Posted: Feb 27, 6:28p ET | Updated: Feb 28, 12:24a ET

Russia looks to Sochi after Vancouver flop

Vancouver (AFP) The curtain finally came down on the glory days of Russian figure skating in Vancouver.

The once-powerful team return home for the first time in 50 years without a gold medal in a debacle that has reached the highest echelons of government.

With Russia set to host their first Winter Games in four years time in Sochi, they had at least been hoping to keep the flame alive with two gold medals in Vancouver.

Hopes were high after Yevgeny Plushenko was lured out of retirement to defend his men's title with ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin favourites as the reigning world champions.

Instead the team leave with just two medals - Plushenko's silver in the men's event and Domnina and Shabalin's ice dancing bronze.

Russian ice dancers had claimed all but two golds since it was introduced to the Olympics in 1976.

A beleaguered Shabalin said that the only way to reverse the trend was "to bring all the Russian coaches back to Russia."

"We did everything we could. We didn't expect Russian figure skating to go down."

In pairs, they had won gold at 12 Olympics in a row, but European champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov finished off the podium, as the advantage swung to Asia with Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo leading a Chinese 1-2.

Russia have less of a tradition in women's skating, but in recent years they could count on popular two-time Olympic medallist Irina Slutskaya to lift them.

This time their top-placed skater Alena Leonova, a former world junior champion, finished ninth, just ahead of national champion Ksenia Makarova.

Not since 1960 have skaters from Russia or the Soviet Union left a Winter Games without a figure skating gold.

When Plushenko finished second to American Evan Lysacek in the men's competition, there was furious talk back home of a conspiracy.

Even Prime Minister Vladimir Putin weighed in, saying Plushenko's silver medal finish "was worth a gold medal," while others decried injustice and called for officials to "protect the honour" of Russian athletes.

Putin personally invested much to secure the 2014 Sochi Games, and pride is at skate for Russian athletes to do well in four years' time.

While the collapse of the former Soviet structure of training, and the exodus of the top coaches to the United States and Canada, are seen as part of the problem, former athletes are also blaming incompetence and corruption in state structures and federations.

Triple Olympic champion Irina Rodnina launched a scathing attack on Russian figure skating federation chief Valentin Piseyev and Leonid Tyagachev, the head of Russia's Olympic Committee (ROC).

"I believe, we have the right to ask him (Tyagachev) to give an account on all of the ROC expenses in the recent years," said former pairs winner Rodnina.

But as much of the impetus switches in Asia, China's Zhao believes it is just a period of readjustment for the former Soviet Union, who need to build up their coaching structures again.

"The Chinese team had these results because we not only have splendid coaches, we also have more young skaters coming up.

"It doesn't mean they (Russia) are not good. I'm expecting them to come back even stronger."


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