SOCHI, RUSSIA: All the gloom and grim talk leading to the Sochi Olympics at last gave way to more uplifting things.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach had said it’s “time that it finally starts.” And so it did Saturday — the first competition since the cauldron was lit.
In all, 98 gold medals will be awarded in the next 16 days, and five were settled on Day 2.
Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen became the oldest individual gold medalist at the Winter Olympics, winning the 10-kilometer sprint — his seventh career gold. Cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen, also from Norway, captured the women’s 15-kilometer skiathlon for her fourth Olympic title.
At age 40, Bjoerndalen became the oldest Winter Olympic gold medalist in an individual sport, bringing him within one gold of the all-time mark of eight held by Norwegian cross-country skiing great Bjorn Daehlie. He was followed by Dominik Landertinger of Austria and Jaroslav Soukup of Czech Republic.
“I am in super form,” Bjoerndalen said. “I prepared well for this and I am feeling strong.”
Bjoergen’s gold was tempered by grief. The brother of teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen died “suddenly and unexpectedly” a day earlier, according to Norwegian Olympic officials. Bjoergen, joined by teammates, sobbed in an embrace after the race.
“We really did a good race for him today,” Bjoergen said.
Bjoergen held off silver medalist Charlotte Kalla in the final straightaway to win in 38 minutes, 33.6 seconds, successfully defending her title from Vancouver. Norway’s Heidi Weng won the bronze.
“One gold was my goal, so now I can relax a little bit,” Bjoergen said.
Sven Kramer of the Netherlands set an Olympic record and defended his speedskating title in the men’s 5,000 before his country’s king, queen and prime minister.
Kramer has been bedeviled at the Olympics, notably in Vancouver when his coach pointed him to the wrong lane in the 10,000. But on this day, he surged around the oval, winning in six minutes, 10.76 seconds and leading a Dutch sweep in which he was followed by Jan Blokhuijsen and Jorrit Bergsma.
“That Sven was able to deliver despite such pressure, it leaves me speechless,” King Willem-Alexander said.
U.S. 3, Finland 1
Hilary Knight scored 53 seconds into the opener of the Olympic women’s hockey tournament, and Jesse Vetter needed only 14 saves to lead the United States to a 3-1 victory over Finland.
Kelli Stack and Alex Carpenter also scored for the Americans, who avoided a repeat of Finland’s upset at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., in November. Finnish goalie Noora Raty made 58 saves in that one, but the three-time Olympian could stop just 40 of 43 U.S. shots at the Shayba Ice Arena.
Susanna Tapani scored a power play goal for Finland with 4:38 to play in the game to make it 3-1.
After a giveaway at the blue line, Knight went in all alone and scored over the goalie’s right shoulder. But Raty wouldn’t let the game turn into a blowout, shutting down the Americans for the next 27 minutes before Stack deflected a pass from Megan Bozek — Raty’s college roommate — to make it 2-0.
With 4:01 left in the second period, the Americans got another good bounce when Carpenter, the daughter of NHL star Bobby Carpenter, backhanded the puck into the crease. It deflected off a defender and behind Raty, into the net to make it 3-0.
Canada 5, Switzerland 0
Hayley Wickenheiser is back at the Olympics. Again.
And she’s back on the scoresheet. Again.
The all-time leading scorer in Olympic women’s hockey history, Wickenheiser added to her record with her 17th career goal of the Winter Games and Canada coasted to a victory over Switzerland in both teams’ opener. Wickenheiser has participated in every Olympics since women’s hockey was made an official sport in 1998, and she has scored in every one.
Rebecca Johnston had a goal and two assists and Marie-Philip Poulin had one of each for Canada, which hadn’t ever beaten the Swiss by fewer than six goals in any competition. Charline Labonte stopped all 14 shots she faced for the shutout.
Canada will play Finland as the top four teams in the tournament compete for two byes that would place them directly into the semifinals.
The Americans can reach the semifinals by beating Switzerland on Monday.
If the Russians keep performing as they have in the new team figure-skating competition, they’re sure to dominate throughout these Sochi Games.
Julia Lipnitskaia at 15 had the look of an Olympic champion, dazzling the home crowd with a near-perfect routine in the women’s short program.
Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov earned cheers as they routed the field in the free skate.
With her countrymen chanting her first name, Lipnitskaia put on a mature presentation that had fans stomping their feet and showering the ice with flowers and dolls. Her flexibility and rapid rotation on her spins and jumps were reminiscent of Tara Lipinski when she won the 1998 Olympic gold.
And Lipinski, who was the same age at those games in Nagano, was on hand to see it.
“I have been saying the whole year that she is a dark horse,” Lipinski said of Lipnitskaia — yes, the names are nearly the same. “I loved the energy and the fight in her.”
With only the men’s and women’s free skate and the free dance left to contest in today’s finale, Russia has 47 points and a six-point lead over Canada.
World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White quick-stepped their way to victory in the team short dance, lifting the United States into the medals chase. The United States is third with 34 after Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir finished fourth among the five countries that advanced to the free skate.
The team was seventh heading into Saturday, but thanks in great part to Davis and White, it got back into contention for a medal. The 2010 ice dancing silver medalists quickstepped to the rescue by winning the short dance.
Defending ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada were second even though she bobbled during their early set of twizzles.
Davis and White, both from Michigan, unquestionably deserved the top spot. Their twizzles — traveling 1-foot spins — were so precise it seemed as if they were one skater. Their concluding rotational lift to music from My Fair Lady was spot-on.
“Everything hasn’t been 100 percent perfect,” Davis said of the U.S. performances. “But that’s part of what a team is, is being there for each other. We have a really great standard.”
Italy has 31 points and Japan 30.
Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe joined a few other sisters to win gold and silver in the same Olympic event.
They did it in women’s moguls, where their oldest sister Maxime made it into the finals and finished 12th. French skiers Marieele and Christine Goitschel and Austrian lugers Doris and Angelika Neuner are on the short list of sisters to also go 1-2 in an Olympic event.
“A dream. A long time, we’ve dreamed this,” said their father, Yves. “It doesn’t get any better than this. It doesn’t.”
Sprint star Lauryn Williams was selected to push the U.S. sled driven by Elana Meyers. She has a chance at becoming only the second person to win gold at the Summer and Winter Games.
Germany’s Felix Loch is halfway to defending his Olympic gold medal in men’s luge.
The eight-time world champion coached by three-time gold medalist Georg Hackl finished his first two trips down the Sanki Center Sliding track in one minute, 44.149 seconds.
He leads Russia’s Albert Demchenko (1:44.443) and Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler (1:44.893), two of the sport’s greats who are in their 40s and trying to keep up with the 24-year-old Loch.
Appearing in his seventh games, Demchenko led Loch after the first run with a time of 52.170 seconds. But Loch completed his second run down the 17-curve course in 51.964 seconds to take the lead and remind the field he’s the one they’re chasing.
Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y., is 13th heading into today’s final two runs.