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.

Alex Ferreira wins Olympic qualifier, crowds U.S. ski halfpipe standings

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — U.S. Olympic qualifying is more than halfway done for the men’s freeski halfpipe team, and the picture remains crowded.

On Friday, Alex Ferreira boosted his chances of making his first Olympic team after winning Dew Tour Breckenridge, which served as the third U.S. selection event for ski halfpipe.

Ferreira’s winning run was full of amplitude and featured four doubles, including double cork 1260s spun in both directions.

One of the more demonstrative skiers in the field, an exuberant Ferreira whipped his ski poles around his head in celebration is he rode into the corral. “Oh my god, that was glorious!” he exclaimed after one of his runs.

“I’ve been working on that run since two years ago,” Ferreira said afterwards. “I just wanted to land the run, I didn’t care about the results. To be able to do that — hands down, best day of my life. It was my best halfpipe run ever.”

Finishing behind him was 2014 Olympian Aaron Blunck, who made his mark by showcasing a diverse array of technical tricks.

The final podium spot was claimed by France’s Kevin Rolland. The Sochi Olympic bronze medalist put his signature amplitude on display and was the only rider to land a double cork 1440.

It’s the first podium finish of the U.S. Olympic qualifying season for both Blunck and Ferreira. Skiers need a minimum of two top-three results in order to be eligible for automatic selection to the team, so they’re halfway there with two qualifiers left.

Up to three skiers can earn automatic spots on the team. Should more than three skiers get two podium finishes, then the team will be determined by a ranking list that factors in each skier’s two best results.

So far, six U.S. men have a top-three result at one of the selection events. No one has hit the two-podium minimum yet though.

Ferreira and 2014 Olympians David Wise and Torin Yater-Wallace have each won one of the selection events, putting them one victory away from confirming their nominations to the Olympic team. (Yater-Wallace was fourth in Breckenridge, Wise was 10th.)

However, accomplishing that feat is easier said than done.

“Sometimes I almost think it would be harder to make the Olympic team than do well in the Olympics,” Ferreira said. “It’s not easy stuff.”

The skiers will now have to wait until January for the final two Olympic qualifiers.

“These next couple months are definitely going to be pretty stressful,” Blunck said. “But I think Alex and I are both going at it with a grain of salt. We’re trying not to think about it as Olympic qualifiers, because at the end of the day, it’s still skiing for us and we’re enjoying our time out there.”

Breckenridge also hosted the third Olympic qualifier for the women’s halfpipe team.

Although U.S. women made up five of the eight skiers in the final, Maddie Bowman was the only one who finished on the podium. It’s a huge boon to the Olympic hopes of the reigning gold medalist, as she has now fulfilled the minimum criteria of two top-three finishes.

Bowman showed her technicality be spinning 900s in both directions during her run, but she ended up in third behind Canada’s Cassie Sharpe and France’s Marie Martinod, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist.

Sharpe and Martinod are both considered gold medal contenders for PyeongChang.

“I’m really excited because I feel like I’m really starting to break through on my grabbing,” a confident Bowman said. “I’m excited to go to the camp and work on that for the next events coming up.”

While she hasn’t mathematically confirmed her spot yet, a lot would have to happen for Bowman not to make the Olympic team.

Aside from Bowman, Devin Logan remains the only other U.S. woman with a top-three finish at a selection event.

Another podium at either of the final two contests could ultimately lock her into a spot. For the rest of the hopefuls, they will need to get on the podium at both of those events. Otherwise, the final spots will be awarded at the discretion of the coaching staff.

Breckenridge will also host selection events for ski slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle this weekend.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Olympic team

Olympic Qualifying Standings
Ski Halfpipe 
(through three of five events)
1. Torin Yater-Wallace — 150*
2. David Wise — 132*
3. Aaron Blunck — 130*
4. Alex Ferreira — 122*
5. Gus Kenworthy — 104*

1. Maddie Bowman — 140**
2. Devin Logan — 130*
3. Annalisa Drew — 95
4. Brita Sigourney — 90
5. Carly Margulies — 72
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic logo unveiled

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The logos for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games were unveiled at one of Beijing’s iconic Olympic venues — the Water Cube, where Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in 2008.

Beijing will become the first city to host a Summer and a Winter Olympics in February 2022.

The logos unveiled Friday — which replace the Candidate City logo used when Beijing beat Almaty, Kazakhstan, in a 2015 IOC members vote for the 2022 Games — are named “Winter Dream” (Olympics) and “Flying High” (Paralympics), according to Xinhua News Agency.

The designs were chosen from 4,506 worldwide submissions, according to Chinese media.

“The Olympic emblem was initially drawn on the idea of the Chinese character ‘dong’ (winter) in the bid emblem, with the character rendered in Chinese calligraphy representing Chinese culture,” designer Lin Cunzhen said, according to the Xinhua. “Meanwhile, a pattern combining ice sports and snow sports was used to represent the Olympic Games.”

More from Beijing 2022:

The upper part of the emblem resembles a skater and its lower part a skier. The ribbon-like motif in between, full of rhythm, stands for the host country’s rolling mountains, Games venues, ski courses and skating tracks. The ribbons, as artistically expressed in the emblem, give a touch of festivity and are an indication that the Games coincide with the celebrations of the Chinese New Year.

The Water Cube will become the Ice Cube for the 2022 Olympics, hosting curling. The Bird’s Nest will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as it did for the 2008 Olympics.

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MORE: Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic promo video

The emblem for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games is shown after being unveiled at a ceremony at the National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube, in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
The emblem for the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games is shown after being unveiled at a ceremony at the National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube, in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
The 2008 Beijing Olympic logo. (Getty Images)