Olympics / Winter Olympics / Figure skating

Alina Zagitova leads Evgenia Medvedeva after record-breaking short program

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Alina Zagitova of the Olympic Athletes from Russia smashed the world record to take the lead after the women’s short program at Gangneung Ice Arena on Wednesday.

Moments after training partner and two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva had broken her own world mark, Zagitova took the ice and topped it by more than a point with a score of 82.92 points.

The 15-year-old Zagitova, winner of the Grand Prix Final in December, skated to “Black Swan” and was absolutely stunning.

Zagitova, the world junior champion last season, cleanly landed a triple lutz/triple loop combination jump, followed by a triple flip and a double axel. Her execution and artistry were superb.

“From the score, this is the best performance of my life, but there is still room to grow,” Zagitova stated. “I could have more speed going into the jumps, the landings of the jumps could have been smoother, there could have been more emotions.”

Medvedeva performed to “Nocturne” and her refined skills were on full display as she broke the world mark she set in the team event here with a total of 81.61.

The two-time world champion landed a triple flip/triple toe loop combo, a triple jump and a double axel while looking like her usual dominant self.

Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond, the world silver medalist last season, is third at 78.87.

Satoko Miyahara is in fourth place on 75.94, with Kaori Sakamoto in fifth with 73.18.

With the gold and silver looking like locks for Zagitova and Medvedeva, in whichever order, Miyahara and Sakamoto are both within striking distance of claiming the bronze going into Friday’s free skate.

Zagitova admitted that her meteoric rise has come faster than she expected.

“I didn’t really think that I would be here competing at the Olympic Games,” Zagitova commented. “If someone had told me that two or three years ago, or even one year ago, I would have been very surprised.”

Medvedeva, who trains with Zagitova under star Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze in Moscow, said she felt tense during the team event last week.

“Today, for the first time, I went out with the thought not to give way to my emotions,” Medvedeva noted. “In the team event, I was nervous and my legs were shaky. I was full of emotions, but they were happy emotions — to be at the Olympic Games.”

Osmond’s routine to “Sous le ciel de Paris” earned her a season’s best score from the judges. Osmond calmly moved through her elements with great poise.

The Newfoundland native, who was 13th at the Sochi Games, says she has grown personally in the last four years.

“I barely remember my last Olympic experience, it was such a whirlwind,” Osmond said. “I feel so much more mature, so much more in control and to be able to put (together) a program like that is always much better than it was four years ago.”

Miyahara, performing to “Memoirs of a Geisha,” skated immediately after Medvedeva and opened with a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, then executed a flying camel spin and a combination spin, before landing a triple loop. Following her step sequence, Miyahara hit a double axel and closed out with a sublime layback spin.

The four-time national champion from Kyoto appeared confident throughout and notched her best score of the season. She received level-four for her spins and step sequence.

“I wanted to be more expressive and more open,” Miyahara stated. “And I hope I can do that in the free program.”

Two-time Olympic champion Dick Button, tweeting from his home in North Salem, New York, recognized what Miyahara was saying.

“Miyahara — Lovely, Lovely program,” Button wrote. “But she doesn’t project her performance to the audience, keeps it too personal.”

“I thought I would be more nervous,” Miyahara commented. “It was not so bad for me. It was very special and on this dynamic stage I am happy to skate here. I am looking forward to the long program.”

Sakamoto displayed her incredible fortitude with a fine skate to “Moonlight Sonata.” Her jumping ability combined with her artistry also earned her a season-best score. She also received level-fours on her spins and step sequence.

Sakamoto, who won the Four Continents last month, began with a lovely layback spin before moving into her step sequence. After a flying camel spin, she tore off a triple flip/triple toe loop combo, a triple loop and a double axel, before ending with a combination spin.

“I was a bit nervous at first, but once I got on the ice I was fine,” Sakamoto said. “I was laughing at myself.”

Sakamoto practiced for a few days in Seoul following the team event and felt it was beneficial.

“I had good training in Seoul,” Sakamoto stated. “I have been able to improve my jumping quality after the Four Continents. I want to give it my best and enjoy my free skate.”

It was an impressive display for the 17-year-old Kobe native, who continues her rise in the ranks of the world elite.

Button liked what he saw from Sakamoto and highlighted her ability to elevate.

“Elegant and secure jumps were great,” the legend wrote after Sakamoto finished her program.

South Korea’s Choi Da-bin (67.77) moved the home crowd with her skate to “Papa Can You Hear Me” and is in eighth place.

Choi, who won the gold medal at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo last year, is not overpowering, but has a steadiness that makes watching her appealing.

American Mirai Nagasu, who earned a bronze medal in the team event, competed to “Nocturne” and fell on her opening triple axel. She is ninth with 66.93.