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Canada live up to mantle with gold – Anderson defends title in blustery final

GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb 12, (Agencies): Canada’s ice dance star Scott Moir said Monday’s Olympic figure skating team gold was inspired by the sour taste left by their too “casual” approach at Sochi four years ago.

Moir with partner Tessa Virtue helped Canada live up to their mantle as favourites with a commanding win over defending champions Russia and the United States for the Winter Games’ heavyweights first gold in South Korea.

Moir and his compatriots came in second best in Sochi, a defeat that the 30-year-old said was irking for “a country born on ice”.

“We weren’t happy with our approach in Sochi, it was too casual,” he said.

“We came home with a sour taste in our mouth, so we set a four year plan, we wanted to win it, we believed in ourselves.”

“Canadians are born on the ice, we think we are best in world… we are proud we took it more seriously, especially against two very good teams.”

They took command on Friday, despite Sochi dual silver medallist Patrick Chan tumbling in his men’s short programme.

Competing in their third Olympics, Virtue and Moir earned a maximum 10 points for their short programme, and matched that in the concluding free with an exhilarating four-and-a-half minute performance to the music of Moulin Rouge.

Canada finished on 73 points, with Russia on 66 and the USA a further four points behind.

This was the first silver of the Pyeongchang Games for Russia, featuring teenage starlets Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova.

Chan said “determination” made the difference between Sochi silver and Korean gold.

“We saw the potential we had in Sochi and didn’t capitalise on it. This time we really wanted to nail it into the coffin and win this thing,” he said.

Italy came in fourth with Japan last of the five that went through to the final five segments of the competition held over three days. While Japan had to make do without defending men’s Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, Canada went into battle with all their stars present.

And they didn’t let them down at the Gangneung Ice Arena.

For Russia, competing in South Korea as Olympic Athletes from Russia after the country’s state-sponsored doping ban, it was always going to be a struggle to recover from Mikhail Kolyada’s flop in the men’s short.

But they gave it a shot, with Medvedeva and Zagitova dominant in both ladies’ sections.

Medvedeva conjured up a world record score in Sunday’s short routine, with Zagitova producing a personal best in her free dance to Don Quixote.

Training partners under coaches Eteri Tutberidze and Sergei Dudakov, the teenagers will turn from teammates to foes next week for a mouthwatering women’s title showdown. As for the men, US quad boy wonder Nathan Chen, rated one of Japanese skating golden boy Hanyu’s main dangers, will be working overtime in training after making mistakes in his short routine.

Hanyu sat out the team competition as he gave his body every chance of being at its best for the defence of his crown after ankle ligament damage threatened to scuttle his Olympic dream last November.

Meanwhile Moir, 30, is already looking to the future, but not his own.

Jamie Anderson finished her run, glanced up at the scoreboard and stuck out her tongue for the world to see, a gesture not made out of frustration but simple relief. The American snowboarding star had reached the bottom of wind-whipped Phoenix Snow Park in the women’s slopestyle finals intact and upright.

On a day where conditions were tricky at best and treacherous at worst — one that left many in the 25-woman final wondering what they were even doing there in the first place — it was more than enough for Anderson to make Olympic history.

The 27-year-old from California became the first female snowboarder to win two Olympic golds, successfully defending the title she won in Sochi four years ago by putting up an 83.00 during the first of her two runs. It was more than enough to top a field more focused on mere survival than putting on a show.

Yet the enduring image from slopestyle’s second Olympic appearance won’t be Anderson beaming from the victory podium but the hour of carnage that preceded it as rider after rider either crashed or bailed or did some combination of the two.

Even Anderson wasn’t immune. She washed out in her second run with the gold already wrapped up.

Laurie Blouin of Canada took silver, with Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi finishing third, a testament more to their courage than their actual skill.

High winds scrubbed qualifying on Sunday, turning Monday’s final into a 26-woman, two-run free-for-all with Anderson, the top-ranked snowboarder in the world, scheduled to go last.

Officials pushed back the start due to weather concerns, and while the wind eventually calmed enough for the event to start following a 75-minute delay, the course ended up being an unpredictable mess anyway. Maybe, but there’s pushing the limit and then there’s trying to ride in the middle of what several competitors likened to a tornado.

Only nine of the combined 50 runs were anywhere close to clean. The event became like a NASCAR race with skis, only there was no caution flag in sight. The wind kept whipping. And the riders kept going. And falling. And flailing.

Sarka Pancochova of the Czech Republic set the tone when she led off by bailing at the top of the first of the three big air jumps at the bottom of the course, literally turning around as if to say “no thanks” before simply sliding down the hill. Pancochova openly wondered why officials thought it was OK to push back the Alpine events about an hour away but let the snowboarders try to make a go of it anyway.

Speed skater Ireen Wust won the women’s 1,500m to become the first Dutch athlete to win five Olympic gold medals, eclipsing track and field legend Fanny Blankers-Koen.

And Norway’s Maren Lundby won a dramatic women’s normal hill ski jump competition when she eclipsed German Katharina Althaus and Japan’s Sara Takanashi with the last jump of the night.

But angry snowboarders lashed out at organisers after the women’s slopestyle final was held in heavy gusts, causing nearly every competitor to take a tumble.

It came after the women’s giant slalom, featuring America’s Mikaela Shiffrin, was postponed until Thursday because of the wind — a day after the men’s downhill suffered the same fate.

While the skiing was postponed, the slopestyle went ahead with near-farcical results, as athlete after athlete hit the deck including gold medal-winner Jamie Anderson.

“The weather was bad and too dangerous,” said bronze medallist Enni Rukajarvi, while Austria’s Anna Gasser added: “So many people got hurt because of the wind.”

The International Ski Federation (FIS) admitted that conditions were “challenging” but defended the decision to go ahead with the event.

“The nature of outdoor sports… requires adapting to the elements,” a statement said.

Separately, Japan’s figure skating superstar Yuzuru Hanyu took to the ice for his first training session — which lasted less than 15 minutes.

The defending champion, who has been recovering from ankle ligament damage, suffered a scary moment when he slipped and fell as he departed, before getting up with a wry smile.


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