(Getty Images)

Heading into the Sochi Games, South Korea’s Kim Yu-na was the heavy favorite to defend her figure skating gold medal and Japan’s Mao Asada, who won every Grand Prix event she’s entered this season, was seen as the biggest threat to Kim. But Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia served notice Saturday during the team competition that the women’s singles medal race is wide open. From the Associated Press:

Fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia had the look of an Olympic champion on Saturday night, dazzling the home crowd with a near-perfect routine in the women’s short program. Then it was Russia’s backup pair, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, earning cheers as they routed the field in the free skate. …

With her countrymen chanting her first name, Lipnitskaia put on a mature presentation that had fans stomping their feet and showering the ice with flowers and dolls. Her flexibility and rapid rotation on her spins and jumps were reminiscent of Tara Lipinski when she won the 1998 Olympic gold.

And Lipinski, who was the same age at those games in Nagano, was on hand to see it.

“I have been saying the whole year that she is a dark horse,” Lipinski said of Lipnitskaia — yes, the names are nearly the same. “I loved the energy and the fight in her.”

The Post’s Liz Clarke reports that Lipnitskaia “didn’t just finish first among the women; she laid waste to the field with her impossibly light triple lutz-triple toe loop combination and her whirlwind, contortionist spins.”

The 15-year-old phenom will pull double-duty in the team competition, following up her spotlight-stealing performance in the short program by skating in the long program.

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