SOCHI, Russia – Matthias Mayer shut his eyes for a moment, his day’s work over.
If he had trouble believing what just happened as he stood before the crowd, it was with good reason. The Austrian struck a big upset Sunday in one of the Olympics’ marquee events, capturing the men’s downhill and upending the elite of his sport.
“It’s amazing to be an Olympic champion,” he said.
Mayer never finished better than fifth in a World Cup downhill. That proved no obstacle in dismissing the preordained favorites – Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway finished fourth and Bode Miller of the United States was eighth.
Among the eight gold medalists on Day 3 were snowboarder Jamie Anderson, the American slopestyle queen who triumphed in her sport’s Olympic debut; Irene Wust, who showed why speedskating is Dutch territory; and Russia in team figure skating, likewise an Olympic newcomer, for its first gold in Sochi.
In a country where skiing is revered, Mayer gave Austria a jolt. A few weeks ago, he was not even considered the nation’s best shot for gold, but he covered the Rosa Khutor course in 2 minutes, 6.23 seconds and beat Italy’s Christof Innerhofer by 0.06 seconds. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud won the bronze. Miller, who dominated the training runs, was so unnerved by the change of visibility, he thought he’d have “to do something magical to win.”
That was left to Mayer, who enjoys good skiing bloodlines – his father, Helmut, won a super-G silver medal at the 1988 Calgary Games.
With Evgeni Plushenko and a captivating Julia Lipnitskaia winning the free skates, Russia took the team event without needing to worry about the concluding ice dance. President Vladimir Putin was among those in a crowd relishing this victory as the Russians drew away from the United States and Canada. Plushenko’s body is battered by 12 operations and he had to convince his federation he merited a spot in Sochi.
“All the fans are cheering so hard that you literally cannot do badly because they do everything with you,” Plushenko said. “You get goose bumps.”
The United States now has a double gold hit in slopestyle, with Anderson doing her part a day after Sage Kotsenburg.
“Even though it’s just another competition, the stage and the outreach that this event connects to is out of control,” Anderson said.
Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi won the silver. The bronze went to Jenny Jones, a 33-year-old former maid at a ski resort who gave Britain its first medal in any snow sport.
Another royal visit, more Dutch gold. Wust gave the Netherlands its second victory by winning the 3,000. Skating before her king and queen, Wust won in 4 minutes, 0.34 seconds. Defending champ Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic took the silver while Olga Graf won bronze for Russia’s first medal of the games. Claudia Pechstein, 41 and a six-time Olympian, was fourth. Wust, her nails red, white and blue like the Dutch flag, held up three fingers, signifying her third Olympic gold medal.
Switzerland’s Dario Cologna had ankle surgery in November, but that seems ancient. He won the 30-kilometer skiathlon, pulling away at the top of the last uphill section. The three-time overall World Cup winner claimed his second Olympic gold medal. He was timed in 1 hour, 8 minutes, 15.4 seconds. Defending champion Marcus Hellner of Sweden took silver, with the bronze to Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby.
Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina matched her gold from Vancouver in the women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint. Kuzmina shot flawlessly and finished in 21 minutes, 6.8 seconds. The silver medal went to Russia’s Olga Vilukhina and the bronze to Ukraine’s Vita Semerenko. Kuzmina’s brother is Russian biathlete Anton Shipulin, who was fourth Saturday.
Felix Loch, still only 24, did it again. The German luger won his second straight Olympic gold medal, leaving the rest of the field in his icy wake. Loch completed four runs down the Sanki Sliding Center track in 3 minutes, 27.562 seconds – 0.476 seconds ahead of Russia’s Albert Demchenko, who won the silver in his seventh Olympics. Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler won the bronze, giving him a record six medals in six games.
In control from the start, Kamil Stoch of Poland won the Olympic gold in the men’s normal hill individual ski jump. Stoch had the best jump in each round, putting first ahead of the silver medalist Peter Prevc of Slovenia and bronze medalist Anders Bardal of Norway. Thomas Morgenstern of Austria, returning from serious injuries from a fall during training a month ago, was 14th. Simon Amman of Switzerland, the defending champion from Vancouver who was seeking a record fifth Olympic gold medal, finished 17th.