Russian hockey disappoints; Yuna Kim does not

Yuna Kim after taking gold in ladies’ figure skating in Vancouver

Yuna Kim after taking gold in ladies’ figure skating in Vancouver

Olympic shockeroo. Shock-er-roo (well maybe not to hockey writers): Russia went down in the quarterfinals.

But it’s been that kind of winter, hasn’t it? The favorites, the big dogs, haven’t always succeeded. All the talk about Russia returning to hockey glory and tiny Finland – which nonetheless packs a hockey wallop – takes the host nation down, 3-1. (If I were Team USA, I would guard against any schadenfreude: The American team has to play the tough Canadians in the semifinals.)

Apparently, the Russian loss was the case of a good defense stopping a good offense. OMG, can you say “Seahawks and Broncos”?

Vladimir Putin mustn’t be too happy, although at present he’s busy facing off against Barack Obama over civil unrest in Ukraine, politics being the real game men play. There were more surprises for the Russians in the ladies’ figure skating short program as a Russian placed second, but not the one everyone expected. Adelina Sotnikova, who brought a rawness to Bizet’s “Carmen,” was right behind favorite and Vancouver gold medalist Yuna Kim, while the darling of the earlier team competition, Yulia Lipnitskaia, placed fifth after falling at the end of her program on a triple flip, although she still skated with passion and elegance. American Gracie Gold – resplendent in red, who had to fight to land some of her jumps but whose layback spins are poetry – was fourth, within striking distance of a medal.

Much has been made – as it always is – about artistry versus athleticism in figure skating. The best skaters, the ones who take the gold, are those who balance both. That’s what sets Yuna Kim apart from many others. Even though she took time off  from skating and injured her foot, she skates as if she were dancing, using the jumps and spins – the athletic stuff – as a kind of punctuation. Her short program to an instrumental arrangement of “Send in the Clowns,’’ was a master class of poignant yearning.

Frankly, I don’t see anyone beating her.