Settle in Sunday night and prepare yourself to see some happy Russians. Oh, you’ll see happy Americans, too — and sad ones as well. But the host country finally broke its medal drought at these Games, and there was celebrating all around, not to mention a Putin sighting.
The Russians expected their first medal to come in team figure skating. Instead, they missed breaking the ice by .1 seconds in the men’s skiathlon, then got it in the women’s 3,000-meter speedskating. Then came team figure skating, which gave the country its first gold medal. Do svidaniya, drought!
Of course, team figure skating will dominate NBC’s prime time coverage. The competition began with Russia, Canada and the United States in the top three spots and ended the same way. But the Russians didn’t coast into the gold medal, even though they could have.
Evgeni Plushenko is perpetually pleased with himself, but he’s still got it. He skated a difficult and near-perfect routine (to music actually titled “The Best of Plushenko” — I ask you!). As is customary, the Russian crowd went nuts for their favorite, who came out of retirement to skate here at age 31. As is also customary, Plushenko went nuts … for himself.
Jason Brown, who replaced Jeremy Abbott in the men’s competition, kept the Americans in third place with an enjoyable, dance-y routine to delightful Irish music. (Is there any other kind? No, there is not.) He fell once, but he’s 19 years old and has very little international experience, so all things considered, he did fine.
Gracie Gold replaced Ashley Wagner for the women’s free skate — a planned, not punitive, substitution — and performed beautifully, scoring her highest free skate marks of the season and clinching the bronze for the United States. She had the top score among the women until the inevitable — Julia Lipnitskaia took the ice. When she was finished, Russia — with Vladimir Putin looking on — had clinched its first gold of the Games, and Lipnitskaia had cemented her status as First Breakout Star of the Games. (If you didn’t watch her last night, don’t miss her tonight. She’s a peach. And she’s suddenly vaulted into contention for a medal in women’s singles.)
The team competition wound up with ice dancing, which was perfect for NBC. (Funny how that worked out.) The United States had clinched the bronze by then, but no matter — Charlie White and Meryl Davis are the gold standard, literally, in ice dancing, an event that is always a ratings bonanza. White and Davis easily took the top spot in dance, sending a clear message to their competitors.
Women’s speedskating was not listed on NBC’s original Sunday night dance card, but don’t be surprised to see a clip, not only because it was Russia’s first medal, but because of the celebration that followed. In her excitement, Olga Graf unzipped her uniform to her bellybutton — and then remembered she wasn’t wearing anything else. (It was a G-rated mistake at best.) She was delightfully sheepish about the incident.
NBC will likely make much of Bode Miller’s non-medal in the downhill, but hopefully they’ll also make at least a little of Travis Ganong, who had the best finish among the U.S. men — fifth — and is 11 years younger than Miller, who at 36 doesn’t have many Olympics left in him. And hopefully the network will make much of the entire event — the men’s downhill is one of the glam events of the Winter Games.
Jamie Anderson is blond, pretty and the only U.S. gold medalist of the day, so it will be impossible for NBC not to show lots and lots of women’s slopestyle. She’s a network executive’s dream. And she’s a great contrast to Saturday’s slopestyle gold medalist, Sage “Jeff Spicoli” Kotsenburg. Anderson wears mantra beads and crystals and meditates, and failed to use the word “stoked” Sunday. You don’t want your Olympians to be cookie-cutter athletes, after all.
Oddly, NBC will also show men’s ski jumping. I take a backseat to no one in my love of Nordic sports, but this seems to be an unusual choice. Perhaps the network thought it would get some scenic camera shots but, to put it nicely, the venue prevents that. Still, while you won’t see any Americans in the finals, you will see Kamil Stoch of Poland win the gold medal. Enjoy!