World's eyes turn to sport as Russian Winter Games hit stride

Sat Feb 8, 2014 3:25pm EST
 
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By Mike Collett-White

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russia's Winter Olympics sprang into action on Saturday with the first five gold medals decided, and the world began to forget the security fears and political wrangling that had marred the buildup to the most expensive Games ever staged.

The United States claimed the first gold in the slopestyle event held amidst the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, some 40 km (25 miles) northeast of the Black Sea resort town of Sochi where the main Olympic park is located.

On a clear, crisp day, U.S. snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg leapt and twisted high in the air, riding an almost flawless first run to win the slopestyle crown.

Rock music blared and fans danced as the event, which bears similarities to skateboarding, made its debut in an initiative to attract a younger demographic to Winter Olympic sport.

"I have no idea what's actually going on. This is the craziest thing that ever happened," Kotsenburg said.

The only hint of a blemish on an enthralling day of sport were reports suggesting the United States and Russia were conspiring to help each another win figure skating gold medals, even though such an arrangement would seem to make little sense.

"Comments made in a L'Equipe story are categorically false," the American governing body, U.S. Figure Skating, said in a statement on Saturday. "There is no 'help' between countries."

Several U.S. media picked up on a report saying the arrangement would help Meryl Davis and Charlie White to become the first Americans to win the Olympic ice dance gold, while Russia in return would benefit in team and pairs competitions.   Continued...

 
Gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg of the U.S., silver medalist Staale Sandbech (L) of Norway and bronze medalist Mark McMorris (R) of Canada wave during the medal ceremony for the men's snowboard slopestyle competition in the Olympic Plaza at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games February 8, 2014. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov