- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Russia’s first gold medal of the Sochi Games may as well have been a sequel to the opening ceremony.

Evgeny Plushenko and Julia Lipnitskaia gave the Russian figure skating team an unbeatable blend of old and new to clinch the gold even before the rest of the skaters had finished for the night. It’s the same kind of mixture trumpeted by the Russian Olympic Committee two nights earlier in a ceremony that both paid homage to powerful past and gave a hopeful glimpse into the future.

Plushenko is the veteran. The three-time Olympic medalist is 31 years old, and after a dozen surgeries is believed to be on his last legs. But he mustered one last riveting run in his home country, taking second in the short program last week and first in the free skate on Sunday night.

Lipnitskaia is the fresh-faced, 15-year-old wunderkind who has taken these games by storm. She was nearly perfect in her Olympic debut in the short program on Saturday night. She wasn’t quite as sharp in the free skate on Sunday, but her unflappable nature and explosive finishes helped her to a decisive victory that put the Russians back on top.

Russian President Vladimir Putin watched the action from the stands, decked out in an all-red track suit and never sitting down during the two routines.

His country’s dominant sports machine seemed to fall apart right along with the old Soviet Union. The return of the Olympics for the first time since 1980, and the massive financial investment into athletics by the government that came with it, had the people here hoping that the glory days will soon be back, too.

After watching Plushenko and Lipnitskaia on Sunday night, they may start actually believing it.

— Jon Krawczynski — Twitter https://twitter.com/APKrawczynski


Associated Press reporters will be filing dispatches about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter: https://apne.ws/1c3WMiu

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