SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Like old times, Russia is dominating Olympic figure skating.
The host nation's disappointment over not winning a gold medal in Vancouver will fade quickly if its skaters' performances in the new event of team figure skating carry on throughout the Sochi Games.
Fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia had the look of an Olympic champion on Saturday night, dazzling the home crowd with a near-perfect routine in the women's short program. Then it was Russia's backup pair, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, earning cheers as they routed the field in the free skate.
With only the men's and women's free skate and the free dance left to contest in Sunday's finale, Russia has 47 points to Canada's 41 and the United States' 34. Italy has 31 and Japan has 30.
With her countrymen chanting her first name, Lipnitskaia put on a mature presentation that had fans stomping their feet and showering the ice with flowers and dolls. Her flexibility and rapid rotation on her spins and jumps were reminiscent of Tara Lipinski when she won the 1998 Olympic gold.
And Lipinski, who was the same age at those games in Nagano, was on hand to see it.
"I have been saying the whole year that she is a dark horse," Lipinski said of Lipnitskaia — yes, the names are nearly the same. "I loved the energy and the fight in her."
Lipnitskaia easily outskated far more experienced competitors Carolina Kostner of Italy, who is in her third Olympics, and Japan's Mao Asada, in her second. The moment wasn't too big for her in any way.
"My trainers told me people would cry," she 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."
Just like her comrades.
In the new event, Russia has finished no lower than third in any of its four disciplines. The nation that for decades held a stronghold on figure skating medals as the Soviet Union and then as Russia — 51 in all — appears ready to hog the podium again after winning just two in Vancouver.
There was nothing ghastly about the performance of Stolbova and Klimov to music from "The Addams Family." Stepping in for world champs Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who won the short program, Stolbova and Klimov had the audience in the Iceberg at Sochi's Olympic Park on its feet well before they finished their routine.
"We feel a great amount of responsibility for our country and, of course, (had) the fans on our side," Klimov said through a translator. "We did believe we have to be ready for that and do our best."