Collecting her second straight European title with a world-record score last Friday, Evgenia Medvedeva emphatically reinforced that she is a prohibitive favorite for the gold medal in Pyeongchang next year.
This is presuming that she and her fellow Russians will be allowed to compete in South Korea. In the wake of the Sochi doping scandal, that is far from guaranteed.
The elegant Moscow native broke Yuna Kim’s mark for both the free skate and total score in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Medvedeva earned marks of 150.79 and 229.71 in her routine to the soundtrack from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” to surpass Kim’s records from the Vancouver Olympics.
Medvedeva topped the podium ahead of compatriot Anna Pogorilaya (211.39) and Italy’s Carolina Kostner (210.52).
“I’m happy I broke the record, but this is not my main goal,” Medvedeva was quoted as saying by the ISU website after her victory. “Today, I was in a good mood, everything felt fantastic — ice, audience, skating. I just realized how much I like this competition, and wanted to enjoy it to the fullest.”
Medvedeva, whose nickname is “Janny,” is very popular amongst her fellow skaters on the circuit and has also developed a following in Japan. She is an admitted anime otaku and a loyal fan of “Yuri on Ice.”
Only 17, Medvedeva has been racking up victories at a phenomenal clip. When she won the world title in Boston last season, she became the first woman to ever win the world junior and senior crowns in successive years.
Medvedeva’s record in the last three seasons is nothing short of mind-blowing. She has entered 18 individual non-exhibition competitions during this period and emerged victorious in 16 of them.
The only two events she did not win were the Russian nationals during the 2014-15 campaign (finishing third while still a junior) and last season’s Cup of Russia (where she was second).
Medvedeva’s lightness on the ice is amazing. She seems to glide effortlessly between elements and the rotational velocity on her jumps is blistering.
At this point, barring injury, it looks like the rest of the world will be vying for the silver medal at this season’s worlds in Helsinki and next year’s Winter Games if Russia is allowed to participate.
Ice Time asked an influential member of the international skating community for their take on what it is that makes Medvedeva so special.
“She simply does not miss and her level of performance approaches a great actress so one gets caught up in the story as she perfectly delivers the technical,” the individual wrote in an email. “There are those who jump better, there are those who spin better, but no one delivers the overall program . . . a marriage of art, entertainment and sport better than Evgenia.”
Medvedeva is one of those great athletes you feel privileged just to have the opportunity to watch compete. Gifted, determined, clinical. She has it all.
“We’ve seen some amazing performances by the women in our time. I’m thinking of Yuna Kim and Mao Asada, some amazing technicians. But nothing like this youngster,” said a Eurosport announcer after Medvedeva’s free skate.
“If you take all of the competitions from this season, from last season, the level of consistency defies belief,” added the announcer.
“It’s not just the technician. She’s got the grace, the artistry. She can pull off the program and (has) nerves of steel,” commented another Eurosport analyst.
“She is such a strong jumper, and that was certainly her strength coming up in the ranks, but the way she has developed as a performer virtually leaves her untouchable,” said NBC analyst Ryan Bradley after Medvedeva’s short program to “River Flows in You.”
Bradley believes that Medvedeva’s ability to load up jumps in the second half of her programs to help earn bonus points, something she has been doing since her junior days, is significant.
“She has shown that she grew up with this strategy, so it is no big deal, and it gives her the best opportunity to get the highest scores possible,” Bradley stated.
There is still a long way to go until Pyeongchang, but the air of inevitability on Medvedeva winning the gold reminds Ice Time of the same vibe that Kim projected before the 2010 Games.
It wasn’t a question of if, but when, and by how much.
Drive for five: Javier Fernandez captured his fifth consecutive European title on Saturday. The Spaniard became just the third man ever to win the Euro crown five consecutive times, after Czechoslovakia’s Ondrej Nepela and Austria’s Karl Schafer.
Nepela, who was also the gold medalist at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, reigned from 1969-73. Nepela died tragically at the age of 38 in 1989 of AIDS-related complications.
Schafer, the Olympic champion in 1932 and 1936, won the European Championships an impressive eight straight years (1929-36).
Fernandez, who finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final this season, looked in top form in his short program to “Malaguena,” which brought him a mark of 104.25.
“He had loads of transitions in the program. The choreography was perfect. He pulled it off magnificently,” said a Eurosport analyst after Fernandez’s short program.
The Eurosport announcers were impressed by the Madrid native’s ability to land a jump that looked like it was going wrong by recovering in midair. He opened with a quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination.
Fernandez appeared like he might fall on the quad toe loop, but dug deep and landed it before going on to complete the combo.
“The champions can land the bad jumps and he just proved it,” one of the Eurosport analysts noted.
Fernandez struggled in the second half of his free skate to an Elvis Presley medley, but still held on to easily take the title over Russia’s Maxim Kovtun. Fernandez fell hard on his quad salchow and touched down on his triple loop.
Fernandez’s winning total score was 294.84, while Kovtun tallied 266.80. Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada placed third with 250.18.
“Yesterday I said I want to do a personal best,” Fernandez told the ISU website. “I didn’t do that, but I still fought from the beginning to the end even after the fall. I tried to keep my mind and brain in the same place, but of course it’s hard right after you fall and you hurt yourself. Overall it still was a good performance. I’m saving it for worlds, I guess. I’ll keep training hard to deliver a better performance.”
In a podcast with the Ice Network last month, coach Brian Orser attributed Fernandez’s poor showing at the GP Final in part to stress related to the planning of the “Revolucion” show he was organizing in Madrid near the end of last year.
Inter-High: Mai Mihara won women’s singles at the annual Japan Inter-High School Championship in Tochigi Prefecture last month. Mihara, who has earned a spot on Japan’s team for this season’s worlds, topped the podium with a total score of 190.16.
Japan junior champion Kaori Sakamoto was second with 183.58, while Kokoro Iwamoto (172.69) came in third.
Kazuki Tomono (207.58), also the Japan junior titlist, took the men’s crown, ahead of Taichi Honda (179.98) and Mitsuki Sumoto (178.32).
Survey says: South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reported last week that Yuna Kim was chosen by soldiers in the country as “a partner they would most like on winter guard duty.”
The newspaper cited a survey by the military gazette Kookbang Ilbo, which revealed that 30.1 percent of the 548 who answered the poll had picked the Olympic gold medalist.