By Web Editor Jonathan Ko & Staff Writer Karen Li
As many expected for this event, the Russian athletes dominated the podium on February 21, with Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva sitting in first and second place, respectively. All in all, this short program event was even more impressive than that of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, twice setting a new record for points scored in the event; Medvedeva set the record, then Zagitova broke it.
Medvedeva and Zagitova entered the Olympics as the top two competitors and rivals, both training under the same coach. At the age of 15, Zagitova, who beat Medvedeva in this year’s European Championships, proved to be just as technically advanced as Medvedeva if not better. Zagitova’s skate to Black Swan was not only record-breaking, but it was an unbelievably beautiful artistic masterpiece, strewn together with flawless jumps and spins.
In addition, Zagitova nailed the most difficult jump combination for any woman: triple lutz-triple loop. This jump had an high base value of 12.21 because of the core strength and balance required to land the jump. Technically and artistically, there was no fault in Zagitova’s historical performance, which earned 82.92 points. In the end, she added a unique touch to her routine, brushing her hands down her costume and changing the color of the sequins before hitting her last pose.
Medvedeva, coming into the Olympics as the presumptive favorite and International Skating Union top-ranked skater, did not disappoint either. The margin between these two Russian ladies came down to detail and technical execution. Medvedeva’s skate to Chopin’s “Nocturne” embodied the concept of death, and similar to Zagitova’s program, it was artistically beautiful and striking. She landed a solid triple flip-triple toeloop jump combination and followed with a triple loop and double axel.
The 18-year-old looked completely immersed into her music as she skated her step sequence. Although Zagitova’s jumps appeared more effortless, Medvedeva’s program also exhibited remarkable artistry, separating her from the rest of the group. She moved to the beat of the music and told NBC that her program symbolizing the “flight of the soul” as it leaves the body during physical death. The judges awarded her 81.61 points, the second-highest score ever earned at the Olympics — behind only Zagitova’s 82.92.
Meanwhile, the US ladies had an unfortunate debut at the short program event. Mirai Nagasu, 24, attempted her legendary triple axel with too much energy, unable to control the jump. After a nasty first fall, Nagasu still landed a triple flip-triple toeloop combination and a wobbly triple loop. The remaining portion of her program was nothing more than decent, but Nagasu placed 9th as the top-ranked US woman after the event with with a total score of 66.93, her season’s best.
Karen Chen also stumbled during her first program on Olympic ice. The 18-year-old from Fremont had high hopes, despite constant boot problems and technical inconsistency. However, the 2017 National Champion almost fell on her triple lutz-triple toeloop combination, unable to complete the second jump due to an unstable landing. Later, she added a double toeloop to compensate for the missing combination jump, but it was not enough to mend her technical score. Placing 10th, Chen scored a disappointing 65.90.
Nevertheless, she showcased her amazing artistic talent in her intricate choreography. In fact, she choreographed this skate to Dave Grusin’s “On Golden Pond,” bringing out the beauty of a swan’s story.
Going into the Free Skating half of the event, it was clear that there were two tiers to the competition: Zagitova and Medvedeva, then everyone else. Zagitova held a narrow 1.31-point lead over Medvedeva after the short, which would prove to be the margin of victory between gold and silver.
Zagitova brought an innovative program design to the event, taking full advantage of the 10 percent bonus points for jumps executed during the second half of the program by placing her spins and step sequence first, before doing all seven of her jumps after the halfway point. This is typically considered a very risky strategy, because although it maximizes possible points, it requires incredible endurance to perform so many jumps so close together.
Not only did the 15-year-old Olympic Athlete from Russia execute all of her planned jumps (including her signature triple lutz-triple loop combination), she filled her score sheet with GOE’s of +2 and +3, resulting in a monstrous technical score of 81.62. Her skate to “Don Quixote” by Leon Minkus also demonstrated maturity and emotional expressiveness far beyond her years, earning a component score of 75.03 and a total score of 156.65.
Medvedeva, skating last in the event, came into her program with massive expectations on her 5’3” frame. This time last year, Medvedeva was the reigning back-to-back world champion and the undisputed best skater at every competition she entered. The 2018 Olympics were meant to be a coronation for her legendary career, until a bone fracture in her foot in fall 2017 forced her to withdraw from competition until the 2018 European Figure Skating National Championships, where she placed second after Zagitova.
Skating to “Anna Karenina” by Dario Marianelli, Medvedeva gave a masterpiece of a performance. The audience was audibly enthralled during her program, which took viewers through the full range of human emotion en route to a field-leading component score of 77.47. The 18-year-old also delivered on her elements, notably earning positive GOE on every single element from every single judge, an incredible feat. Although her GOE scores were higher than Zagitova’s, Medvedeva did not place as many of her jumps in the second half of her program, resulting in a lower technical score of 79.18 and a total score of 156.65.
In the end, Medvedeva and Zagitova earned exactly the same score in the free skate, 156.65, which meant that Zagitova’s 1.31-point edge in the short program gave her the gold medal. This was an incredible upset; though Zagitova beat Medvedeva last month at the European Championships, most dismissed it as the top-ranked skater still recovering from her injury and. Medvedeva herself seemed shocked when she received her scores, quietly crying before regaining her composure and congratulating her teammate.
In all, the competition at the top was incredible, with two nearly evenly-matched training partners pushing the limits of the sport and delivering artistically enthralling, technically masterful programs.
With the victory, Zagitova became the second-youngest woman to win the figure skating event, behind only Tara Lipinski in 1998. Incidentally enough, Lipinski’s victory over Michelle Kwan at the 1998 Nagano Olympics is perhaps the only Olympics upset comparable in magnitude to Zagitova’s.
Once a force on the international stage, the US women once again disappointed, turning in a series of uninspiring performances en route to ninth-, 10th-, and 11th-place finishes for Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu, and Karen Chen, respectively. Perhaps most heartbreaking, Nagasu, who earlier in the team event became the first US woman to execute her famed triple axel at the Olympics, failed to do so in her program. All of Gangneung Ice Arena held its breath as she wound up for the jump, then sighed as she bungled the jump, turning a 3.5-revolution triple axel into a 0.5-revolution waltz jump, an element so basic that it earns 0 points. She would later blame her inability to execute the jump on hitting a “rut in the ice” in an Instagram post.
Hometown favorite Karen Chen, performing in what is hopefully her first of several Olympics, turned in a technically flawed performance, falling on one jump and stepping out of another.
This event was the last of all figure skating events at the PyeongChang Olympics. The US came away relatively empty-handed, earning two bronze medals from the team event and the ice dance event. However, several young talents show significant promise for the future; in particular, Nathan Chen, Karen Chen, and Bradie Tennell look to the 2018 World Championships in late March for redemption.
Graphic by Graphics Editors Evangeline Chang & Victor Zhou