Russian pair delights home crowd with ‘amazing moment’

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SOCHI, Russia – If you walked by the Iceberg Skating Palace Wednesday night, you would be forgiven for thinking there was a World Cup-caliber soccer match going on. A very intense soccer match, at that.

But it was figure skating on this night, pairs figure skating in particular, when the host nation’s best chance for individual winners were taking to the ice and the country stood still for three hours, waiting to see if Russia could re-capture a gold medal that it lost at the Vancouver Games four years ago.

If the nation was immovable, the arena itself was shaking with anticipation as Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov took to the ice, the leaders after the short program. A roar burst through the packed facility that is not heard often in figure skating, a sport that prides itself on grace and power, not fist-pumping and screams.

VIDEO: Russian pair are “superstars”

A host-nation pair had not won a gold medal at the Olympics in 78 years, since Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier climbed to the top of the podium in 1936 at the Games in Germany; World War II was just gaining steam.

The home-ice advantage – the shaking walls and unfurled red, white and blue flags numbering in the hundreds – all waited for the moment to crown new Olympic champions. But first they had to skate.

“It was hard to skate in front of our people,” Trankov told NBCOlympics.com after their win. “We’ve never had an audience like this in our lives. It was amazing moment when we finished our program.”

“The pressure helped us,” Volosozhar added. “It pushed us to skate better.”

VIDEO: “Strength and power” led Russia to silver as well

While the crowd roared for Volosozhar/Trankov, the applause was muted for their German rivals Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who came into the free skate in second place and needed to land their difficult throw triple Axel (as well as skate a clean program) in order to capture the gold.

“We are in Russia and Russian skaters are on the ice,” shrugged Szolkowy after his team fell – literally – to bronze. “It would be the same if we were in Germany and it was German skaters … at least I hope.”

Szolkowy fell early on a jump, not completing a side-by-side with Savchenko. The crowd at that moment let out a sudden yet sure cheer, obviously elated that its gold-medal hopes were assured with a German blip.

“After I came back up to my feet, of course I noticed the crowd was cheering,” said Szolkowy. “And that helped us through the next element.”

VIDEO: Fall derails Szolkowy and Savchenko

It couldn’t carry them through the throw triple Axel, however, an element that – should they have executed it – would have helped them be in contention for silver. Instead, that medal went to another Russian pair, Ksenia Stolbova and Fyodor Klimov.

“At least they clapped after our performance,” Szolkowy added. “You felt the arena was packed and you felt that everyone was here to support at least some of the guys. For me, it was great.”

After winning gold in 12 straight Olympic Games in the pairs events – dating back to Innsbruck 1964 – Russia not only lost that stronghold on first place in Vancouver, it didn’t land one team on the podium. The Sochi Games was seen as a redemption moment for Volosozhar/Trankov, but also the Russian pairs institution as a whole.

“Of course we remember Vancouver, but that was another life,” Trankov said. “Here, it was a situation that was completely changed. We weren’t fighting for just a medal, but for gold.”

VIDEO: Watch Castelli and Shnapir’s “Skyfall” routine

It was fitting that Volosozhar and Trankov were wearing gold on this night: he a buzzed-about pair of golden pants he had donned all season for their “Jesus Christ Superstar” free skate, and she a newly-revealed gold dress.

As she walked by a group of young Russian girls in the hallway backstage, they squealed in delight, Tatyana stopping to wave. On this night, gold-medal winners treated like rock stars in an arena – and a country – that roared with approval.

Aleec Harris victorious in 110m hurdles; Allyson Felix scratches 200m at USAs

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Aleec Harris stated that his goal for the weekend was to win a USA flag to give to his wife and son, who were watching his races from the stands.

He won the men’s 110m hurdles with a time of 13.24 seconds, despite a significant headwind of 1.7 meters per second at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event who had a kidney transplant two years ago, acknowledged the winds were “no joke.” He clocked 13.31, followed by Devon Allen in third with a time of 13.34. All three will race at the world championships later this summer in London.

In the women’s 200m, Deajah Stevens won with a convincing time of 22.30; Kimberlyn Duncan followed with 22.59 and Tori Bowie in third at 22.60.

Allyson Felix scratched the women’s 200m, choosing instead to focus on defending her world title in the 400m.

Ameer Webb edged Christian Coleman by 0.01 seconds in the men’s 200m, though both men will represent the U.S. at the world championships in London later this summer.

Evan Jager, the Olympic silver medalist, won the 3000m Steeplechase in a time of 8:16.88, marking his sixth national title.

In the men’s shot put, Olympic champ Ryan Crouser set a meet record of 74 feet, 3 ¾ inches – the longest throw in the world in almost 14 years. He’s aiming for the world record. 2016 silver medalist Joe Kovach finished second with a throw of 73-4.

Clayton Murphy, 800m bronze medalist in Rio, scratched the 800m after sustaining two sore hamstrings Saturday and will not be at the world championships. Donavan Brazier won in 1:44.14.

MORE: Matthew Centrowitz, after ‘rock bottom,’ glad with runner-up at USAs

Ashley Wagner, Gus Kenworthy, and U.S. women’s hockey team to appear in ESPN’s Body Issue

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Ashley Wagner, Gus Kenworthy, and members of the U.S. women’s hockey team are just some of the Olympians and 2018 Olympic hopefuls featured in ESPN The Magazine’s annual body issue, on newsstands July 7. In all, 23 athletes will be featured in this year’s edition.

U.S. hockey players Brianna Decker, Kacey Bellamy, Meghan Duggan, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Alex Rigsby will join U.S. soccer player Julie Ertz and her husband, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

Danish tennis pro and two-time Olympian Caroline Wozniacki is also featured, among a number of NBA, MLB, and NFL players.

Novlene Williams-Mills, from Jamaica, will be the first breast cancer survivor to appear in the magazine. The four-time Olympian owns three silver medals and one bronze from the 4x400m relays.

The 2016 edition featured 19 athletes, 11 of whom were Olympians.

Photos, interviews, and videos will begin to roll out this week in anticipation of the release.

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