Lipnitskaia fall breaks Russian hearts after ice hockey exit
Gravity and Finland get the better of Russian medal hopefuls as Putin's dreams go up in smoke
RUSSIA'S hopes of a spectacular climax to the Winter Olympics in Sochi were left in tatters by the twin perils of Finland and gravity after the men's ice hockey team were knocked out in the quarter finals by their Scandinavian neighbours, and 15-year-old skating sensation Julia Lipnitskaia blew her chance of gold in the figure skating thanks to a fall during the short programme.
Gold in the ice hockey was seen as the "holy grail" for Russia at its own Olympics, while Lipnitskaia, who bewitched the nation with her performances during the team skating event, was poised to become the Olga Korbut of these Games.
But in the space of just a few hours on Wednesday both their dreams were dashed. First the Russian ice hockey team lost 3-1 to Finland in front of a stunned crowd at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. Later that evening in the women's figure skating competition Lipnitskaia, potentially the biggest star of the Games, failed to land a triple flip and fell in a heap on the ice during her performance. She ended the first round in fifth place.
Defeat in the ice hockey was a massive blow. Gold was what "Vladimir Putin and his fellow Russians had dreamed of," according to CNN. "It wasn't just about reasserting Russia's standing on the ice hockey stage, this was about pride, tradition and proving that the host nation's star players could deliver in front of the watching world."
Of all the Olympic disciplines ice hockey is by far the most popular in Russia and the reaction was "hyperbolic" according to The Times. "Dear friends, life has not come to an end, but this is a severe and annoying defeat," claimed the TV commentary. "We are all crying and we are crying with you too. We are hoping for revenge. Maybe one day there will be revenge, but maybe not with this team."
"The post-match interviews saw a procession of Russian players shrivel under scrutiny," says the paper. "Now they will answer to Putin."
Lipnitskaia, who earned a hug from Putin earlier in the Games, was in tears after her performance in the figure skating. "After opening with a beautiful triple lutz-triple toe combination and showing her jaw-dropping flexibility, Lipnitskaia fell in an ungainly heap on the triple flip tucked toward the end of her short programme," reports the Washington Post.
"This does not define her career or who she is as an athlete," said her coach afterwards. "She simply made a mistake. That’s all. It happens."
Lipnitskaia lies in fifth place ahead of the free programme, nearly ten points behind South Korean ice queen Yuna Kim. Russian hopes now rest on the shoulders of the competitor Lipnitskaia eclipsed, former home favourite Adelina Sotnikova. She is in second place, but it is hard to see how anyone can beat Kim.