The battle for the gold medal in women’s figure skating came down to two Russian athletes. Despite their friendship off the ice, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova and 18-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva showed themselves to be fierce competitors on the ice, each representing Olympic Athletes from Russia in the ladies’ free skate competition. They placed first and second, respectively, with Zagitova winning the first gold medal of the 2018 PyeongChang games for the Olympic Athletes from Russia.
A skating prodigy, Zagitova became the second-youngest women’s figure skating gold medalist in history. Only American skater Tara Lipinski, who won the gold in 1998, did so at a younger age than Zagitova, by just four weeks.
Both skaters train with the same coaches. Zagitova effortlessly landed a total of seven triple jumps, including a triple Lutz. Her final overall score was a whopping 239.57 points. Medvedeva trailed by just 1.31 points overall. Kaetlyn Osmond from Canada, who won the bronze medal, trailed Medvedeva by more than seven points after skating an almost-flawless skate, save for her stepping out of her triple Lutz attempt.
Medvedeva was favored to win gold at PyeongChang until a foot fracture in late 2017 prevented her from competing in the Grand Prix Final. It would prove fateful, since Zagitova would compete at the Grand Prix, her first “senior” competition. In January 2018, Medvedeva returned to competition at Moscow’s European championships but was handily defeated by Zagitova.
Although Zagitova clearly made her country proud, her gold medal is not counted for Russia in official Olympics records. Russia has been plagued with a doping scandal, stemming from allegations that it manipulated anti-doping testing during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. For the PyeongChang games, 169 Russian athletes who have been able to prove themselves doping-free are competing as “neutrals” under the designation Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). OAR medal winners will be celebrated under the Olympic flag and the Olympic anthem instead of Russia’s.
Meanwhile, the U.S. team, topped by 24-year-old Mirai Nagasu, who became the first American woman to land a triple axel in Olympics history, didn’t even come close to the medal platform. Nagasu turned her free skate triple axel into a single axel and finished 10th overall.
Fellow American teammates Karen Chen (18) and Bradie Tennell (20) came in 11th and 9th places after both faltered during their free skate performances.
In every Olympics since World War II, U.S. women have placed at least one competitor in sixth place or higher. The 2018 games have been called the worst American showing in modern Olympic history in women’s figure skating with its 9th, 10th and 11th free skate placements.
But, who knows what’s ahead for these athletes? Nagasu, for one, may have eyes on Hollywood, saying “I smiled in the middle of my program. It is really rare for me but I enjoyed myself and I thought of this as my audition for Dancing with the Stars.”
Nagasu added that she’d been crying every day since the team event because she was so happy they’d won bronze. “But then we had to keep training and training and training, and we’re just exhausted. And it’s a lot to go out there and represent our country,” she said.
Maybe the world puts too much emphasis on medaling in the Olympics – enough to sometimes lose sight of what’s really important. The Olympics is the pinnacle of achievement in sports for athletes worldwide, and it’s that achievement that should be celebrated. Medals are just the icing on the cake.