by George Rossano
(24 February) Alina Zagitova, the latest wunderkind to come out of the Russian ladies skating program, took the Gold medal in the Ladies championship Friday morning, eleven months after winning the 2017 World Junior title in her first attempt. Zagitova is the second youngest Olympic Gold medalist in this event after Tara Lipinski.
He only serious rival here, training mate and reigning World Champion, Evgenia Medvedeva put up a good fight in the Free Skate, earning the same point value as Zagitova in the segment. With a higher point value in components, Medvedeva was the winner of the Free Skate segment, but failed to overtake the lead Zagitova built up in the Short Program.
In the end, the Gold medal was decided by the difference in jump content value for the two skaters in the Short Program, with the value of a triple toe loop for Medvedeva traded off against a triple Lutz for Zagitova.
In the free, Medvedeva again had jump content value below that of Zagitova, this time by 3.98 points. But unlike their competition at the European Championships, and in the Short Program here, where Medvedeva trailed Zagitova in GoE points, Medvedeva outscored Zagitova in GoE points here by 16.85 to 15.61.
In components Medvedeva has consistently outscored Zagitova this season. In the Olympic free Medvedeva outscored Zagitova in components by 2.44 points, and there were many observers here, and some judges, who felt Zagitova was (and all season has been) over scored in components by an amount that deprived Medvedeva of the Gold. For example, several judges on the panel had Medvedeva ahead in components by more than 2.44 points and up to 4.4 points.
Component scores, of course, are highly subjective, easily manipulated, and not in the hands of the skaters, while program content is purely the choice of the skater, and their base value a hard fact.
Since winning the 2015 World Junior Championship Medvedeva has been executing essentially the same free skating content in nearly the same order. After moving up to senior, all she changed was the addition of the choreographic step sequence as element 10, and moved double toe loop + double toe loop from the triple loop in element 6 to the double Axel in element 7. The mix of jumps, however, has remained the same. In her short program in 2015 she included triple Lutz, flip and toe loop, but in 2016 reduced the difficulty to flip, loop and toe loop and has stuck with that since.
Medvedeva clearly seems to have an issue with the triple Lutz, and we assume if she could cleanly skate two programs that include more than one total in the short plus long she would. Further, if her first two jump elements had been in the second half she would have won the Gold, and we again must assume the reason she doesn't do that is because she cannot consistently skate a clean program with all the jumps in the second half. But whatever the reason, this Gold was decided by trading a triple Lutz for a triple toe loop.
Skating a classically-styled routine to "Don Quixote" in an orange tutu dress, she skated a clean program, with only a small balance issue on landing her first jump element. This was the lowest scored element of the program, but still received 0s and 1s. This triple Lutz was meant to be in combination with triple loop, which was omitted, but she then added one to her second Lutz later in the program to recover the points. She skated with good speed and some emotion, with components that averaged 9.38. In the view of some, however, the program did not have the unity and seamless continuity needed for such marks.
"I was very nervous today," she said after skating. "I was more calm for the short program, because I understood I had no room for error and I have to skate clean. There was a lot of pressure on me and Zhenia (Medvedeva). All fans were waiting for us athletes from Russia to be on top." She added later, "When I saw the scores I was surprised and it was a nice surprise. I am glad that I as able to deal with my nervousness, go out there and skate my program calmly."
Medvedeva gave a clean performance to "Anna Karenina" with no significant errors. She skated with nice speed and good expression, with her characteristic approach of taking on a character role in the performance, something that she did much better than Zagitova. Rather than a character, Zagatova is really only skating pretty moves to pretty music.
Medvedeva's performance showed good expression and was a complete seamless whole, which earned components averaging 9.68. Given the distinct superiority of the performance as a whole, it was surprising that the point spread between Medvedeva and Zagitova was only 0.30 expressed in average component value, though a few judges, at least, had the spread as high as 0.55. Interestingly, the Russian judge substantially favored Medvedeva over Zagitova.
On her performance she said, "I felt in my program really like Anna Karenina in the movie. I put everything out there that I had, I left nothing on the ice. I have no regrets." She elaborated, "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."
Skating as the black swan from "Swan Lake," Canadian Kaitlyn Osmond performed a nearly clean program with a base value that nearly matched Medvedeva's but with lesser GoEs, mainly in the 1s and 2s, with some threes. On her first jump element she stepped out of the landing of a triple Lutz, which also had an edge attention. Her components for the program, which was skated with speed and power, averaged 9.46, a bit higher than Zagitova. It was her strongest performance of the season, and scored as seasons best. Osmond and Japanese skater Satoko Miyahara were the only two skaters in the last warm-up group to score their season's best.
Describing her mindset going into the free skate she said, "I was so excited, I was so ready for this program. All day I was terrified, I was so nervous, but it is a program I feel super comfortable with in practice and I was so ready to show it in competition, that's exactly what I felt."
Miyahara had a chance at moving up from fourth place after the short to the Bronze medal. Her program, set to "Madame Butterfly" had a higher base value than Osmond, and even Medvedeva. It was cleanly skated but the quality of the elements (all 0s through 3s) was not high enough to make up the points she trailed form the short program, and neither did the components that averaged 8.91. She needed to score in the low 9s for components to pass Osmond.
Though she did reach the podium, she said, "Being here is glorious enough and I'm very happy, whatever the result." She added, "It was beyond imagination. I fully enjoyed my performance, and being able to reflect myself. It was a priceless moment."
The U.S. ladies started the day in 9th, 10th and 11th place, and ended the day in 9th, 10th and 11th place. It was the most pathetic result for U.S. ladies in Olympic competition. All three skated in the third of the four warm-up groups.
Current U.S. Champion Bradie Tennell moved up among the U.S. ladies from 11th to 9th place. She had step-outs and near falls on two elements, double Axel - triple toe loop (with an under-rotations) and triple Lutz ( with an under-rotation). She achieved level four on her steps and spins. Her GoEs were mostly 1s and 2s but her base value was not competitive. Her "Cinderella" routine scored average components of only 7.87, well below the standard for an elite international competitor.
Former U.S. Champion Mirai Nagasu, who was 9th in the short placed 12th in the free and dropped to 10th place. Nagasu had not been getting around on the triple Axel all week in practice, generally executing a bit less than one-quarter short. Such an attempt would not get an under-rotation call, but usually results in a fall. In the free she popped the jump to an Axel no-value, and then on element 7 she popped the planned triple Lutz to a single. A triple flip also received a few -1s. She missed a level each on her steps and one spin. The program was skated too slowly, with no attack or presence. It was a lackluster skate. Her components averaged only 7.76.
Former U.S. Champion Karen Chen was 10th in the short and dropped to 11th after the free skate. She had major errors on four jump elements. Except for those jumps, her GoEs were mostly 1s and 2s, and her components averaged 8.01, the highest among the three Americans. Skating to "Tango Jalousie" she skated with reasonable speed, but the performance lacked the tango attack one would expect for such music.
No one expected the U.S Ladies to challenge for an Olympic medal, but the results being so low here was still a huge disappointment, and symptomatic of the world of hurt U.S. Ladies figure skating (and U.S. figure skating in general) is in. Given that there will be few retirements before Worlds, these results suggest the U.S. ladies are unlikely to earn three slots for 2019 Worlds when they compete next month at the World Championships in Milan.
Copyright 2018 by George S. Rossano