Alina Zagitova hangs on for gold medal
Evgenia Medvedeva could not quite match her 15-year-old Russian rival, Alina Zagitova, whose sudden emergence this season was capped with a gold medal at the Olympics. Medvedeva posted the same score as her OAR teammate in Friday’s free skate, 156.65, but the world record score Zagitova posted in Wednesday’s short program, 82.92, was enough to put her over the top.
The 18-year-old Medvedeva, who had won the past two world championships, had to overcome a broken foot suffered late last year, and she could point to that injury while Zagitova won the European championsips last month. But in PyeongChang, Zagitova proved again that she is the newest and most dominant force in women’s figure skating.
While Medvedeva was clearly disappointed to some in second, Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond could take plenty of pride in her bronze medal-winning performance, her country’s first Olympic medal in women’s singles skating since Joannie Rochette won bronze in 2010.
Olympic results spark debate
In the immediate wake of Alina Zagitova’s razor-thin win over the older, more experienced Evgenia Medvedova for Olympic gold in women’s singles figure skating, two questions emerged: Was Medvedova robbed? And will all young skaters now follow the 15-year-old Zagitova’s example by backloading all their jumps into the second halves of their routines?
The answer to the second question is almost certainly “yes,” given that the 10 percent bonuses given to jumps performed in the second half of a program provided Zagitova her margin of victory. That has already prompted hand-wringing among some figure skating fans who don’t want to see the balance in routines distorted in pursuit of maximum points.
As for the first question, well, that’s in the eye of the beholder, of course, especially in a sport that relies on judging and incorporates subjective measures of relative artistry. However, many Olympic viewers felt that the 18-year-old Medvedeva, who won the past two world championships, did enough with the rest of her program to merit a score that topped the Zagitova’s impressive, late-leaping prowess.
Alina Zagitova finds brilliance after some shakiness, moves into first
Alina Zagitova has been putting all her jumps into the second halves of her programs, when they score 10 percent higher. That made for quite a wait Friday, as the gold medal favorite skated through the first half before, as NBC’s announcers said, the “fireworks” began.
Those fireworks began in somewhat shaky fashion, though, as Zagitova bailed out of her first combination. Soon enough, though, the 15-year-old was out-classing all the skaters who came before her with an eye-popping array of perfectly executed leaps and spins.
Zagitova was given 156.65 for her performance, giving her a total of 239.57. That put her into first place, but with Russian rival Evgenia Medvedova and Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond still to go.
Kaetlyn Osmond skates into second with Medvedeva last to go
The free skate score given to Alina Zagitova of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team was enough to move her into first, but the judges left some room for Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond and the OAR’s Evgenia Medvedeva to sneak past. Osmond got the first crack at it, and while she didn’t take full advantage, her score of 231.02 was good enough for second.
With just one competitor left — Medvedeva — that meant Osmond was guaranteed a place on the podium, pushing Japan’s Satoko Miyahara out of medal contention.
Satoko Miyahara stays in first with top Russians still to go
Japan’s Satoko Miyahara posted a massive score — 222.38 — which was not only good enough to take the lead Friday, but served notice that the gold medal favorites had better bring it. Everyone expects Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedova of the OAR team to do just that, but they will need to avoid mistakes to stay ahead of Miyahara, who may well have locked up at least a bronze with a terrific performance.
Following Miyahara was Italy’s Carolina Kostner, a 31-year-old who acquitted herself very well, indeed, by scoring 212.44. That was enough to move her into second place, but her grip on that spot is tenuous, at best.
Kaori Sakamoto makes key mistake
Kaori Sakamoto had a tough task to keep up with her fellow Japanese skater, Sakoto Miyahara, whose near-perfect routine earned her a huge score that vaulted her into first. Sakamoto, however, made a crucial mistake on triple loop late in her free skate, which was more than enough, at this highest of levels, to knock her out of the running.
Sakamoto wound up with a 136.53, giving her a total of 209.72, which put her in third place. However, the top three skaters were still to go and were expected to get higher scores.
Mirai Nagasu’s struggles end U.S. hopes for first Olympic singles medal since 2010
Mirai Nagasu represented Team USA’s last, best hope for any kind of medal in singles figure skating, but her unsuccessful attempt at a triple axel ended those hopes early in her routine Friday.
She wound up with a score that put her in fourth, and while teammate Bradie Tennell was in third, both were expected to slip down the board as the final group of skaters began to take their turns.
