Drama on ice at Sochi Games, Ukraine team frets over violence
SOCHI: The world`s ice hockey superpowers slug it out for a place in the men`s semi-finals at the Winter Olympics on Wednesday, when the more graceful yet no less competitive women`s figure skating also gets underway.
Far from the sporting arena, Ukraine`s Olympics boss Sergey Bubka called for an end to violence in his country, where at least 25 people have been killed in bloody street protests.
Russian fans will be roaring on the home team when they come up against the formidable barrier of Finland at the futuristic Bolshoy Ice Dome, while Canada and the United States both play later in the evening.
At the nearby Iceberg Skating Palace, there will be similarly partisan support for 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaya, one of the favourites in the women`s singles competition having mesmerised the Games with her performance in the team event.
That contest concludes on Thursday, while on Wednesday eight medals are up for grabs in the Caucasus mountains and on the Black Sea coast in the Sochi Olympic Park.
They include the men`s giant slalom, in which Ted Ligety is seeking to win a first U.S. Alpine skiing gold at the Sochi Games. Thick fog, rain and snow that made skiing so difficult over the last two days had lifted, and conditions were clear.
Former pole vault champion Bubka called for peace in Ukraine, while for the country`s Olympic team minds were as much on tumultuous events at home as they were on the sport.
"I want to bring Olympic Truce to my country," Bubka said on Twitter. "Dialogue is power, violence is weakness."
"Our athletes are competing hard in Sochi, but peacefully and with honour. Violence has no place in the world."
The upheaval has been hard for Ukraine`s athletes to block out.
"Yes it`s a distraction, everyone`s talking about it - even just now at the start, at the finish, people are saying `what`s happened in your country, what`s happened?`" said Dmytro Mytsak, 18, a Ukrainian giant slalom skier from Kiev.
"We`re getting support from the Russian spectators and I`m grateful for that."
"STOP THE BLOODSHED"
Demonstrations erupted in November after President Viktor Yanukovich bowed to pressure from neighbouring Russia and pulled out of a planned trade pact with the European Union, deciding instead to accept a Kremlin bailout for the indebted economy.
On Wednesday, Russia demanded that Ukrainian opposition leaders "stop the bloodshed" in Kiev, and said Moscow would use all its influence to bring peace to its "friendly brother state".
Russian President Vladimir Putin will hope events in Ukraine do not overshadow Russia`s first Winter Games, where state-of-the-art venues and thrilling action have pushed criticism during the buildup to the Olympics firmly into the background.
The president attributed much of that criticism - of a law banning the promotion of homosexuality among minors and of the high costs of staging the event - to a Cold War mentality in the West.
Threatened demonstrations have been few and far between during the February 7-23 Games, although protest group Pussy Riot did crash the Olympic party briefly on Tuesday when they were detained for several hours at a Sochi police station.
Members of the group, who once again grabbed international media attention, were in Sochi to record a musical film called "Putin will teach you to love the motherland".
At the Adler Arena in the Olympic Park, Czech Marina Sablikova will try to hold back the orange Dutch tide by retaining her 5,000 metres speedskating title.
Ireen Wust has already beaten her over 3,000 metres in Sochi and will be seeking yet another Dutch gold in a sport they have dominated at these Games.
France, with double Olympic champion Martin Fourcade doubtful because he is suffering from sinusitis, Norway and Russia are among the favourites for the mixed relay in biathlon.
Two other sports have double medal events -- the men`s and women`s team sprints in cross-country skiing and the snowboarding parallel giant slalom.
The last event to be decided is the woman`s bobsleigh while there are also semi-finals in both curling competitions.