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Sports

Sochi Olympics get off to surprising start

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-08

The Sochi Olympics got underway on Saturday with a number of unexpected wins, including a gold medal for American Sage Kotsenburg (pictured) in the Game’s first-ever slopestyle competition.

Later in the day, two Canadian sisters - Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe - finished first and second in the moguls, becoming just the third pair of sisters to win gold and silver in the same event at a Winter Olympics.

"It just totally rocks," shrieked Justine. "It is just really amazing."

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway won the biathlon sprint to capture his 12th Olympic medal - matching the all-time record of medals at a Winter Games.

Extreme sports have become the hottest tickets in Winter Olympic sports as the young athletes perform outrageously complicated stunts with a devil-may-care approach that befits their generation.

With his scraggy blonde hair, Kotsenburg was not among the favourites to win gold but he snatched it anyway after unveiling a trick he invented himself but had never actually tried before.

"I just kind of do random stuff," he said. "I had no idea I'd do it ... until three minutes before I jumped."

Kotsenburg's impromptu decision went down well with the judges, who rewarded him with top marks for his four-and-a-half rotation spin, off the equivalent of a three-storey building, while the crowds roared and hooted with approval in the snow-peaked mountains on what was a glorious sunny day.

The silver medal went to Norway's Staale Sandbech and the bronze to Canada's Mark McMorris, who competed with a broken rib.

There were three Dufour-Lapointe sisters entered in the moguls but only Justine and Chloe made it through to the final round, while Maxine came 12th.

The favourite for the gold was American Hannah Kearney but when she botched the landing on her first jump, Justine, 19, and her older sister Chloe, 22, found themselves on top of the podium.

The only other sisters to achieve the feat at a Winter Olympics were Christine and Marielle Goitschel of France, who did it in 1964, and Doris and Angelika Neuner of Austria, who did it in 1992.

Norway's Marit Bjoergen, dubbed the "Iron Lady" of cross country skiing, won the women's 15 kilometre skiathlon, earning her fourth Olympic gold medal. The victory, however, was tempered by news the day before that the brother of one of her teammates, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, had died "suddenly and unexpectedly".

No more details were given but Bjoergen said the whole team was shattered.

"After things like this, it is hard to focus on the race," she said.

Norway dominates cross-country skiing and provided three of the first four in Saturday's race. When they finished, they wrapped their arms around each other and sobbed.

After a week of build-up that has been marred by bickering between politicians and complaints by journalists about their hotel rooms, it was a solemn way for some athletes to reclaim the spotlight.

"It gives you perspective on the value of an Olympic medal," said Sweden's Charlotte Kalla, who took the silver medal behind Bjoergen.

Bjoerndalen's comeback

After almost two years without an individual win, Bjoerndalen matched compatriot Bjorn Daehlie's Winter Games mark of 12 Olympic medals.

At age 40, Bjoerndalen picked up his seventh gold medal of his career, and his third in the sprint, an event he had not won in 12 years.

"I did things the way I know best," he said.

Down at the Black Sea resort in Sochi, another familiar face climbed back to the top step of the podium when Sven Kramer led a Dutch sweep of the medals in the men's 5,000 metres speedskating event.

With legs as thick and strong as tree trunks, Kramer slashed almost four seconds off the Olympic record he set in Vancouver four years ago with a display of raw power and determinations.

Watched by Dutch King Willem-Alexander, he become just the second man to successfully defend the 5,000m, one of the few events that has stood the test of time and been on the Winter Olympic programme since the first Games in 1924.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-02-08

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