Sure enough, the first skater of that group, Japan’s Satoko Miyahara, scored a whopping 146.44, giving her a very high total of 222.38. That not only pushed Tennell into fourth but it easily outdistanced the previous leader, the O.A.R. team’s Maria Sotskova (198.10).
The last American skater to win a medal in Olympic singles figure skating was Evan Lysacek, who took gold in 2010. The last woman to medal was Sasha Cohen, with a silver in 2006.
Nagasu ‘mentally exhausted’
After finishing her free skate, in which she turned in a relatively disappointing performance, at least given the hopes for her at the outset of the competition, Mirai Nagasu said she was “mentally exhausted.” However, the Team USA skater expressed pride in her performance last week — including a successful triple axel — that helped her country get a bronze in the team event, saying, “At one point Team USA was at jeopardy for a medal and I was one of the people that saved us.”
Nagasu bails out of triple axel
It didn’t take long for Mirai Nagasu’s free skate to take a disappointing turn. Actually, it didn’t take enough turns, as in the single rotation she managed instead of her signature triple axel, which she attempted at the outset of her routine. Nagasu recovered to skate fairly well for the rest of her program, but it felt anticlimactic.
“That was definitely not the free skate she was hoping for,” NBC’s Tara Lipinski said. Johnny Weri noted that Nagasu “was fantastic in the team event,” where she successfully hit the triple axel — becoming the first American woman to do so at the Olympics — and helped Team USA win bronze.
The singles event was a different story, one that saw Nagasu follow her American teammates, Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell, in having problems in the air. Nagasu scored 119.61 for her routine, giving her a total of 186.54, good for fourth place, just behind Tennell.
Choi Dabin charms home crowd, moves into first
South Korea’s second skater of the night, and its biggest hope for a medal, delivered a terrific performance, even if she fails to reach the podium. Choi Dabin was poised in a program that she dedicated to her mother, who died last year, landing her jumps in a routine set to music from the film “Doctor Zhivago.”
Choi was rewarded with a personal-best score of 131.49, giving her a total of 199.26, topping the previous leader, the O.A.R. team’s Maria Sotskova (198.10).
Bradie Tennell continues Team USA’s problems with jumps
Bradie Tennell fell on her first jump in the short program Wednesday, which was the first foray onto Olympic ice for the American women’s team, and she set an unfortunate tone that has yet to change. Errors on jumps hit teammates Karen Chen and Mirai Nagasu, as well, that evening, leaving all three with remote chances of getting a bronze medal, with gold all but unthinkable.
In Friday’s free skate, Chen led off with a very shaky aerial performance, and Tennell, who went right after her, followed suit. Tennell started off well, but she failed to properly land a pair of jumps later in her program.
As a result, Tennell scored 128.34 for her free skate, giving her a total of 192.35, which moved her ahead of Chen into second place but well behind the O.A.R. team’s Maria Sotskova (198.10).
Karen Chen makes mistakes in free skate, takes over second place
The first U.S. skater to compete Friday, Karen Chen, showed off plenty of elegance — in a routine she choreographed herself, according to NBC — but her jumping was shaky. As a result, she scored 119.75 for her routine, giving her a total score of 185.65 that left her in second place with 10 skaters still to go, including fellow Americans Bradie Tennell and Mirai Nagasu.
Chen made “many technical mistakes,” NBC’s Tara Lipinski said on the telecast, and Chen’s second-place status is not expected to last long.
The ‘other’ Russian moves into first
The “other” Russian skater, Maria Sotskova, took over first place with a total score of 198.10, easily outdistancing the previous leader, Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva (177.12). Sotskova was not a gold medal favorite, unlike her Olympic Athletes from Russia teammates, Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedova, but she was seen as a legitimate threat to reach the podium until a fairly disastrous short program left her in 12th place.
Error-prone Gabrielle Daleman breaks into tears at end of routine
Emotions at the Olympics are rarely far from the surface, and those of Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman were there for all to see, for all the wrong reasons, as soon as her routine ended. She took several spills during her free skate, and after a forced smile and a brief wave when the music stopped, she gave way to tears and a pained expression that she hid in part with her hands.
Daleman received a notably low score of 103.56 for her effort, giving her a total of 172.46, which put her in seventh place.
