Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. celebrate with their flag after the flower ceremony during the Figure Skating Ice Dance Free Dance Program at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Monday. (REUTERS: Alexander Demianchuk)
SOCHI, Russia — Thick fog forced organizers to postpone two mountain events at the Winter Olympics on Monday, and officials warned of more disruptions to come with forecasts of rain all day on Tuesday.
Of the events completed on the 10th full day of competition, Darya Domracheva of Belarus became the first woman to win three biathlon titles at the same Games after her 12.5km mass start race went ahead under floodlights at the Laura Centre.
“Maybe it sounds strange but it does not feel like I did something special,” she said after the race. “I did it with love.”
At the Sanki Sliding Centre, Russia’s Alexander Zubkov won the two-man bobsleigh, putting Russia second overall in the medals table with five golds.
Earlier, the men’s biathlon 15km mass start and men’s snowboard cross competitions had been postponed to Tuesday.
Safety was the main concern for organizers after a series of injuries at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, as fog and drizzle replaced a week of uninterrupted sunshine in the Caucasus peaks high above Sochi.
The worst accident involved Russian ski cross athlete Maria Komissarova, who was flown to a specialist clinic in Germany on Sunday for a second operation after having had lengthy surgery to attach a metal plate in her spine.
Weather delays may extend further into the final week of the Feb. 7-23 Games, with the women’s giant slalom possibly turning into a two-day affair.
There will be no such concerns later on Monday when Meryl Davis and Charlie White bid to become the first Americans to win the Olympic ice dance title.
The pair raised the bar with Sunday’s spectacular short dance display to a medley of songs from ‘My Fair Lady’, putting them in sight of Olympic history in one of the most popular events of any Winter Games.
The twice world champions are now one routine away from becoming only the fourth non-Russian couple to win the Olympic ice dance title.
“It felt awesome. When we were going out, we said, ‘Let’s do it for each other,’” said White. “We’re letting it flow.”
“NEW” PUTIN ON SHOW
Komissarova’s injury and weather disruptions have been the only major blights so far on Russia’s first Winter Olympics, where thrilling action and state-of-the-art venues have impressed visitors and dispelled some of the doubts during the buildup to the Games.
President Vladimir Putin has been in the crowds at the Olympic Park in Sochi and up in the mountains, engaged in cozy chats with teams and Olympic officials and even turned up at Komissarova’s bedside to offer support.
This is the “new” Putin on show. Pictures of him in action - riding horses bare-chested or shooting a tiger with a tranquilizer dart - have at least for now been carefully put to one side.
The Russia that Putin wants to portray at the Games is a caring country that has come a long way since the austere days of the Soviet Union. The leader he wants to portray is a man with whom the West can do business.
In one of only a few isolated incidents of dissent so far in Sochi, a transgender former member of the Italian parliament, Vladimir Luxuria, held up a sign saying “Gay is OK” in Russian in the Olympic Park on Sunday.
She was protesting against Russian legislation banning homosexual propaganda among minors, which caused international outcry leading up to the Olympics. Critics say it discriminates against gays and has fuelled violence against homosexuals.
Luxuria said she was detained by Russian police for about three hours and was told she could not display pro-gay slogans in public. Police declined immediate comment.
International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams told reporters: “We hope that the Games will not be used as a platform for demonstrations.”
Separately, a Russian man was detained in Sochi for demonstrating against the jailing of an environmentalist angered by the effects of huge Olympic construction projects.
A regional court last week rejected Yevgeny Vitishko’s appeal against a three-year prison sentence on charges of damaging the regional governor’s property, which he denies.
Vitishko’s supporters say he is being punished for publicising environmental problems caused by the Olympics, and say the case was politically motivated.
As well as Monday’s postponements, the Games lost a top competitor and was in danger of losing a second.
Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal said he would leave without competing in his final two races after failing to win a medal, despite high expectations after he had shown great form so far this season.
Olympic Nordic combined gold medallist Eric Frenzel of Germany was set to miss Tuesday’s large hill event because of a virus, officials said.
In the men’s freestyle skiing aerials, defending Olympic champion Alexei Grishin failed to reach the final after crash landing on both of his jumps in qualifying.
And unlike the last two Olympics, where Austria easily won the team ski jumping event, the competition looks likely to be a tightly contested affair.
Germany, Japan, Norway and Slovenia all pose a serious challenge and could leave the Austrians empty-handed.