Russia has competed as an independent nation at the last four Olympic Winter Games. It competed as part of the Soviet Union from 1956-88 and as part of the Unified Team in 1992. Russians won the vast majority of the 217 medals claimed by the Soviet Union and Unified Team. In just four Olympics as an independent nation, it has won 76 medals (33 gold, 24 silver, 19 bronze). Russia won the most golds (11) of any team in Lillehammer.
Russia has a particularly rich tradition in Olympic figure skating. In pairs competition, teams from the Soviet Union, the Unified Team or Russia have won every gold from 1964 to 2006 (12 consecutive Olympics). Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won gold in 2002 but had to share the title with Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier following the events of the infamous judging scandal dubbed "Skategate."
The most decorated Russian pairs skater is Irina Rodnina, who won gold in 1972 with partner Aleksei Ulanov, and in 1976 and 1980 with Aleksandr Zaitsev. Artur Dmitriyev earned his third medal in Nagano, picking up the gold with new partner Oksana Kazakova. In Nagano, ice dancers Yevgeny Platov and Pasha Grishuk became the first pair to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in that event.
Russians have also won the last four men's figure skating gold medals (five if counting Viktor Petrenko's title in 1992 of the Unified Team) with Yevgeny Plushenko winning in Torino, Alexei Yagudin in Salt Lake, Ilia Kulik in Nagano and Aleksei Urmanov claiming the title in Lillehammer. Plushenko, the mop-haired Siberia native who also won silver in Salt Lake, became the first men's Olympic silver medalist to upgrade to gold at the next Games. Including Plushenko's triumph, Russia won three of figure skating's four gold medals in Torino, including Tatyana Totmiyanina and Maxim Marinin in pairs and Tatyana Navka and Roman Kostomarov in ice dancing.
Russia has also found substantial success in women's cross-country skiing since competiting as an independent nation, winning 10 gold, five silver and five bronze, including an emphatic sweep of all five golds in Nagano. One of cross-country's greatest Olympians is Raisa Smetanina, who won ten Olympic medals (four gold, five silver, one bronze) during five appearances at the Olympic Winter Games. She is currently tied for second all-time with Italy's Stefania Belmondo on the career medal list. In first place is Norway's Bjorn Daehlie. On her heels is biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway, who currently has nine career medals and should contend for several medals in Vancouver.
Fellow cross-country skiers Lyubov Yegorova (nine medals), Galina Kulakova (eight) and Larissa Lazutina (seven) have all enjoyed similarly levels of success competiting either for Russia, the Unified Team or the former Soviet Union. Yegorova and speed skater Lydia Skoblikova are tied for second on the career gold medals list with six - though they too could be passed by Bjoerndalen in 2010. Skoblikova swept the four speed skating events in 1964. Yegorova (1992) and cross-country skiers Yelena Valbe (1992) and Lazutina (1998) each won five medals in a single Winter Games, which ties them at the top of the list with five others.
Between 1956 (the first year the Soviet Union participated in ice hockey) and 1992, the Soviet Union/Unified Team was almost unbeatable in Olympic hockey competition. In that span, those teams won eight gold medals, compiling a combined record of 60-6-2. The only country to unseat them was the United States in 1960 and 1980. Finished out of the medals in hockey for the first time ever in Lillehammer. Russia has won men's ice hockey medals at the last three Games (silver in 1998, bronze in 2002, and bronze again in 2006). Pavel Bure, "The Russian Rocket," led all scorers in Nagano with nine goals.
The first Russian to win a medal in a winter sport was Nikolai Kolomenkin (competing under the pseudonym Nikolai Panin). He won gold in the figure skating special figures event at the 1908 Olympics in London. Because the Olympic Winter Games did not begin until 1924, his gold is not counted as part of Russia's overall Winter Games medal count.
In 2014, Russia will host the Olympic Winter Games for the first time in its history. The XXII Olympic Winter Games come to Sochi 34 years after the 1980 Summer Olympics were held in Moscow, then part of the Soviet Union. The Sochi Games will be the first Olympics in Russia for the United States, which led a 61-country boycott of the 1980 Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.