The Russians have arrived
Among those who filed in late here: the Russians, who have made their presence felt. When Maria Sotskova completed her beautiful free skate to Clair De Lune, multiple pockets of red-clad fans cheered — so many it seemed they might even outnumber the Koreans who roared for Hanul Kim. Even as their country isn’t an “official” presence here, Russian fans have appeared in droves. Given that one of their precocious teenagers is likely to win the gold medal here, they seem to be heard here over the next hour or so as much as anywhere.
We’re moving on, and the crowd is showing up
As expected, the crowd has filled in here as we hit the break before the last two groups. All three Americans are in this next group.
If you’re being reminded of “The Hunger Games,” you’re not alone
Throughout the Olympics, many viewers have suddenly been reminded of the “Hunger Games” movies. That’s happened pretty much anytime NBC’s Johnny Weir has come on-screen to talk skating.
The former Olympian’s fashion-forward sensibilities, ably complemented by co-analyst Tara Lipinski, have not only put viewers in mind of the hit film series, NBC Sports anchor Liam McHugh brought it up, as well, last week. “I think (the talk is) hilarious,” Weir told Liam McHugh. “Going into Sochi [in 2014], Caesar Flickerman was kind of my muse in preparing and getting ready. Except I can’t laugh like he did in the movie. Now people are finally getting it. Only took them four years.”
Elizabet Tursynbaeva in first after two groups
Elizabet Tursynbaeva, the first skater to go from Friday’s second group, took over first place and she still had it after the other five skaters in her group went. With a total of 177.12, Tursynbaeva, representing Kazakhstan, had a slim lead over South Korea’s Kim Hanul (175.71) and Slovakia’s Nicole Rajicova (175.19).
Next up: the Americans! Well, first Maria Sostskaya of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team, who leads off the third group. Then come Team USA’s Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell, with Mirai Nagasu going last in the group, 18th overall.
While Americans get set to skate, Ashley Wagner has been starring in ads
Ashley Wagner suffered heartbreak at the U.S. national championships in January, coming in fourth and getting left off the Olympic team. She was named first alternate, but that’s not why Wagner went to PyeongChang — that trip was meant to fulfill sponsor and media obligations.
Although she has not been competing, Wagner has been seen by millions of Olympic viewers in ads for Toyota and Bridgestone. That has caused some complaints about such promotion for an athlete who couldn’t even make the Olympic team, but a Bridgestone official told The Post, “She is still and will always be an Olympian who has been on the Olympic podium. That is something that should be celebrated.”
“I’m in a position where I was the top U.S. lady for, you know, a solid amount of time,” Wagner said in a recent interview. “When I look at the Olympic stage I know that I’m good enough to be there, but based on how everything kind of happened, it just wasn’t my time to be at this Games. So, I can accept that and I am so excited for my teammates. I mean, these are my friends and family, essentially. I grew up with these people.”
Elizabet Tursynbaeva moves into first, and her mother approves
Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva took over first place with a total score of 177.12, and her mother was right there with her to celebrate. Pashakan Sultanalieva lives with her daughter, who is also a professional violist (!), in Toronto, and she is an expressive presence at Tursynbaeva’s competitions.
NBC’s Johnny Weir called Sultanalieva one of his “favorite skate moms.” Meanwhile, the network’s cameras were happy to show here beaming with pride, not to mention shedding a tear or two.
Nicole Rajicova another American skating for a different country
The first skater to go Friday, Alexia Paganini, was born and raised in the U.S. but used parental heritage to represent Switzerland at the Olympics. Similarly, Nicole Rajicova is a native of New York City — one attending business school at Fordham — but she was skating on behalf of Slovakia, whence her parents immigrated.
“During a family trip to Slovakia many years ago, I was approached by two different clubs, both of which offered me the opportunity to skate for Slovakia. I was initially very reluctant to do so, but after a lot of thought and consideration, I decided that it would be best to skate for Slovakia,” Rajicoba said in a 2016 interview.
“Honestly, though, although I live in the United States, I’m a Slovak girl at heart,” she added. “I was raised under Slovak traditions, and we predominantly speak Slovak at home. Also, except for my immediate family (my parents and younger sister), my entire family lives in Slovakia. I’m really happy that skating has enabled me to reconnect with my Slovak roots.”
The 22-year-old Rajicova scored a total of 175.19, putting her in third place in the early going.
Germany’s Nicole Schott skates to music from … “Schindler’s List”?
