Russia’s world champion pairs figure skaters didn’t have to look far for inspiration. They got it from the local hero.
Three-time medalist Evgeni Plushenko grabbed the spotlight in the men’s portion of the new event of team figure skating at the Sochi Olympics. Then it was Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov stealing the show in their short program Thursday.
“We were actually afraid at the start because we saw how the crowd was to Evgeni,” Trankov said. “But it cheered us up and it made us skate better.”
With their countrymen waving Russian flags throughout the Iceberg, Volosozhar and Trankov won easily after Plushenko finished second to Japan’s rising star, Yuzuru Hanyu. With chants of “heroes” echoing in their ears, Volosozhar and Trankov were magnificent. Their speed, synchronicity and lifts and throws outclassed the field.
Russia’s 19 points — 10 for first, nine for second — pushed it ahead of Canada, which earned 17, and China with 15, with two more nights of team vs. team competition to come. On Saturday, it’s the women’s and ice dance short programs and the pairs free skate. The other free skates are Sunday.
Plushenko pulled out all his tricks, but after hitting his quadruple-triple combination, an insecure triple axel and a triple lutz to open the routine, he slowed down. Plushenko won silver in 2002 and 2010, gold in 2006.
Hanyu, 19, was smoother and more intricate with his footwork. His jumps were massive — he nearly crossed the width of the ice on his triple axel — and his spins were exquisite. Still, even he knew who was the night’s star: “He was my hero,” Hanyu said of Plushenko.
The U.S. was seventh because of tiebreakers following a poor showing by Jeremy Abbott, but got a fifth-place finish from its pair, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir. Only the top five countries advance to the free skates, a cut made after the women and ice dancers complete their short programs.
Slopestyle: Slopestyle debuted as an Olympic sport, with Max Parrot of Canada backing up his win last month at the Winter X Games with a 97.5 — 2 1/2 points short of perfect — in a qualifying run punctuated by a triple-flipping jump. The top female contender, Jamie Anderson, had no problem a day after the American banged up her back in practice.
Moguls: Hannah Kearney’s quest 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 was second in qualifying, just ahead of younger sister Justine and older sister Maxime, who was eighth.