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.”

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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.

Ryan Lochte, with new coach, races in first meet since Olympics

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Ryan Lochte is back in the competition pool.

The 12-time Olympic medalist, suspended from USA Swimming and international meets through June, won a 200-yard individual medley at the U.S. Masters nationals in Riverside, Calif., on Friday. He also finished second in a 100-yard breaststroke.

Full results are here.

Lochte has moved to the Los Angeles area and is now coached by the University of Southern California’s Dave Salo until his fiancée’s baby is born (likely June). After that, they will re-evaluate his plan, Salo said.

Lochte was formerly coached by Gregg Troy from 2002-13 at the University of Florida, where he attended college and matured to become an Olympian in 2004. Lochte won 11 Olympic medals under Troy and became the world’s best swimmer going into the 2012 Olympics.

In 2013, Lochte moved from Gainesville to Charlotte and trained under David Marsh through the Rio Games. Lochte said last summer that he planned to move to California.

Lochte has also said he plans to try for a fifth Olympics in 2020, but his immediate future is about to get very busy — becoming a father, becoming a husband and the end of his ban.

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Jesse Owens’ Olympic gold medals up for auction

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Two of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Berlin Olympic gold medals will be auctioned in August, according to Heritage Auctions.

Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin Games, triumphing in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany by taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

Owens gifted one gold medal to entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, according to “Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson.”

That medal was auctioned for in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Owens used his three other Olympic golds as payment for a Pittsburgh hotel stay in the mid-1950s, according to “Intelligent Collector,” a magazine affiliated with Heritage Auctions, which is housing the August auction with Owens’ medals.

“Jesse didn’t have the financial means to pay for his stay at Mr. Harry Bailey’s hotel,” said Albert DeVito, son of a local handyman who ended up with the two gold medals being auctioned, according to the magazine. “So he gave his medals to Harry as his payment for expenses incurred.”

DeVito’s father was later gifted the three gold medals by the hotel owner Bailey for previously lending him money. DeVito’s father kept two and gave back to Bailey one gold medal whose whereabouts are unknown, according to the magazine.

DeVito thought to sell the remaining two gold medals after seeing the 2013 auction.

“It wasn’t until that first gold medal sold that we even thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. These things are worth something!'” DeVito said, according to the magazine.

It’s unknown which of the gold medals corresponds to which Olympic event, as they are not specified on the medals.

Before Owens’ death in 1980, the sprinter reportedly said he had lost the four gold medals. The German government replaced them, and they now rest at Ohio State, Owens’ alma mater.

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