said.
The first one for the host country came just as predicted, much to the delight of Severyukhin and his daughter, who joined their countrymen in a celebration as raucous as it gets in figure skating as Russia won the gold in the inaugural event.
President Vladimir Putin was on hand to celebrate the first gold of the games he brought to Russia, hugging aging star Evgeni Plushenko and his teammates and posing with them for pictures. So were players of the Russian ice-hockey team and other Olympians.
They stood and cheered as Plushenko showed he still had enough left for one last run, setting a modern-day record by medaling in his fourth Olympics at the age of 31. They cheered more as a star in the making in 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia put on a dazzling display in the ladies free skating portion of the event.
And they stayed around to toast their new heroes one more time as they took a team victory lap around the arena.
"Ro-ssi-ya, Ro-ssi-ya," fans chanted, as a country that flopped in figure skating four years ago in Vancouver flexed its muscles before an adoring crowd that provided the perfect home ice advantage.
They were certain of victory, certain this would be the night Russia got the first payoff for the $51 billion Putin spent to put on the Olympics in this aging Black Sea resort town.
"I think it’s the resurrection of the old Soviet skate team," Philip Shustov of Moscow had said a few hours earlier. "We must win."
Two nights after an opening ceremony that generally received high marks and helped put the focus back on sports from the problems surrounding the games, boisterous fans greeted Plushenko with a roar and roared even louder when he completed a program that added to the lead Russia built on the first night of competition.Next Page >
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