Sochi 2014: Russia win first gold in team figure skating

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Olympic sports reporter in Sochi

Hosts Russia won their first gold medal of the Sochi 2014 Olympics in the team figure skating event, watched in the arena by President Vladimir Putin.

Buoyed by a second successive majestic performance from Evgeni Plushenko, the hosts sealed gold thanks to a similarly impressive Julia Lipnitskaia, just 15.

Russia had gold guaranteed even before the five teams' ice dancers concluded the event, Canada finishing second.

The United States were third with Italy fourth and Japan fifth.

"It's the first [gold] medal for Russia this Olympics. I love being first," said Plushenko.

Britain had earlier been eliminated in 10th place at the halfway stage, with only the leading five of 10 teams going through to the free programmes.

While 2006 Olympic champion Plushenko's free skate was by no means flawless, the 31-year-old continued to exert an uncommon command over a partisan crowd.

His presence on the ice was matched only by Jason Brown of the US, introduced to the audience as a "YouTube sensation" following his skate at January's US Championships - which has 3.6m online views and counting.

Brown, 19, fell on his triple Salchow in an otherwise assured routine to score 153.67. Plushenko not only oozed swagger and belief, he kept his footing for 168.20, showing little sign on the ice of back and knee injuries which have hampered him.

Lipnitskaia, taking figure skating by storm in 2014 as the new European champion, did not quite match the heights of her stunning short programme on Thursday.

But both she and Plushenko nevertheless won their segments to hand Russia victory.

Kevin Reynolds' second-place finish for Canada (167.92) in the men's free skate temporarily staved off the inevitable outcome, but when team-mate Kaetlyn Osmond finished fifth (110.73) to Lipnitskaia's first (141.51), Russia's lead became unassailable with one segment remaining.

The United States wrapped up bronze with the help of Gracie Gold's 129.38 for second in the women's event, then the ever-reliable world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White posted a season's-best 114.34 to win the ice-dance finale.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the defending Olympic champions and rivals to Davis and White for ice dance gold on 17 February, scored 107.56.

Plushenko, who later said he had felt back pain during his routine, promised a reappearance for the individual events later in the Games, despite rumours to the contrary.

He also hinted he may yet target Pyeongchang 2018, where he will be 35.

"Why not?" He said. "Perhaps I should try, don't know. First I have to rest and talk to the doctors, perhaps implant some more stuff into my back."

Lipnitskaia, a rival to Mao Asada and Yuna Kim for individual gold, said: "I'm very happy to have helped win the first gold medal for Russia.

"I was a little bit nervous after Evgeni got first because I didn't want to let the team down."

The team event, making its debut at the Sochi Games, brought skating's four disciplines - men's, women's, pairs and ice dance - together as nations clashed to win a single set of medals.

Nations score points in each of the eight segments: four short programmes and four free skates, with 10 points per first place, down to one point for 10th.

Russia scored 75 for victory, winning five of the eight segments, ahead of Canada's 65 and 60 for the US.

The format has provided a novel atmosphere of camaraderie, with skaters grouped together by nation at the end of the ice to cheer on team-mates, and offers a "dress rehearsal" for the later individual events alongside a medal opportunity.

"I think, overall, it's a great addition to the sport," said Canada's Reynolds.

Russian coach Alexei Mishin said: "There should be more medals in figure skating. There were only four medals. Now there are five, that is better. Maybe [there should be] six. Look at skiing."

Yet with the free dance reduced to an exhibition at the end of Sunday's contest - the medals having already been decided - there may be calls to move the team event to the end of the 2018 Olympics, after the individual titles have been won.

Earlier, the International Skating Union (ISU) dismissed a report in French sports newspaper L'Equipe alleging the US and Russia had a judging 'arrangement' to hand each other gold medals in Sochi.

"The ISU does not react to rumours or allegations without evidence," read a statement. Both the US and Russian teams strongly denied the report.