Some viewers were not thrilled with the choice of music by Germany’s Nicole Schott” John Williams’s score for the 1993 film, “Schindler’s List.” The movie, about a German businessman who saves the lives of hundreds of refugees, many Jewish, during World War II, won the Oscar for Best Picture, but some felt that Schott should have gone in a different direction.
Kailani Craine the latest to skate to “Moulin Rouge!”
When Kailani Craine skated to music from the 2001 film “Moulin Rouge!” she was paying homage to her home country of Australia, given that the movie’s creator, Baz Luhrmann, also hails from there. Craine was also just the latest Olympic skater to use selections from the film, following in the bladed footsteps of, among others, American Vincent Shou and gold medal ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
“Just on the very surface of it, ‘Moulin Rouge!’ in its own language is operatic,” Luhrmann said in a recent interview, when asked why the film’s music was so popular with skaters. “Yes, it’s a musical, and yes it’s a postmodern musical, but its emotions are operatic. You go from great romance to ridiculous, over-the-top comedy, but there’s also tragedy and dark themes.”
As noted on NBC’s telecast, Craine opted for some of the darker-themed music, and she skated well to it. Her total of 168.61 put her in fourth place after nine skaters had taken the ice.
Learning the ins and outs of the sport
I’m currently sitting in the stands, in an area cordoned off for press, and therefore getting to learn about figure skating fan etiquette first hand.
From what I gather, and would have guessed, figure skating fans have an unspoken rule about talking during performances. But they will not break it to scold someone who does. Consequently, I have been treated to several passive aggressive international stare downs that rarely yield the desired result. The language barriers make the whole thing a great deal more fun, as the annoyance with the loudmouths seems to be universal — except to the speakers themselves.
South Korean in first after first group skates
It almost certainly won’t hold up, but the local fans in attendance at Gangneung Ice Arena have plenty about which to be excited for the time being. That’s because South Korea’s own Hanul Kim was in first place after the first group competed.
The 24 skaters Friday were divided into four groups of six. With a total score of 175.71, Kim finished ahead of (in remaining order): Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx (171.88), France’s Mae Berenice Meite (159.92), Switzerland’s Alexia Paganini (156.26), China’s Li Xiangning (154.43) and Hungary’s Ivett Toth (150.43).
After rocking out to AC/DC, Ivett Toth plays it safe this time
Hungary’s Ivett Toth went for a more conservative look and sound Friday, wearing a fairly standard red dress and dancing to “Carmen.” In Wednesday’s free skate, she had caused a splash by wearing a costume meant to look like heavily studded black leather — while performing to AC/DC.
As it unusual as it was to hear loud, heavy rock music — “Back in Black” and “Thunderstruck,” to be precise — during an Olympic figure skating routine, that’s how conventional Toth played it Friday. However, NBC’s Tara Lipinski thought the 19-year-old Toth struck out both times, and the Hungarian posted the lowest score thus far, a 97.21.
“I think her musical choices … were just too big for her,” Lipinski said, noting that “Carmen” has a storied history in past competitions.
More to coverage than just Weir and Lipinski
This might be obvious, but while you probably watch Johnny Wier and Tara Lipinski every night, others are watching their equivalent. The TV desks are positioned in a terraced set-up (see picture), with Johnny and Tara on the bottom step, and three other broadcasts above them.
It might be hard to believe, but the other broadcasts actually seem to use more lights and such than the American broadcast, at least from what I can see. The American outfits, however, are unparalleled.
The Korean fans have been loud and supportive all week, and greeted Hanul Kim, their mighty little teenager, in kind.
Many people in the crowd brought Korean flags, and when she finished her clean skate, they roared, tossed stuffed animals everywhere.
She entered the free skate 21st out of 24 skaters overall. Her free skate earned her a score of 123.26 the highest of the day so far by six points, a season’s best, and jumped into first place for the moment. When the results showed, the crowd roared. Then she did the unorthodox and stood up in the kiss-and-cry, and pumped her fist to a crowd that loved every minute of it.
OAR expecting a long-awaited first gold
If either Alina Zagitova or Evgenia Medvedova does not with the gold medal tonight, it will be a huge upset — and hugely upsetting to Russia. That country, which was formally banned from these Games for an alleged systematic doping operation, instead is represented by individual competitors grouped into a team called Olympic Athletes from Russia.
There have been over 160 OAR members in PyeongChang, but so far none has won a gold medal. Hence the pressure on Zagitova and/or Medvedova — who finished 1-2 in the short program — to come through as favorites.
In its various forms, whether as the Soviet Union, 1992’s Unified Team or Russia, that squad has never failed to win fewer than three golds at the Winter Games.
However, to hear them tell it, the pressure to win has not damaged the friendship between the 18-year-old Medvedeva and the 15-year-old Zagitova.
“We can talk about anything to each other,” Medvedeva said, “and when we take the ice it’s sport and we must fight. Every competition I feel like (is) a little war.”
Added Zagitova: “We are friends first and rivals second, because you have to have competitiveness in sport.”
One of the things I’m not sure comes across on television (though maybe it does) is the way some of these skates sort of fall flat, and others — regardless of point totals — draw everyone in the building into them.
For the second straight skate, French skater Mae Berenice Meite — who trains in Chicago — woke up the place when she transitioned from Chopin to a more upbeat, rhythmic Happy by C2C. She ended up falling in the second half of the program, but two days after skating to some Beyoncé, Meite became the first skater to create palpable excitement early on here. And she probably won’t finish in the top 15. Sometimes, this can be a strange sport.
Meite, who finished 10th in singles at the 2014 Sochi Games, earned a score of 106.25 for her effort Thursday, giving her 159.92, good for third in the early going.
Also, the crowd is filling in now.
Alexia Paganini, who switched from U.S. to Switzerland, starts off competition
Alexia Paganini kicked off the free skate Thursday, scoring an 101.00 for a program featuring music from “Phantom of the Opera,” which gave her a total score of 156.26. This past season was her first at the senior level — and her first representing Switzerland.
The 16-year-old Paganini was born in Greenwich, Conn., and skated for the U.S. at the junior level. However, her father is Swiss — her mother is from the Netherlands — and her coach, Igor Krokavec, suggested that she switch countries.
Awaiting the main event — and the fans
Once again, the crowd for women’s figure skating is sparse. As for the short program, the stands are about half full here as group one begins its warm-ups. Most of the seats filled in as the short programs went along Wednesday, and I would expect the same today. The Americans don’t skate for about two and a half hours, and the final groups start in about three.
What you need to know
How to watch: NBC Sports Network will have live coverage of the event beginning at 8 p.m. NBC is also scheduled to show portions of the competition. Events are also available by live-streaming at NBCOlympics.com or on the NBC Sports app.
What to watch: Each competitor in the women’s free skate has a time limit of four minutes (plus or minus 10 seconds) to complete their routine, which is limited to eight jump elements, three spins and two sequences (leveled step and choreographic). The scores for the free skate are calculated by adding a technical score (based on difficulty and execution of various elements) and the component score, often referred to as the “artistry” score. That score is then added to the skater’s short program score to determine the medals. Jumps performed in the second half of a program are awarded a 10 percent bonus, which Russian skater Alina Zagitova — who earned a world-record score during her short program — uses to great advantage; she performs all her jumps in the second half.
Who to watch: Russian skaters Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva lead the competition after strong showings in the short program earlier this week. Medvedeva finished with a score of 81.61, the highest ever — at least until Zagitova took the ice soon after and posted a score of 82.92. Those two have a commanding lead over the next group of would-be medalists, with Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada sitting in third with 78.87. Osmond was a distant second at the world championships last year in Helsinki, where Medvedeva posted a score of 154.40 — more than 12 points ahead of the Canadian. Medvedeva owns the world record in free skate with a score of 160.46; Zagitova, who did not compete at worlds, is the next highest scoring skater in history with a 158.08, which she posted during the team event earlier in these Games. Japanese skaters Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto could also vie for a medal, along with Italy’s Carolina Kostner. Those six will skate in the final grouping of the night. All three Americans will skate in the second-to-last group, but trail the top skaters significantly entering the free skate. Mirai Nagasu was the top-scoring American in the short program with a 66.93, followed by Karen Chen (65.90) and Bradie Tennell (64.01).
Learn more: The consistent Zagitova plans a freewheeling end to a free skate set to Minkus’s Don Quixote, which should allow her to widen her lead, according to analyst Robert Samuels. She is the heavy favorite to win gold. Medvedeva has no room for error, and needs a mind-blowing performance with amplified difficulty, unless Zagitova makes an uncharacteristic mistake.