SOCHI, RUSSIA (AFP) - Skating star Julia Lipnitskaia said she was sad for disappointed home fans, as Russia turned their focus for a first Olympic women's figure skating gold to fellow teen Adelina Sotnikova.
The crowd had been looking to Lipnitskaia, winner of the team gold, to lift spirits on Wednesday, hours after Russia crashed out of the ice hockey tournament in a shock quarter-final defeat by Finland which prompted jeers.
But a fall left the 15-year-old sitting fifth behind South Korea's Kim Yu Na, with another Russian teen 17-year-old Sotnikova, surprising by taking second spot in the short programme.
"I feel sad," said the shell-shocked Lipnitskaia, looking childlike and mystified as she was comforted by her coach Eteri Tutberidze in the kiss-and-cry. "On the ice it was very hot. I am not seeking excuses but it was hard to breathe. I don't know what happened. My preparation was all fine. I wasn't nervous. I can still fight for a medal tomorrow."
Her coach insisted that high expectations and skating in both the short and long programmes of the team event had not been too much.
"She's an athlete, not a child," said Tutberidze. "It was a technical mistake, she came too close to the boards. It was a good try. She got up and finished the programme very well."
Lipnitskaia is sitting fifth with 65.23 points, nearly ten points behind defending champion Kim, 74.92. Less than a point separates the top three skaters with Sotnikova on 74.64 and Italy's Carolina Kostner third with 74.12. America's Gracie Gold is in fourth on 68.63.
"We might win gold, but just not with Lipnitskaia," headlined the Sport Express yesterday.
"Lipnitskaia fell on her triple flip, a normally safe jump at the end of the programme. And in the hall, amid all the Russians' flags, the hearts broke of the fans," it read.