New events dominate the first weekend of the Sochi Winter Olympics
It was a weekend of fresh faces and events at the Sochi Winter Olympics, which officially kicked off Friday evening. The opening ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium, in Sochi, Russia, featured the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, along with enormous set pieces, fireworks, dances, music, and more. The performances took audiences through parts of Russia’s history and culture.
The ceremony also included the parade of nations, in which athletes from each country enter the stadium with their flag. In keeping with tradition, athletes from Greece—which hosted the first-ever Olympics—entered first and the host country, Russia, entered last. “I declare the 22nd Winter Olympic Games open,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of the ceremony.
An estimated 31.7 million Americans watched the opening ceremony on Friday, according to the television ratings company Nielsen. Millions more in the U.S. and around the world are expected to tune in over the next two weeks of the global sporting competition, which features several brand-new events this year.
Style on the Slopes
Over the weekend, snowboard slopestyle athletes made Olympic history by winning the first-ever Olympic medals in the debuting sport. In slopestyle, boarders slide down a course featuring pipes and jumps while executing complicated tricks. American athletes topped the new event, with 20-year-old Sage Kotsenberg earning the men’s gold on Saturday and Jamie Anderson, 23, taking home the women’s gold on Sunday.
Kotsenburg secured the top spot after unleashing a trick he had never tried before. Called a “Back 1620 Japan Air,” it involved performing four and a half rotations while grabbing his board and flexing it behind his back. “Never, ever tried it in my life,” he told reporters, adding that he decided to do it three minutes before the run.
Kotsenberg was joined on the medal podium by silver medalist Staale Sandbech, 20, of Norway and bronze medalist Mark McMorris, 20, of Canada.
Anderson faced the challenge of landing jumps on a tough course that caused many of her competitors to wipe out. “I was freaking out,” she said. But Anderson came through under pressure. Behind her, Enni Rukajarvi, 23, of Finland took silver, while Britain’s Jenny Jones, 33, won bronze—the country’s first medal of the Games.
Competing as a Team
On home ice at Sochi’s Iceberg Skating Palace, Russia swept a new “mixed team” event in figure skating. The event pitted 10 qualifying nations against each other, with each team consisting of a male and female solo figure skater, a pairs team, and an ice dancing team.
Representing a country where figure skating once dominated the Winter Olympics, pressure was on the Russian team to win the debut event. With the help of 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia, the team won Russia its first gold medal of the Games. Lipnitskaia wowed the audience—which included President Putin—with her performance. "My trainers told me people would cry," Lipnitskaia said. "They told me they would be clapping to the music. But I didn't think the spectators would be so loud. But it helped me to perform really well."
Team Canada earned silver in the event, while the American team took home bronze—boosted by a record-high score from ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis on the free dance. Figure skating athletes will return later in the Games for the individual competitions.
The Games Ahead
Spoiler Alert! Sochi, Russia, is nine hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time, so NBC—the official U.S. broadcaster of the Olympics—is airing many of the events on a time delay. Stop reading if you don't want to know what happened Monday, February 10, before it’s shown on TV.
Monday featured gold-medal races for the super-combined, an event that measures all-around skill in Alpine skiing. Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, 29, won gold for the second Winter Games in a row. The silver medal went to Nicole Hosp, 30, of Austria. American skiier Julia Mancuso, 29, took bronze—her fourth career Olympic medal in Alpine skiing. No other U.S. female skier has won more than two Olympic medals.
There will be more big contests in the week ahead, including the debut women’s ski jumping event. Will Team U.S.A. continue to heat up the Winter Games? Stay tuned to find out.
To find out which countries have taken home the most medals so far, click here for TFK’s medal chart.