SOCHI, Russia — On this night, it wasn’t the precocious 15-year-old Russian ice princess who mesmerized the judges and audience at Iceberg Skating Palace. It was the reigning Olympic champion Yuna Kim, known as Queen Yuna in South Korea, whose exquisite short program put her one step closer to becoming the first skater since Katarina Witt to win back-to-back gold medals.
Kim, wearing a chartreuse dress and skating to “Send in the Clowns,’’ looked like a prima ballerina floating on the ice, her landings quiet and light as a feather, her passion evident from her facial expressions down to her graceful fingertips.
She said she was nervous during her warm up, but once the music started, “I felt like I was dreaming.’’ Her program drew a high score of 74.92 and an ovation from Russian fans, who know good ballet when they see it.
What those fans didn’t realize was that their hearts were about to be broken for the second time in three hours. The Russian men’s hockey team’s stunning quarterfinal loss to Finland left a huge burden on the slender young shoulders of 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaya, who cast a spell on the nation – and TV viewers around the world – last week during the team competition.
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Her performance was watched by Russian President Vladimir Putin and fueled patriotism across the country. On Thursday, the audience gasped as Lipnitskaya fell on her triple flip jump. She sits in fifth place.
“I don’t know what happened,’’ she said. “I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t feel too much pressure. The marks weren’t as low as I expected. I feel sad. I wasn’t good enough. (Thursday), I will go out there and fight.”
A lesser-heralded Russian, 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova, saved the night for the home crowd. Skating second-to-last, she dazzled with her spins and is right behind Kim in second place with 74.64 points. Carolina Kostner, the 27-year-old Italian, is in third with 74.12 after an emotional “Ave Maria’’ routine.
American 18-year-old Gracie Gold is fourth at 68.63, within striking range of a medal. Her U.S. teammates Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds are in sixth and seventh place, respectively. Gold, in a crimson red dress, was a bit wobbly on her triple lutz-triple loop combination and her double axel, but managed to fight through and land them.
“When I came down (on the combination), I was in the air and I thought, ‘Is this my Olympic moment? I’m gonna be on my butt?’ I said ‘NO!’ ’’
• Canada’s team of Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse are again queens of Olympic women’s bobsledding, rallying past the U.S. duo of Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams to win gold at the Sochi Games.
It’s the second straight Olympic title for Humphries and Moyse, and it wasn’t decided until the final moment of the competition — then only by a tenth of a second.
“We knew it was going to be this way,” Humphries said.
So close, all season. The World Cup title went to Humphries, by a single point. So did the Sochi title, by a sliver of the time it takes to blink.
“Any time you come that close and you can taste it, if you don’t get the result, it hurts a little bit,” Meyers said. “But Kaillie just beat me.”
Meyers, became the first U.S. women’s bobsledder to win multiple Olympic medals, this one added to the bronze she captured as a brakeman in Vancouver. Williams became the first U.S. woman and fifth athlete overall to win medals in different sports at both the Summer and Winter Games, her silver here added to a sprint relay gold from London in 2012 and a silver from the 100 meters in Athens in 2004.
Jamie Greubel paired with brakeman Aja Evans to grab the bronze in USA-2.
• In speedskating, Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic won her second consecutive gold in the women’s 5,000 meters.
• Marit Bjoergen captured her fifth career Olympic gold medal when Norway won the women’s team sprint in cross-country skiing.