The team figure skating competition in Sochi has become a story of age: the enduring performance of an aging Russian male champion, and the debut of two young females, one American and the other Russian.
The legend, 31-year-old Evgeny Plushenko, turned in two stellar routines that propelled the Russians to gold. Two days after placing second in Friday’s short skate, he won Sunday’s free skate.
The youngsters, 15-year-old Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya and 18-year-old American Gracie Gold, stamped their own marks.
Lipnitskaya, following up on her breathtaking short routine on Saturday, scored 141.5 in the free skate, vaulting her from darkhorse to favorite in the individual competition.
Gold delivered a solid technical routine in Sunday’s free skate, scoring a personal best 129.38, helping the U.S. clinch the bronze medal.
American stars Meryl Davis and Charlie White easily won the final program of the team competition, the ice dance free skate, with a score of 114.34, their personal best. In second were their closest friends and rivals, Candians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Russians Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov finished third with 103.48.
But thanks to Plushenko, there was no catching the Russians, who won gold with 75 overall points. Canada took silver with 65 points and America bronze with 60. They were trailed by Italy, 51, and Japan, 50.
The results gave Plushenko his fourth career Winter Games medal, and Russia’s first gold in Sochi. Russia was shut out of ice skating medals in 2010 in Vancouver, marking the low point of a decline from Soviet dominance that is now starting to reverse.
The Russians’ win was made easier by last-minute lineup changes by the other four teams involved in the final medal round. In many cases, the countries’ top skaters did not take the ice Sunday, presumably to allow them to focus on the individual competitions later in the Games.
Gone from the men’s free skate were three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who beat Plushenko in the short program on Friday.
In the ladies’ free skate, Carolina Kostner of Italy and Mao Asada of Japan, who finished second and third, respectively, in the short program, did not compete.
That set up a showdown between Gold and Lipnitskaya.
Gold skated first of the two, hitting all her jumps in a poised routine that made her look as if she was ready to shoulder all the medal hopes that America has heaped on her.
Lipnitskaya competed on a level of her own, with near-inhuman spins and almost-perfect jumps, all with a easy demeanor. It was a complete performance that brought even the stoic Russian President Vladimir Putin to his feet.
Earlier, in the men’s free skate, Plushenko landed all of his jumps cleanly and finished with a score of 168.20 — lower than his team was expecting, but enough, nonetheless, to come in first.
Kevin Reynolds of Canada finished in close second, with a score of 167.92, followed by Tatsuki Machida of Japan. American Jason Brown, inserted as a replacement for Jeremy Abbott, who stumbled in Friday’s short program, finished fourth with a 153.67.
“I really wanted to do well for the team,” Brown said afterward.
He also admitted being a bit stunned at being on the same ice as Plushenko.
“It’s so surreal,” Brown said.
He is among many young skaters on the ice in Sochi who grew up admiring Plushenko.
Plushenko, who endured several back surgeries to make it to the Sochi Games and narrowly missed winning gold in Vancouver in 2010, has said that he only wanted to compete in the team events this time around. But there is still a good chance that he could skate in the individual program.
Plushenko said his back was hurting him, but there was no question what he will do.
"I will skate individual," he said.