Updated: Friday, 21 February 2014 17:38 | By Agence France-Presse

Olympic skate controversy swirls, Canada v USA in hockey

Simmering controversy over the figure skating gold won by Russia's Adelina Sotnikova threatened to overshadow the Olympics Friday as Canada geared up for a blockbuster ice hockey semi-final against the United States.

Olympic skate controversy swirls, Canada v USA in hockey

Russia's Adelina Sotnikova performs in the Women's Figure Skating Free Program at the Iceberg Skating Palace on February 20, 2014 - by Adrian Dennis

Sotnikova, 17, dethroned South Korea's Vancouver 2010 champion Kim Yu-Na, with Italy's Carolina Kostner taking bronze after the free skating final at the Iceberg Skating Palace. 

But the judges' scoring was immediately the talking point.

Despite an error when she two-footed a double loop in her combination jump, Sotnikova improved her free skate score by a huge 18 points from her previous best a month ago at the Europeans.

The delighted gold medallist batted away questions about the judging in the glowing aftermath of her triumph. 

"Any questions are for the judges, not for me. I did my job. I gave a gift to Russia," said the skater from Moscow.

Kim, 23, who confirmed she was retiring from competition after a glittering career, also refused to be drawn into the swirling debate about the scoring, saying "there is nothing that will change with my words".

But American Ashley Wagner, who finished seventh, was less circumspect in her comments, saying she was "speechless" about the result after seeing some of Kim's dance.

"We've all been on the receiving end of it and we've all been on the side where you don't really get the benefit of the doubt," she said. 

"But you know what, people need to be held accountable. They need to get rid of anonymous judging."

Kim skated last, shortly before 4:00am Korean time, and Korean TV commentators voiced surprise, verging on shock at the final result, with suggestions that the judges may have been swayed by the partisan Russian crowd.

Within hours, the website of the popular online campaigning forum, Change.org, crashed as hundreds of thousands logged on to sign a petition calling for a review of the judges' scores.

"It will be interesting to see whether Sotnikova can ever obtain such a high score again down the road," said former skater -- and a former Kim Yu-Na coach -- Byeon Seong-Jin, commentating on the KBS channel.

"Today, Yu-Na did not lose but Russia won," Byeon said.

- US on revenge mission -

With just three days of competition to go in Sochi, Canada's men's ice hockey players will be looking to repeat the heroics of their women's team when they face the Americans in the semi-finals.

Canada's women came back from 2-0 down on Thursday to win a fourth consecutive gold. 

Canada broke American hearts in the final in Vancouver, beating their fierce rivals 3-2 with a goal from Sidney Crosby in overtime that sparked wild celebrations on the streets of the city.

The US team come into the last-four clash in Sochi with a tournament-high 20 goals in four games against a Canadian team yet to fully fire.

And US coach Dan Bylsma said the Americans are hungry to avenge their painful Vancouver loss. 

"Now we have a rematch," Bylsma said. "Canada is the match-up we certainly all wanted."

Finland will play Sweden in the other semi-final after sending host nation Russia crashing out at the quarter-final stage for the second Olympic Games in a row.

In the mountains above Sochi, American teen Mikaela Shiffrin is one of the big favourites in the penultimate alpine skiing event at the Sochi Games -- the women's Olympic slalom.

The self-assured 18-year-old won world slalom gold in Schladming last season, becoming the youngest American, then at 17, to be crowned a ski champion on the global stage.

Her rivals include Sweden's Frida Hansdotter, Austrian Marlies Schild, Canadian Marie-Michele Gagnon and overall World Cup leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, bidding for her third medal of the Games.

There are also gold medals to be decided on Friday in the women's biathlon relay, women's ski cross and three short-track skating events -- the men's 500m, women's 1,000m and men's 5,000m relay.

Canada's men are bidding for their third straight curling title against Britain after their women's team beat Sweden to win their first gold since Nagano in 1998.

Going into Friday's programme, Norway top the medals table with 10 golds, two clear of Germany and the United States.

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