Hosts Russia roared on to first gold, Austria's Mayer wins downhill

Sun Feb 9, 2014 3:27pm EST
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By Mike Collett-White

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Home fans roared Russia to its first gold of the 2014 Sochi Olympics on Sunday when figure skating's ultimate showman Yevgeny Plushenko sealed the team title, while in the mountains 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 built 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 claimed one of Winter Olympics' most coveted crowns, as pre-race downhill favorites American Bode Miller and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal failed to make the podium.

Son of 1988 super-G silver medalist Helmut, Mayer edged out Italy's Christof Innerhofer by 0.06 seconds down the steep, icy piste set among the towering Caucasus mountains.

"It's crazy. It's the greatest thing you can achieve as a sportsman - unbelievable," said the 23-year-old.

As Russia began mining Olympic gold, Putin - who has staked his reputation on staging a successful Games - touched on the Games' monetary might when he said hosting the event had helped shelter the country from economic crisis.

Allegations of widespread corruption have dogged the huge seven-year infrastructure project, and with a price tag of more than $50 billion it is the most expensive Olympics ever.   Continued...

Evgeny Plyushchenko celebrates with Russia's figure skating team after the flower ceremony at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk