5 things to know halfway through the Winter Olympics

The U.S. has more athletes competing in the Sochi Olympics than any other country (230), but halfway through the Games, the country is falling behind in the medal count.

With 14 medals, including four gold, the U.S. was sixth in the medal standings as of Saturday afternoon, behind Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Canada and the Netherlands. Here are five other things to know halfway through the Games:

U.S. beats Russia in ice hockey, 3-2

With Russian President Vladimir Putin watching, the United States beat Russia in a preliminary round men’s hockey game in a shootout. T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues hit the game-winner in a match that electrified Olympic Park and lit up Twitter and other social networks.

Although the game had little impact on the medal race in Sochi, the finish woke up the echoes of a U.S.-Russia rivalry best known for the “Miracle on Ice” at Lake Placid in 1980, when a team of American college students stunned the Soviet Olympic team.

The sociopolitical impact of that game is long gone, and the nations have already met three previous times in the Olympics since NHL players joined the games in 1998.

Russian skier fractures spine

Russian skicross racer Maria Komissarova sustained a broken and dislocated spine in Olympic training Saturday and was taken to a nearby hospital for surgery. The Russian freestyle federation said in a statement that the 23-year-old skier would not compete next week after having emergency surgery.

The federation issued a statement after the surgery saying a team of specialists inserted a metal implant in Komissarova’s spine.

The federation said Komissarova was conscious, and described her condition as “grave” but stable, adding that it was likely she’d need further surgery within weeks.

For American skaters, old suits don’t help

After shedding their new, high-tech skinsuits for their old-fashioned gear, American speedskaters still were without a medal at the Sochi Olympics.

Zbigniew Brodka won Poland’s first gold medal in the men’s 1,500 meter, finishing just 0.003 seconds ahead of Koen Verweij of the Netherlands. It was the closest 1,500 in Olympic history.

Verweij’s silver medal gave the Dutch 13 of the 21 medals awarded so far in the sport, including four golds. Traditionally, the U.S. team has been among the medal leaders halfway through the competition.

Hoping to end the shutout, the U.S. had gotten IOC approval just hours before the 1,500 started to go back to its old suits. The new ones had been touted as the fastest the world has ever seen.

Billie Jean King to attend closing ceremony

Billie Jean King will attend the closing ceremony of the Sochi Olympics in Russia.

King, who couldn’t attend the opening of the Sochi Games because of her mother’s death, will join American speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden on Feb. 23 as part of President Barack Obama’s official U.S. delegation.

King called it a “privilege” to attend.

“I will use this trip to honor the memory of my mother and to further my mission of equality,” King said in a statement to The Associated Press. “I am thankful to President Obama for including me and I look forward to supporting the men and women of Team USA in Sochi.”

Russia has been widely criticized for passing a national law last year that banned gay “propaganda” to minors.

Sochi games delivering for Putin

Midway through the Winter Olympics, things couldn’t be going much better for both Russia and its president, even if winter is actually missing from Sochi itself. The arenas and mountains are spectacular, the games have been peaceful and protest-free, and Russians seem filled with pride about their country’s ability to put on a spectacle for the world to see.

Worries about terrorist attacks and fears that gay protests could overshadow the Olympics have faded as the world’s best battle for medals on the ice and in the snow. Grandstands are mostly filled, television ratings are strong, and athletes haven’t said a negative word about either Russia’s laws or the food in the athlete’s village.

Yes, a heat wave turned the snow a bit slushy and drew bathers to the Black Sea just steps from the main Olympic stadium. But weather is a factor at any Winter Games, and even Vladimir Putin can’t do anything about that.

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