Sochi sparks Russian renaissance in rink
Russia's Adelina Sotnikova performs at the Figure Skating Exhibition Gala during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 22, 2014 - by John Macdougall
Superstars Kim Yu-Na of South Korea and Mao Asada of Japan took their final Olympic bows as the momentum swung into Russian hands in the women's event with Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu sparking a new dawn for Asia in the men's.
The Russian renaissance follows incredible soul-searching and equally incredible sums invested since Vancouver in 2010 when for the first time since 1960 not a single gold was won by a skater from Russia or any former Soviet republic.
The fierce rivalry between teenagers Sotnikova, 17, and Julia Lipnitskaia, 15, helped spark their first ever women's gold, and looks set to ignite the sport for some time.
Lipnitskaia had been the star of the team event but when she fell during the individual short programme, all eyes turned to Sotnikova who had been overlooked for the team event.
"I felt a lump in my throat when I heard I wasn't going," she said.
"I wanted to show everything I could in the individual event, it added to my determination. I wanted this gold."
Her incredible victory as she whipped up the crowd to get them on her side, and dramatic leap in points since taking silver in the Europeans behind Lipnitskaia just a month ago also whipped up controversy.
Conspiracy theories were fuelled when one of the judges, Alla Shekhovtseva, who is married to Russian federation general director Valentin Piseyev, was pictured hugging Sotnikova directly after her success.
- 'Strong desire was not present' -
Despite initial South Korean indignation the International Skating Union (ISU) said no official letter of protest had been received from the 2018 Winter Games' hosts.
Kim admitted that perhaps a burning desire for victory may have been lacking, as she failed to become just the third woman to win back-to-back titles.
"I could die for gold in the (Vancouver) Olympics, but that strong desire was not as present (in Sochi)," said Kim whose rivalry with Asada, also 23, had lit up the Vancouver Games.
In the men's event it wasn't Plushenko or three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada who proved the star of rink.
Plushenko, 31, claimed a record-equalling fourth Olympic medal, adding the team gold -- Russia's first of the Sochi Games -- to his 2006 men's title, and silver in 2002 and 2010.
But he retired injured just before before the men's short programme, later declaring it was his final competition, only to say maybe he might try for a fifth Olympics in Pyeongchang.
His late withdrawal caused consternation in Russia and meant for the first time since Sarajevo in 1984 the USSR or post-Soviet Russia has no medal in the men's singles event.
Hanyu became the first Asian man to win Olympic singles gold and at 19 years look set for a bright future, as he heads home to Saitama bidding to win his first world title next month.
Chan, 23, joins the club of Canadian men's silver medallists as he goes home with two -- individual and team -- in what he suggested was his last Games.
- Future looks bright -
But the future looks bright for Russia in both pairs and ice dancing.
The pairs is back in Russian hands after Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo's Vancouver gold looked to have shifted the power to China.
Tatiana Volosozhar, 27, and Maxim Trankov, 30, won gold and although they are set to retire the succession looks secure in second-placed Ksenia Stolbova, 22, and Fedor Klimov, 23.
Ice dancing passed to North America for a second straight Olympics with Meryl Davis, 27, and Charlie White, 26, giving the United States their first ever gold in the discipline ahead of 2010 winners Tessa Virtue, 24, and Scott Moir, 26, of Canada.
But with both couples eyeing retirement, third-placed Russians Elena Ilinykh, 19, and Nikita Katsalapov, 22, could star over the next four years, along with teammates Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, who finished fifth.
For Canada and the United States the tally was mixed.
The Canadians had entered the Games with one of the strongest figure skating teams, ready to challenge for gold in the team, men's and ice dancing events. They leave with three silver medals.
Davis and White's gold lifted the United States, who also won team bronze, but their once-powerful women's team were frozen off the podium for a second straight Games, with their men also failing to medal.