Graf’s surprising bronze gives Russia 1st medal
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The race went perfectly for Olga Graf.
The celebration nearly turned embarrassing.
Graf gave the host nation a reason to cheer Sunday, winning Russia’s first medal when she took a surprising bronze in the women’s 3,000 meters.
It earned her a note of praise from President Vladimir Putin.
“You brought an unforgettable moment of triumph and utter joy to millions of fans by taking the first medal for our team,” he said.
When Graf’s time flashed on the scoreboard — 4 minutes, 3.47 seconds was a personal best — the crowd at Adler Arena erupted in cheers. She whooped it up on her warm-down lap, then unzipped her skin-tight suit right down to the belly button.
She was wearing nothing underneath.
“I totally forgot,” Graf said sheepishly through a translator. “We have very good suits and they are very tight. ... You just want to breathe and you want to take off your suit.”
When she realized her faux pas, Graf quickly zipped the suit back up with a mortified smile.
“Only afterward,” she said, “did I realize that maybe this video will appear on YouTube. But I don’t think it will be so bad.”
Graf was not expected to contend for a medal in a race featuring favorite Ireen Wust of the Netherlands, defending Olympic champion Martina Sablikova and six-time Olympian Claudia Pechstein.
But the 30-year-old Russian, skating in the 10th of 14 pairs, seemed to feed off the crowd’s energy as she sped around the big oval, the supposedly slow ice doing nothing to slow her down. She beat her previous best, a time of 4:04.29 this past November on the high-altitude oval in Salt Lake City, where the conditions are favorable for much faster speeds.
“I didn’t expect such support from the audience,” Graf said. “I want to thank them.”
While Graf’s race briefly gave her the top spot on the leaderboard, it wasn’t good enough to hold off two of the favorites. Wust captured gold in 4:00.34, while Sablikova took the silver in 4:01.95.
But Pechstein, trying to win her 10th Olympic medal at age 41, tired noticeably over her final laps and faded to fourth in 4:05.26.
When it became apparent no one in the final group would beat the top three times, Graf grabbed a Russian flag and made a triumphant jog around the infield of the arena.
No embarrassment in that.
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