Home fans were ecstatic after figure skating’s Yevgeny Plushenko clinched Russia its first gold of the Sochi Olympics in the team event on Sunday, while Austria's Matthias Mayer conquered the perilous Rosa Khutor run to claim the men's downhill.
With Russian President Vladimir Putin among the near 12,000 capacity crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace, one of several new arenas constructed especially for the Winter Games, the hosts built an unassailable lead some 90 minutes before the contest ended.
"When we got off the ice, Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) congratulated us and said 'Good job'," said ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova. "It was really nice and completely unexpected."
Kicking off the second day of full competition, Mayer won one of Winter Olympics' most coveted gold medals, as pre-race downhill favourites American Bode Miller and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal failed to make the podium.
Son of 1988 super-G silver medalist Helmut, the 23-year-old Mayer edged out Italy's Christof Innerhofer by 0.06 seconds down the steep, icy piste in the towering Caucasus mountains.
"It's crazy. It's the greatest thing you can achieve as a sportsman - unbelievable," he said.
As Russia began mining Olympic gold, Putin - who has staked his reputation on staging a successful Games - said that hosting the event had helped shelter the country from economic crisis.
Allegations of widespread corruption have dogged the huge seven-year infrastructure project, which, with a price tag of more than $50 billion, is the most expensive Olympics ever.
"It is fully justified to say that the Olympic project, the Olympic construction work as a whole, was one of the most significant anti-crisis measures in the country," Putin said in comments to state TV broadcaster, Rossiya 24, aired on Sunday.
Putin says there is no evidence of major corruption in Sochi, but a recent survey by independent pollster Levada showed 47 percent of Russians believe the cost of the Games has soared because funds were embezzled or mismanaged.
Russia's first medal
Back on the ice, Irene Wust of the Netherlands won the women's 3,000 metres speed skating crown, but the crowds went wild after Olga Graf finished a surprise third to give the host nation its first medal.
Graf punched the air in delight upon seeing her time, but her expression turned to embarrassment as she unzipped her suit to the waist before realising she had no t-shirt underneath.
"I heard the crowd cheering for me and I didn't expect such support from the audience," said the skater, before addressing her wardrobe malfunction.
"I totally forgot that I had nothing under my suit," she said, her steely focus softening into a broad smile.
Another Russian, Olga Vilukhina, took silver in the women's biathlon 7.5km sprint, behind Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia.
Swiss cross-country skier Dario Cologna surged to surprise victory in the men's skiathlon and American Jamie Anderson clinched the inaugural women's snowboarding slopestyle gold after compatriot Sage Kotsenburg had matched the feat in the men's event on Saturday.
Jenny Jones claimed the bronze - Britain's first Olympic medal in a snow event.
German Felix Loch smashed his track record in securing a second successive Olympic men's singles luge gold, while in the men's normal hill ski jumping competition, Poland's Kamil Stoch prevailed.
Despite the drama unfolding throughout the Games, organisers said many ticket holders were missing out because they were arriving too late, explaining some of the thousands of empty seats at skating and skiing events.
Even at the men's downhill there were several hundred vacant places in the stands at the bottom of the fearsome descent.
"The downhill is the king of the sport so I don't know what's going on. The Russians have no downhill skiers, that's the problem here," said Austria's 1980 Olympic champion Leonhard Stock, surveying stands that were more than half-empty only minutes before the scheduled start of the race.
Other venues, too, were far from full, and organisers urged ticket holders to turn up early because a sizeable number were not getting through security in time.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-02-09