Plushenko, Lipnitskaya lead Russia to gold

By Pritha Sarkar, Reuters

Posted at Feb 10 2014 09:26 AM | Updated as of Feb 10 2014 05:26 PM

SOCHI, Russia - Yevgeny Plushenko and 15-year-old dynamo Julia Lipnitskaya spurred Russia to their first gold medal at the Sochi Olympics as the hosts triumphed in the inaugural figure skating team competition on Sunday.

The Russian team sitting rink-side seemed unaware that they had struck gold with almost 90 minutes remaining since Lipnitskaya and their ice dance couple of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov still had to perform.

But once Lipnitskaya finished her spellbinding skate to the soundtrack of Schindler's List, screaming fans packed into the Iceberg Skating Palace started dancing down the aisles long before the result was announced over the PA system.

At 8.37 pm local time, Russia's expected gold rush at these Games finally started and President Vladimir Putin was on hand to witness the moment from his rinkside seat.

He, along with the near 12,000 capacity crowd, could not stay on their seats as Plushenko, who had controversially been selected for his fourth Games at the expense of younger rivals, began the victory charge on the final day of the three-day multi-discipline competition.

The noise reached deafening levels as he landed his opening quadruple toeloop, sent the crowd into raptures as he playfully held up his index finger to his lip mid routine - miming for silence - and the hollering crowd were back on their feet as he theatrically finished off his routine with a spin.

The 2006 Turin champion's score of 168.20 for a solid, if rather slow-paced, routine extended Russia's lead.

"I have three Olympic medals and if we are going to win today as a team it is the first time in our life, and I like to be first," Plushenko said as he was accompanied by his wife through a throng of reporters backstage.

Canada's Kevin Reynolds, who came second to the Russian on Sunday, paid tribute to the man who picked up his fourth Olympic medal 12 years after winning his first at Salt Lake City.

"It is amazing the longevity that he has had ... To do what he does here at that age after so many years coming back without much competition experience this season, I have a lot of respect for him," said Reynolds.

While the partisan crowd lapped up Plushenko's dramatics, Lipnitskaya left everyone in awe.

She nailed 10 soaring jumps, seven of them in combination, whizzed around the ice showing off her deft footwork and her spins were so fast, they left the crowd feeling dizzy.

A snatched landing off her final triple jump was her only blip but that did not matter as she left every man, woman and child watching all over Russia and around the world in raptures and was deservedly rewarded with 141.51.

The only person who was not impressed was Lipnitskaya.

"I don't think this was my best," she said.

Russia won five of the eight segments to seal the gold with a total of 75 points. Canada, led by Vancouver ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, grabbed silver with 65 points while the United States (60) ended up with bronze.

(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Peter Rutherford)