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World-record free launches Medvedeva to gold

Wagner ends U.S. ladies' world medal drought with skate of her life
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In a final group that saw some brilliant skates, Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva stole the show, posting a new world-record free skate score of 150.10. The 16-year-old took gold in her world championships debut with 223.86 points. -Getty Images

For the sixth year in a row, a new ladies skater took gold at the world championships -- and this one is just 16.

Making her world championships debut, Russia'a Evgenia Medvedeva roared back at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships after entering Saturday night in third place, winning the title with a flawless, flowing world-record free skate that was crisp from start to finish.

Scoring 150.10 points, she broke Yu-Na Kim's previous record (150.06, from the 2010 Vancouver Games) and held off silver medalist Ashley Wagner and bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya.

Gracie Gold, the leader after the short program, fell on the second part of her opening triple lutz-triple toe combination and was sixth in the free skate. She finished fourth overall.

While Gold faltered, Wagner attacked, earning the U.S. its first ladies medal at a world championships since 2006.

"That's the end of a drought right there," Wagner told reporters, pointing to the silver medal around her neck. "It feels absolutely phenomenal to go up against a strong field. I'm so proud of myself. I'm so glad I could accomplish something like this in the States."

Medvedeva was as poised as her skating is smooth when she took the ice in the final group, having come into this week as the favorite but sitting behind both Gold and Pogorilaya after the short.

She hit every element with purpose and grace, the kind of performance you might expect from a seasoned veteran, and not from a worlds debutante. With the win, she becomes the second skater in 23 years to win in her debut at the world championships, matching Kimmie Meissner's 2006 feat.

"The truth is that I prepare for every skate and every competition the same way. It doesn't matter if it's a big skate like tonight or a smaller performance -- it's important to set my mind," Medvedeva said through a translator. "The truth is, I think what really helped was this arena and the fans. It was probably the biggest audience I've ever faced, and I heard a lot of shout-outs in Russian supporting me. I realized that some of these people came to watch me specifically."

It was indeed a special night to watch not only Medvedeva but the ladies free skate as a whole. Mirai Nagasu, an alternate for the U.S. team, received the night's first standing ovation as she hit her Great Gatsby free with near perfection, finishing 10th overall.

"The crowd really helped sustain my energy and helped me keeping going so much," said Nagasu, who was skating at the world championships for the first time since 2010. "It's been a great crowd here, so I wanted to thank them. I said 'thank you very much' (at center ice) for the overwhelming amount of support they showed here."

There was no "thank you" from Gold, who skated second to last and no doubt felt the building roar as Elena Radionova, Medvedeva, Sakoto Miyahara and Pogorilaya turned in one strong performance after another.

At the boards, as Pogorilaya waved to the crowd, Frank Carroll took Gold by both shoulders and talked with her animatedly. Was he trying to calm the short program leader? It was hard to tell.

But Gold was undone by that fall on the opening triple-triple. She would double a planned triple lutz.

In the mixed zone, the two-time and reigning U.S. champion appeared to be fighting back tears.

"It was just one of those really, really tragic skates where you feel like you couldn't do anything right," Gold said. "I just feel really sorry for Boston, for the U.S. that I let them down when they needed me most. I couldn't deliver."

Gold, who placed sixth at worlds in 2013, fifth in 2014 and fourth last year, couldn't go a step higher. She seemed flabbergasted and frustrated.

"I'm going to have to step back and re-evaluate my goals," she said. "I guess I need to find something more realistic to achieve. I still have hopes for 2018 and the podium, but it definitely wasn't my day. With the way that the rest of the world is progressing and getting so much better, I just feel like I'm not with them."

While it was a night of bitter disappointment for Gold, it was a night of elation for Wagner, who closed the show with her Moulin Rouge! routine. TD Garden vibrated to its core as she took the ice, the American audience hopeful that it could see one final magnificent skate to finish off what had been a top-quality world championships.

Wagner did just that, hitting her opening double axel to a roar of approval and then her triple flip-triple toe (called for an under-rotation). She would earn the night's highest program components scores with a program that she moved through with captivating brilliance. Wagner stood at center ice, the entire building erupting, as she finished, mouth agape at what she had accomplished.

"So many people in so many parts of my career have said that this has been given to me, that I haven't earned this," Wagner said. "I earned this silver medal. I went out there, and I did my job. The fact that I have this medal because of what I did and not because of what other people didn't do -- that is so amazing."

Mao Asada showed flashes of her vintage self in her free, landing her patented triple axel and skating with lyrical beauty to Madame Butterfly, dressed in her patented soft purple.

Miyahara was also the epitome of smooth, but Japan finished off the podium (Miyahara fifth, Asada seventh and Rika Hongo eighth) for the first time since 2005. A lone Japanese flag was scooted away in the depths of TD Garden past reporters, ready for the medal ceremony but obviously not used.

Radionova, who skated strong but at times choppy, was sixth overall, while Canadian teen Gabrielle Daleman finished ninth.

But this night belonged to another teen, Medvedeva, whose crescendo came in perfect pitch at the end of a season where she was skating's new bright (and dangerous) light.

"I left everything on the ice," she said during her green room interview, blasted into the arena. "I don't have any emotions left."

Medvedeva becomes the first skater to win worlds the year after winning the junior world championships. She's the youngest champion (16 years, 4 months) since Tara Lipinski won it in 1997, not yet 15 at the time.

"At this moment, I haven't entirely processed what kind of moment this is for me," Medvedeva told reporters. "This is an incredible moment for me, and this is an incredible moment in my life."

Incredible indeed.

Notes:

-- Five-time world champion Michelle Kwan brought the house down when she appeared on the big screen halfway through the ladies event.

-- Reports were told that TD Garden was sold out for the night. It was hard to find any open seats around the arena.

-- Ukraine's Anna Khnychenkova had the blooper of the night: Her headband came loose, dangling off her head. She grabbed it, considered it, then chucked it into the first row of the crowd.

-- This marks the sixth different ladies champion in six years: Medvedeva, Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, Asada, Kim, Carolina Kostner and Miki Ando.

-- The first big applause of the night came for Slovakia's Nicole Rajičová, in the second group, who put her hands to her face after completing her program. She had a career-best overall score, finishing 13th.  

-- A scary moment for Asada, who fell during her group's warmup on a triple axel attempt, crashing into the boards. