SOCHI, Russia -- A Russian resurrection took place Sunday night at the Iceberg Sports Palace in the team figure skating competition that made its debut at the Sochi Games.
With President Vladimir Putin in the building cheering with his overjoyed comrades, Russian skaters re-established their superiority in one of the Winter Olympics' most popular sports.
After failing to win a gold medal in skating at the Vancouver Games four years ago, Russia won easily by scoring 75 points over three days of skating. Canada earned the silver followed by the United States, which relied on ice dancing stars Meryl Davis and Charlie White to remain in medal contention.
The disappointment in Vancouver had marked the first time since 1960 that Russia or the Soviet Union had failed to achieve gold.
While Russians were awash in self-congratulations, the competition really served as an hors d'oeuvres to the main plate. The pairs skate Tuesday and Wednesday, and the men go Thursday and Friday. Ice dancing and the women's competition is scheduled for the following week.
Of primary interest was the women's free skate Sunday, won by transcendent Russian 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia.
The ladies competition Feb. 19-20 will have a different feel with some of the world's stars on stage, starting with reigning Olympic champion Kim Yu-na of South Korea.
Also in medal contention are Japan's Mao Asada, Italy's Carolina Kostner and perhaps Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold. The United States has its own 15-year-old in San Jose's Polina Edmunds, who will make her senior international debut Feb. 19.
But Russia's kid seems ready to tackle Kim because she is such a smooth and relentless skater.
"She's dynamic," said Gold, who finished second to Lipnitskaia on Sunday. "Let's be real, she is completely unfazed. She's got no spine, but she has iron in her bones. Her and Polina, you go dink, dink, dink, I'm done. I'm not tired."
Legendary skate coach Frank Carroll is less impressed with Lipnitskaia than many who are seeing her for the first time. Ever the perfectionist, Carroll said the Russian teen still needs to grow into her skating.
He has helped Gold, 18, mature since coaching her in late summer. It showed Sunday in her Olympic debut.
"I can't believe what just happened," she said of her performance.
Carroll could because it's what he expected.
"This has to give her confidence," he said.
Gold was not satisfied with her Grand Prix season but won the U.S. championships last month in Boston while Edmunds took second.
"I think I'm hitting my stride," Gold said.
Gold plans to depart with much of the team to Austria, where it will recoup away from the distractions of Sochi. She first worried about the team competition being too exhausting to do in her Olympic debut.
"But if I can't handle two long programs in 10 days then I need more training," she said.
The athletes embraced the team format though it seemed like an exhibition after the short programs. The top three countries didn't change in the four long programs.
Davis and White won their free skate by almost seven points over longtime rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. The teams share the same coach and the same rink in Canton, Mich., but in the past two days the Americans established themselves as the clear gold-medal favorites in ice dancing.
Jason Brown of Highland Park, Ill., was fourth of the five skaters in the men's free program in which Russian sensation Evgeni Plushenko, 31, won as he did in the short program.
Plushenko became the second four-time Olympic skating medalist, matching Gillis Grafstrom of Sweden.
Plushenko skated a clean but risk-free program to help culminate a rousing evening for the Russians, who swept all the disciplines but ice dancing.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.
Tahoe's Julia Mancuso (shown), the 2010 silver medalist, isn't a top contender. But the U.S. isn't without a medal hopeful: Mikaela Shiffrin, the team's youngest member at 18.
Also in prime time is men's 1,500-meter short track speed skating, with Monterey's J.R. Celski.
Men's curling Team USA vs. Norway CNBC, 2-5 p.m. Monday (tape delayed)
Norway's attire (shown) might be laughable, but the 2010 silver medalists are serious contenders for gold. Norway reportedly will wear nine different outfits during the round-robin stage alone. The U.S., which won bronze in 2006, finished last in '10.