The medals kept coming Wednesday for Team USA; there must be something in the water. Well, there is something in the water, but it’s probably metals, not medals. So we can probably attribute the flow of U.S. hardware to the return of Bob Costas. (I’m laid up with bronchitis, but do you see Matt Lauer or Meredith Vieira filling in? No, you do not.)
NBC will make hay with Ted Ligety, who got the day started just right, posting an impossible-to-beat first run in the giant slalom and then just watching everyone else come up short. It was the first gold medal for the U.S. in Alpine skiing and the first giant slalom gold for an American man. And he’s the first American to win two Alpine golds. The silver and bronze went to a pair of Frenchmen, Steven Missillier and Alexis Pintrrault.
The USA-1 bobsled of Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams appeared on its way to joining Ligety as gold medalists, but Canada-1, driven by Kaillie Humphries, overtook the Americans. USA-1 settled for silver and USA-2 — with Aja Evans and Jamie Greubel — took the bronze.
But the prime-time centerpiece will be, of course, figure skating — the very popular, very telegenic women’s short program that is never short of drama.
Wednesday was no exception. Defending champion Kim Yu-na of Korea set the bar at 74.92, but then came a Russian teenager, trying to make her country forget. Except that Russian was not 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia, and she was not trying to make her country forget its loss in men’s hockey earlier in the day.
No, it was the much older Adelina Sotnikova — 17! — who was trying to make her country forget, well, Lipnitskaia. And she did. Sotnikova came withing .28 of Kim’s score and brought the house down with an energetic and near-flawless short program. Carolina Kostner of Italy was .53 points behind Sotnikova, making those three at the top the ones to beat in tomorrow’s long program.
Lipnitskaia seemed to be feeling all the pressure the past week and a half of fame has brought her. She did not skate as well as she did in the team competition, falling once, and that was enough to put her in fifth place, behind American Gracie Gold. Virginia’s Ashley Wagner was sixth and fellow American Polina Edmunds seventh.
Tomorrow, the pressure will switch to Kotnikova — for all of this country’s devotion to and accomplishments in figure skating, no Russian woman has won an Olympic gold. Kotnikova will have to be perfect and hope for a slip by Kim.
Kotnikova’s spirited performance was a balm after Team Russia’s painful hockey loss to Finland earlier in the day. The team seemed determined to use its disappointing showing in Vancouver as a catalyst to the medal round in Sochi. Instead, it suffered a devastating loss on its home ice. The Russians were touted as an offensive juggernaut but despite a wealth of talent, struggled to score.
Finland, meantime, advanced to face Sweden, a winner over Slovenia earlier in the day, in the semifinals.
The other semifinal will be a rematch of the 2010 gold medal game: the United States vs. Canada. The Canadians struggled a bit but got by Latvia, 2-1; the Americans defeated the Czech Republic, 5-2. Surely NBC will find a way to squeeze in a few minutes of that.