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Thursday marked the first day of competition at the Sochi Winter Olympics, and while the Opening Ceremony doesn’t happen until Friday, plenty of remarkable story lines emerged.
Here are a few.
America’s Alpine veterans are peaking
In Thursday’s downhill training runs, two of Team USA's superstars, Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso, shone in what could be their final Olympics.
Miller, 36 and racing in his fifth Winter Games, took an aggressive approach to Sochi’s Rosa Khutor course, beating Patrick Kueng of Witzerland by 0.03 seconds. Miller, who injured his knee on the same course two years ago, has been getting faster and faster this season, despite having lost quite a bit of weight. There are no medals for top finishes in training runs, but Miller, who already has a gold medal, three silver medals and a bronze medal from past Olympics, is signaling that he’s ready to challenge his younger rivals for one last gold.
Mancuso, 29, is competing in her fourth Olympics, another milestone in a career that has already earned her a gold medal and two silver medals. On Thursday, skiing a difficult downhill course that has already been altered once, Mancuso finished third in the women’s trial run, behind Anna Fenninger of Austria and Fraenzi Aufdenblatten of Switzerland.
Still, neither Miller nor Mancuso get the attention they used to. The focus has turned to younger Alpine teammates Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin. But the two veterans give no indication that they will fade out quietly.
Beware the Russian skaters
By many accounts, Russian figure skating is beginning to blossom, perhaps in a way not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thursday’s performances in the new team competition showed that could very well be the case.
Former Olympic champion Evgeny Plushenko and reigning European pairs champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov delivered passionate, near-flawless routines in the opening two events, thrusting the Russians into first place. The home crowd roared with approval, as if tasting gold. There are still several rounds to go in the team competition, but momentum is clearly on the Russians’ side.
And this is just the beginning. Still to come are the individual and pairs competitions, in which Russia has several legitimate medal contenders.
Slopestyle goes on, without Shaun White
American Shaun White, two-time snowboard gold medalist and an ambassador of the sport, dropped out of the new slopestyle competition a day before Thursday’s opening rounds. But the competition didn’t suffer.
Under perfectly blue, windless skies, two of White’s teammates, Jamie Anderson and Karly Shorr, secured spots in Saturday’s finals in the women’s competition. Among the men, American Charles Guldemond missed the cut but still has a chance to earn one of four final spots. Many athletes have criticized the conditions of the course, but much of that was forgotten as organizers tweak the layout.
Kearney is again the woman to beat on the bumps
American freestyle skiier Hannah Kearney, the reigning Olympic champion in the women’s moguls competition, has 25 World Cup wins. She is 27 years old, more than a decade older than some of the teenagers she races against. But no matter. On Thursday, she showed why she remains the favorite to win another gold in Sochi.
Kearney finished first in the qualifying round, scoring a 23.05 out of a possible 30 points. She’ll take on her closest nine rivals in a day of knockout rounds on Saturday. “I’ve never been in better shape,” she told NBC Olympics. “So bring it on.”
Sochi remains a work in progress
Many journalists, and some athletes, have gone public to gripe about the substandard conditions in the Olympic Village: unfinished hotel rooms, mixed-up reservations, dirty water, broken doorknobs, missing soap and trash cans. The complaints have inspired a Twitter hashtag, #SochiProblems. Already, though, there has been a social media backlash, with critics suggesting that the complainers could be in much worse conditions than at the Winter Olympics at a tropical resort.