MOSCOW, December 8 (R-Sport) - There was joy for Japan in figure skating and Martin Fourcade showed no sign of relinquishing the Sochi gold medal favorite tag in biathlon in the fourth weekend of winter sports action this 2013-14 Olympic season.
Elsewhere, Germany's Olympic challenge gathered pace in Alpine skiing and snowboard cross; while the United States seems set for bobsled gold come February.
The Grand Prix Finals at Fukuoka, Japan, brought double joy for the home crowd as Vancouver silver medalist Mao Asada won the women's title for a fourth time after Yuzuru Hanyu had consigned Canada's Patrick Chan to his first defeat of the season to win the men's title.
Russia's challenge faded badly when Maxim Kovtun beat his personal best in the free skate but could not rise above fifth, ensuring he missed a chance to impress the Russian selectors who will choose whether he or injury-plagued veteran Evgeni Plushenko takes the host nation's sole Olympic slot in the men's event.
And Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy produced the highest score of their long career together to upset the favorites for victory in the pairs, Russian world record holders Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.
French star Fourcade made it three wins in four races this season and stretched his record World Cup podium haul to 12 with victory in the 12.5km pursuit race in Hochfilzen, Austria. In brilliant sunshine the 25-year-old Fourcade clocked 32 minutes 43.3 seconds to
beat Norwegian Olympic gold medalists Emil Hegle Svendsen by 7.7 seconds and Tarjei Boe by a further 11.5.
Russia's best effort was by Vancouver mass start gold medalist Evgeny Ustyugov, who lost an exciting duel for third place with Boe for fourth. Norway's three-time world champion Synnove Solemdal won the women's 10km pursuit. Ukraine's Juliya Dzhyma was second with Krystyna Palka of Poland third.
Svendsen powered Norway to victory in the men's 4x7.5km relay on Saturday ahead of Russia; while Ukraine edged Germany and France in the women's 4x6km relay. Swiss biathlete Selina Gasparin was a surprise winner of the 7.5km women's sprint.
Germany's two-time Olympic gold medalist Maria Hoefl-Riesch raced to a second World Cup downhill victory in two days to overtake Switzerland's Lara Gut in the overall standings of the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup in a freezing Lake Louise, Canada. The event saw the continuing recovery from a knee ligament injury of U.S. star Lindsey Vonn, who finished 11th.
"My goal is definitely still to be as prepared as possible for Sochi so I'm going to look again at the schedule after this weekend," Vonn was quoted as saying by AFP. "I don't know if that means I'll race some races or no races or all of the races."
South of the border at Beaver Creek, Switzerland’s Patrick Kueng snatched his first-ever FIS World Cup victory in the super-G, beating Sochi gold medal favorite and reigning Olympic champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who had won three races in a row.
Hometown favorite Marielle Thompson secured a women's ski cross berth at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games by winning the sole final at a World Cup stage in Nakiska that was hampered by extreme cold.
In the only men's final of the weekend, France's Jonas Devouassoux upset his countryman and 2013 world champion Jean Frederic Chapuis to claim his first World Cup victory.
“The race was perfect. Everything went well. I'm really happy with the result. It's my first podium, and to begin with a win is just incredible,” race organizers quoted the 24-year-old Devouassoux as saying.
Spearheaded by Konstantin Schad and Paul Berg, Germany won the season-opening World Cup team event stage in Montafon, Austria on Sunday. The Germans edged Canada's Jake Holden and Kevin Hill into second, with Italy's Luca Matteotti and Michele Godino coming third.
In the women's team event, Italian pair Raffaella Brutto and Michela Moioli came out on top; while in the singles, Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic and local hero Markus Schairer won their respective events.
Russia got off to the best-possible start to the team event in cross-country skiing's World Cup on Sunday with victory in Lillehammer, Norway.
The Russian quartet of Dmitry Yaparov, Alexander Bessmertnykh, Alexander Legkov - a 2007 world silver medalist - and Maxim Vylegzhanin finished the 4x7.5km course just 1.6 seconds faster than the second Norway team.
The first Norway quartet was 0.2 seconds further adrift for third place.
The result bodes well for the Sochi 2014 Olympics in February, when the men's relay will be contested over a longer 4x10km course.
"It is a great day and great victory for us," Legkov was quoted as saying on the event website. "This season is the most important and I am happy we showed such a great performance in the relay today. Maxim did a great move towards the end. I hope in Sochi we will perform in the same way.|
Team Norway took the ladies' 4x5 km race ahead of Finland and the U.S.
Vancouver team gold medalist Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria won his second ski jump World Cup stage of the season in Lillehammer with jumps of 105.5m and 97m for a 288.5 point total.
Japan's Taku Takeuchi, reigning world champion on the mixed normal hill, came second with 99m and 100.5m.
In the women's ski jump, which features on the Olympic program for the first time in Sochi, Takeuchi's teammate Sara Takanashi won the first competition of the season with 102m and 96.5m for 286 points. Veteran Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria posted 270 with jumps of 102.5m and 94.5mto share second place with 14-year-old German Gianina Ernst, who managed 97.5m and 97m in her World Cup debut.
France's reigning Nordic combined Olympic champion Jason Lamy Chappuis looked on course to challenge in Sochi with a first victory of the season on Saturday in Lillehammer. Chappuis was second in the ski jumping with 120.6 points and powered ahead in the skiing to hold off Japan's Akito Watabe, while Mikko Kokslien of Norway was third.
On Sunday, Eric Frenzel of Germany, who won the opening event last week, won the 10km race ahead of Norway’s Magnus Krog and Watabe of Japan.
Frenzel leads the overall standings on 226 points, with Chappuis 41 points behind and Joergen Graabak another five points back.
Berlin hosted the final World Cup stage before the Sochi Games this weekend; and it saw Russian speedskater Olga Fatkulina surge to victory at the 500m to maintain her challenge for the distance title. Fatkulina, 23, took her first victory of the season in 37.92 seconds ahead of China's Beixing Wang, who was 0.04 seconds back, and overall leader Heather Richardson of the United States, who was another four hundredths down.
In the season's 500m standings, Fatkulina is in second place, 190 points behind Olympic champion Lee Sang-Hwa, who missed the race with a knee injury.
Four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davies of the United States was third in a 1,000m race won by South Korea's Mo Tae-Bum. Ireen Wust of the Netherlands won the women's 1,500m.
Bobsled and skeleton
The United States' dominance in bobsled shows no sign of abating with combined World Cup season leader Steven Holcomb the star of a men's and women's double in the second stage in Park City, Utah.
Holcomb is unbeaten this season as part of the two-man and four-man bob teams, winning both events in Calgary last week also.
There was good news for Russia as the team finished third in four-man bob behind the U.S. and the Germans.
In the skeleton, Russia's Vancouver bronze medalist and reigning world champion Alexander Tretiakov improved on second place in Calgary with victory in Park City, gaining revenge over fierce rival Martins Dukurs of Latvia.