Alina Zagitova wins Olympic figure skating title for OAR’s first gold aged 15


No figure skater dominated the past quadrennium like Evgenia Medvedeva, the raven-haired Russian who last year became the first woman in 16 years to win back-to-back world championships while elevating the sport to new technical heights with dumbfounding consistency.

But none of it mattered on Friday afternoon as the 15-year-old prodigy Alina Zagitova capped her meteoric ascent with the Olympic title, beating out the countrywoman who inspired her to become a figure skater to win the first gold medal for the Olympic Athletes from Russia at these Pyeongchang Games. Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond took the bronze.

“I won,” an ecstatic Zagitova said in the aftermath. “Honestly, my hands are shaking, because I haven’t understood yet that I am an Olympic champion.”

Four months ago the Olympic women’s figure skating competition felt like all but a formality. The imperious Medvedeva had won all but one competition in three seasons at the senior level, a second-place finish at the Rostelecom Cup way back in 2015.

But then Medvedeva cracked a bone in her right foot in October. She kept winning smaller events but watched from the sidelines as the fast-rising Zagitova won the the Grand Prix final and the Russian national championships in her absence. At last month’s European championships, Zagitova handed Medvedeva her first defeat in more than two years, setting the table for a showdown on the sport’s biggest stage.

And so Friday’s free skate at the Gangneung Ice Arena became a tale of two events: a match race for the gold and a battle royale for the bronze.

What a match it was.

Medvedeva had posted a world-record score in Wednesday’s short program only to see Zagitova best it minutes later. Both skated cleanly again in their long programs on Friday starting with Zagitova, whose performance to Don Quixote backloaded nearly all of her jumps into the final two minutes where they’re subject to a 10% technical bonus.

Zagitova, skating third to last, left a jump off her opening combination but effortlessly tacked it onto a triple lutz later in the program. She wound up packing five jumps into a roughly 40-second span after the three-minute mark. Whatever it lacked in sophistication and artistry, it made up for with technical precision and shrewd tactics.

Still, the youngster’s free-skate score of 156.65 for an overall total of 239.57 left the door open for Medvedeva, who would need a minimum of 157.97 to win the gold, nearly four points below her personal best.

After Osmond earned a season-best score with her elegant interpretation of Swan Lake to assure herself no worse than bronze, it was down to Medvedeva, who skated beautifully to the score from Anna Karenina and, like Zagitova, also landed seven triple jumps.

But Medvedeva’s score of 156.65, identical to Zagitova’s on the day, was not enough to overcome Wednesday’s deficit and cost her the gold by 1.31 points, leaving the 18-year-old to rue the most devastating loss of a career wth very few of them.

“I felt today in my program really like Anna Karenina in the movie,” Medvedva said. “I put everything out there that I had, I left everything on the ice. I have no regrets.

“This was my mindset going out: not to leave anything on the table. I didn’t think about errors, not about a clean skate. Honestly, I skated like in a fog, for the first time. It is because I realize that I am enjoying the process, these four minutes are historical and they only belong to me and the whole world is watching only me for those four minutes. My soul thrives on that feeling, the body and the brain did their job.”

Zagitova, the junior world champion just a year ago, becomes the second-youngest Olympic gold medalist in figure skating after Tara Lipinski, who was 26 days younger when she beat out Michelle Kwan for the gold at the 1998 Games in Nagano.

Those heady days of American dominance embodied by Lipinski, Kwan, Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes felt like lifetimes ago on Friday as an Olympics that swiftly went downhill for the United States after their team bronze last week slumped to a merciful end.

None of the American contingent of Bradie Tennell (who finished ninth), Mirai Nagasu (10th) and Karen Chen (11th) skated cleanly, marking the first time no American woman finished among the top six at the Winter Games.

Osmond, the 22-year-old from Newfoundland who’s battled inconsistency over the past two years and at one point nearly quit the sport, brought down the house with the program of her life for the bronze, skating flawlessly save for a wobbly landing on a triple lutz. The medal was Canada’s 27th of the Pyeongchang Games, surpassing their previous record of 26 from Vancouver 2010.

“Not long after the last Olympics, I didn’t even know that I would be competing at this one,” she said. “It means so much and to know that I fought so hard in the last four years. My main goal was to place higher than 13th, which I did, and I improved that by 10 placements. I am so excited.”

Italy’s Carolina Kostner, the bronze medalist four years ago in Sochi back in a fourth Olympics at 31, finished in fifth between the Japanese teenagers Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto, who came in fourth and sixth respectively.