KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia: Eva Samkova slapped a camera atop her helmet before the women’s Olympic snowboard cross finals on Sunday, hoping to give TV viewers a better grasp of her sport’s unique mix of speed and chaos.
Samkova provided the speed.
It’s the chaos that was missing — at least in front of her.
Riding a board that appeared propelled by booster rockets, the 20-year-old from the Czech Republic sprinted to Olympic gold with three wire-to-wire victories. They probably looked pretty boring from her helmet camera’s point of view, what with nothing in front of her but a softening course and a raucous crowd that roared in appreciation of her dominance.
Her body rock steady in an event that again claimed perennial gold medal contender Lindsey Jacobellis among its victims, Samkova credited the wax techs that turned her board into a 5-foot-long lightning bolt and a form that didn’t falter as the madness piled up behind her.
“It’s just physics, that’s all,” Samkova said with a laugh.
And Groundhog Day for Jacobellis.
The eight-time X Games winner gave away gold in Turin eight years ago when a botched grab near the end of the finals cost her the top spot on the podium. The greatest racer in the sport’s history failed to make it out of the semifinals in Vancouver and her quest to fill the one hole left on her peerless resume ended in Sochi’s semifinals.
Well ahead of the other five riders at a slushy Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Jacobellis, a 28-year-old from Park City, Utah, lost her balance coming out of a jump and washed out in one of the final turns. She recovered to win the consolation final, though it served as little solace.
“There are worse things in life than not winning. A lot worse,” Jacobellis said. “And, of course, it’s very unfortunate this didn’t work out for me. I trained very hard for this moment. It doesn’t come together for who knows what reason.”
Samkova’s win was the first podium finish in the Olympics by a Czech snowboarder. Dominique Maltais became the first multiple-medal winner in women’s snowboard cross when she finished a distant second. Chloe Trespeuch of France topped Faye Gulini of the U.S. for bronze on a day that featured both the beauty and the danger of snowboarding’s version of NASCAR.
Barely 24 hours after Russian skicross racer Maria Komissarova severely injured her spine while training on the same slope, American Jackie Hernandez sustained a concussion when she smacked her head after catching an edge during qualifying. The 21-year-old was treated and released, but barred from competing in the elimination rounds.
Hernandez’s accident came only minutes after Helene Olafsen of Norway hurt her knee near the top of the course and needed to be taken off the mountain on a stretcher.
Phil Kessel scored two of his three goals in the opening five minutes and became the first U.S. player to score an Olympic hat trick in more than a decade, leading the Americans to a 5-1 win over Slovenia on Sunday.
The U.S. is undefeated through three games in the men’s hockey tournament at the Sochi Games and with Sunday’s win earned an automatic spot in the quarterfinals.
“The most important thing is getting the win,” Kessel said. “We just gotta keep improving and keep winning games.”
Kessel scored 1:04 after the puck dropped, removing any thought the Americans would have a hangover after their emotionally charged shootout win against Russia on Saturday. His third goal midway through the second period made him the first U.S. player to score a hat trick at the Olympics since John LeClair did it on Feb. 15, 2002, against Finland.
Slovenia’s Marcel Rodman scored with 17.6 seconds left in the game, denying U.S. goalie Ryan Miller a shutout. Miller made 17 saves in his Sochi debut.
“Yeah, I definitely had some nerves,” Miller said. “It was an important game to ensure that we’re at the top of our pool.”
With plenty of support at the other end of the rink, the 2010 silver medal winner didn’t need to worry.
Ryan McDonagh scored about a minute after Kessel’s third goal to put the Americans ahead 4-0. David Backes gave them a five-goal cushion early in the third.
Kessel is the first American to score four goals in the three-game preliminary round of the Olympic tournament since Bill Cleary and Roger Christian in 1960. Fittingly, the native of Madison, Wis., and his teammates were sporting throwback jerseys in the style Cleary and Christian wore at the games in Squaw Valley — “USA” from right shoulder to left hip.
Austria won its first men’s Olympic hockey game in a dozen years by defeating Norway 3-1 in the preliminary round. Finland topped Germany 2-1 in the women’s preliminaries. Both women’s teams already have been eliminated from medal contention.
Sweden successfully defended its Olympic gold in the men’s 4-by-10-kilometer cross country relay on Sunday to become the first country in 42 years to win both the men’s and women’s team events in the same Winter Games.
A day after its women’s team earned a narrow come-from-behind victory, Sweden’s anchor Marcus Hellner skied alone for the entire final leg and was so far ahead he could leisurely ski down the final straight waving a Swedish flag.
Russia took silver in front of President Vladimir Putin. France finished third.
Hellner started the fourth leg with a 14-second lead on Russia’s Maxim Vylegzhanin, and quickly extended the gap. Sweden won by 27.3 seconds.
It was another disappointing day for Norway, which had fallen a minute behind by the second exchange and ended up fourth, a day after its heavily favored women surprisingly failed to get a medal.
Hellner also skied the anchor leg for Sweden in Vancouver four years ago.
Sweden and Canada became the first two men’s teams to qualify for the Olympic curling semifinals on Sunday, leaving a three-way fight between Norway, China and Britain for the two remaining spots.
Britain and China lost their games on the next-to-last day of round-robin play, squandering a chance to complete the lineup for the playoffs. Norway stayed alive in the tournament by winning two games — one against the British, 7-6.
The Swedes were watched by the country’s king and queen in an 8-4 win over Russia in the morning and then beat United States 6-4 to finish the round robin at 8-1, guaranteeing that the world champions will be the top seed in the playoffs.
“You feel more important when you play for your country and that the king is there watching as well,” Sweden skip Niklas Edin said. “It is great he came out to support us playing for the nation.”
Canada also won both its games, stealing a point in the 10th to beat the U.S. 8-6 then being taken to an extra end by China before winning 9-8.
The Canadians (7-2) have also completed their round-robin campaign, which started at 1-2 but steadily improved, and will be No. 2 seed.