Japanese Teen Wins Skating as Swiss Get Men’s Ski Golds at Sochi

Japan’s 19-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu became the second-youngest man to win an Olympic figure skating title, while Switzerland and Belarus each claimed two gold medals yesterday at the Sochi Games.

Swiss men raced to skiing victories in the Alpine super combined and the 15-kilometer classic cross-country event yesterday, moving the country into second place behind Germany on the gold-medal list with five. The U.S. and Norway each have a Games-best 13 medals, one more than host Russia and the Netherlands, while Canada has 11.

Seven medal events are scheduled for today, including the women’s super-giant slalom in Alpine skiing.

The host nation will be focused on the men’s preliminary-round hockey game between the U.S. and Russia. There will also be extra attention on the men’s 1500-meter speedskating final this afternoon after the U.S. team elected to switch to a less technical Under Armour Inc. suit after a report said previous suits were slowing American skaters.

Hanyu, a day after posting a world record score in the men’s figure skating short program, fell twice in the opening 30 seconds of his free skate yesterday before recovering to win Japan’s first gold medal in Sochi. He’s the second-youngest winner in the history of the men’s competition behind Dick Button, who won in 1948 at the age of 18.

‘Beyond Nervous’

“I was beyond nervous,” Hanyu told reporters. “I couldn’t sleep at all and I didn’t feel well physically. I was trying not to think about winning a gold medal, but I couldn’t deflect the pressure, which was massive.”

Canada’s Patrick Chan took the silver medal and Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten earned the bronze.

Switzerland’s Sandro Viletta won the super combined, with Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic taking second for his fourth Olympic silver medal. Christof Innerhofer of Italy was third. Kostelic became the first person in Winter Games history to win three straight silver medals in the same event. American Bode Miller, the defending champion, was sixth.

“It was the conditions more than anything,” Miller said. “You saw a lot of guys skiing pretty lousy slalom on that thing. The rhythm was tough to find right out of the start.”

In the cross-country race, Dario Cologna won his second gold medal in six days by defeating two Swedes to retain the title he won in 2010. Cologna only returned to competition last month after missing the beginning of the World Cup season with a torn ligament in his right ankle.

Emotional Return

“It’s amazing,” he said. “I couldn’t believe the first gold medal, after being injured, and now the second. The first gold was emotional after coming back from injury, the second is unbelievable.”

Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold won the women’s skeleton, finishing first in each of the four heats. American Noelle Pikus-Pace took silver with Russia’s Elena Nikitina in third.

Belarus got two gold medals in women’s events. Alla Tsuper won in women’s aerials, followed by Xu Mengtao of China and Lydia Lassila of Australia. In the women’s 15-kilometer individual biathlon event, Darya Domracheva of Belarus won gold and teammate Nadezhda Skardino took the bronze medal. The silver went to Selina Gasparin of Switzerland.

The U.S. won four speedskating medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games, but entering today’s men’s 1500-meter race has finished no better than seventh in through half of the sport’s 12 events completed.

Design Flaws?

The Wall Street Journal, citing three unidentified people familiar with the U.S. team, blamed a design flaw in the suits’ rear ventilation panels.

Kevin Haley, Under Armour’s senior vice president for innovation, said in an interview that all skaters on U.S. team were switching to the less technical suit. Haley said the skaters took a vote on the switch, though the majority didn’t consider it to be an issue.

Shani Davis, a four-time Olympic medalist for the U.S., finished eighth in the 1000 meters three days ago after winning gold in that event at the previous two Olympics. Today, he will try to become the first person to win a medal in the 1500 for a third straight Winter Games.

Davis, 31, won silver in the 1500 at the 2006 Turin Games and four years ago in Vancouver. Davis needs one more medal to match Eric Heiden and Chad Hedrick for the most speedskating medals among American men with five.

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