Update at 11:58 p.m. ET
Alina Zagitova narrowly beat her teammate Evgenia Medvedeva in the women’s singles figure skating competition at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, winning the first gold medal for the Olympic Athlete from Russia team.
Zagitova is just 15 years old. In addition to her jaw-dropping talent, she has drawn scrutiny for the composition of her program, in which she saves all the most complicated moves for the second half, to maximize their scoring potential.
But Zagitova also uses the first half of the program to show her artistry and dramatic flair. She did that in her free skate here in South Korea – and when it was time to hit her jumps, she nailed them in spinning, smooth precision.
As she finished, the crowd, including a large and loud Russian contingent, cheered loudly. Coming off the ice, Zagitova is beaming.
Zagitova’s score: 156.65 points — putting her into the gold medal spot, with two skaters remaining.
Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond, 22, followed with a graceful and smooth skate, with elements flowing into one another. One highlight: a triple salchow – double toeloop – double loop combination that drew loud cheers.
For Osmond, there was at least one stumble on a landing. But when Osmond spun into her finish, the packed arena was already roaring; she put her hands on the ice, smiling and laughing — and clearly trying to catch her breath: These elite skaters only make these routines SEEM easy.
Osmond’s score: 152.15, putting her into second place overall — a bump up from third and assuring her of a medal. But then it was all up to Medvedeva, skating in the final slot of the day to “Anna Karenina” by Dario Marianelli. The question in the arena was: Would the phenom take gold, or silver?
Medvedeva’s fluid technique and ability to express herself on the ice — while pulling off jumps with technical skill and grace — are captivating. The crowd cheered her with appreciation, but it wasn’t the loudest we heard today.
Finishing her program, Medvedeva immediately started weeping on the ice, covering her face with her hands. As she skated off and hugged her coach, she began crying openly.
Medvedeva’s score: 156.65 points — a tie in the free skate with Zagitova, who had come into the final skate leading her by less than two points: 82.92 to 81.06. That sealed the gold medal for Zagitova, with 239.57 total points.
When Medvedeva leaves the scoring area, she and Zagitova share a big hug.
The three Americans in the field — Mirai Nagasu, Karen Chen, and Bradie Tennell — needed to turn in eye-popping performances today to reach the podium. None of them had scored above 70 points in their short program, as six other skaters did.
Tennell and Chen turned in solid, but not perfect, performances that put them (for a while, at least) into second and third, behind Russian athlete Maria Sotskova. Nigasu, who made history earlier in Pyeongchang by landing the first triple axel at an Olympics, wasn’t as steady as she was during the team event, finishing between Tennell and Chen.
“I’m ready to go home,” Nigasu said afterwards, according to NPR’s Tom Goldman.
The order was rewritten minutes later, when the highest-ranked skaters from the short program began their programs.
We’re updating this post with news from Pyeongchang.
Skaters in the top-ranked group are slated to begin their free skate programs at 11:08 p.m. ET. By the time Medvedeva finishes her skate at 11:57 p.m., there will be a new Olympic champion.
The start times for the final six women in the free skate on Friday in South Korea (Thursday night in the U.S.) have Medvedeva going last:
Satoko Miyahara (Japan)
Carolina Kostner (Italy)
Kaori Sakamoto (Japan)
Alina Zagitova (OAR)
Kaetlyn Osmond (Canada)
Evgenia Medvedeva (OAR)
In the free skate, Chen and Tennell skated the way everyone expected them to – and the way they didn’t quite manage to in their short program (for Tennell, it included a fall, something she rarely does). After Chen earned a 119.75 score to go into second, Tennell put down a solid program to get a 128.34 – and with 192.35 total points, she took over second, with nine skaters still to take the ice.
As she finished her skate and awaited her score, Tennell looked relieved, proud, and happy.
After the short program, the U.S. skaters were bunched together in the standings, with Nagasu ninth, Chen tenth, and Tennell at No. 11.
There are 24 skaters in the final — but Zagitova and Medvedeva were the only ones to score above 80 points in the short program. Zagitova had the edge with 82.92 points, partly because her program is shaped to maximize scoring: All of her big jumps come in the last section, when they’re worth more.
Medvedeva, 18, is the reigning world champion. She’s competing in South Korea after recovering from a broken foot that she suffered last October.
Zagitova, 15, won this year’s European championship in Moscow. She has risen to the heights of the world’s elite skaters just one year after winning the world junior championship.
If either of the two Russian skaters wins gold, it would set off a celebration for fans of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team — who are competing under a neutral flag at these Winter Games because of doping punishments. As we enter the final weekend of competition in Pyeongchang, the team hasn’t managed to win a gold medal yet; so far, they have four silver and eight bronze medals.
For a brief while earlier this week, Medvedeva owned the Olympic record for the highest-scoring women’s short program in history, after turning in a flawless skate at the Gangneung Ice Arena. But within moments, her score of 81.06 was eclipsed by Zagitova’s 82.92.
Both Medvedeva and Zagitova attend Sambo 70, a large sports center and school in Moscow that was founded in 1970. The school trains Olympic athletes in a variety of winter and summer sports, from judo and swimming to skiing and figure skating. Another product of Sambo 70: Julia Lipnitskaya, who was 15 when she won a gold medal as part of Russia’s figure skating team at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.