Competition at the Sochi Olympics started even before Friday’s formal opening ceremony because 12 men’s and women’s medal events have been added since the Vancouver Games four years ago. About 6,000 athletes and team members, a record for the Winter Olympics, will come for 98 medal events.
Events held on Thursday included two new events: slopestyle and team figure skating.
Slopestyle made its premiere, with Max Parrot of Canada backing up his win last month at the Winter X Games with a 97.5 — 2½ points short of perfect — in a qualifying run punctuated by a triple-flipping jump. Shaun White dropped out of the competition after the American deemed the course “intimidating.” The leading female contender, Jamie Anderson, had no problem a day after the American banged up her back in practice.
Looking right at home on the Sochi ice, Russia took the lead after the pairs and men’s short programs in the new team figure skating event. Three-time Olympic medalist Evgeni Plushenko finished second to Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan in the men’s portion, but world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won the pairs convincingly.
In skiing training runs Bode Miller mastered the Olympic course on his very first run, leading the opening downhill training session. Patrick Kueng of Switzerland was second, a slim 0.03 seconds behind. Matthias Mayer of Austria was third, 0.17 behind.
Anna Fenninger of Austria had the fastest time in the women’s downhill training run that had to be halted early on so workers could alter a harrowing jump. She finished 0.21 seconds ahead of Fraenzi Aufdenblatten of Switzerland. American skier Julia Mancuso was third, 0.38 seconds behind.
The quest by Hannah Kearney for an Olympic repeat in women’s moguls started flawlessly as she easily topped qualifying. The 27-year-old American posted a score of 23.05 to move into Saturday’s finals and one step closer to bookending the gold she won in Vancouver. Canadian Chloe Dufour-Lapointe finished second in qualifying, just ahead of younger sister Justine and older sister Maxime, who was eighth.
Away from the competition, fans who bought tickets on the official Olympic website waited several hours in long lines at two sites in the Sochi area to pick up paper copies. … Addressing terrorism fears, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said, “We can guarantee the safety of the people as well as any other government hosting a mass event (can).” … A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin says the leaders of Russia and Georgia could meet on the sidelines of the Olympics — the first meeting between the leaders of the countries since their 2008 war.
At the opening ceremony ballet, man-made snow and avant-garde art will make an appearance, but as with all past shows, the details are under wraps. Who will light the Olympic cauldron? Russian hockey great Vladislav Tretiak — among the best to ever play the game — has said he’ll take part, and some speculate he’ll be the choice.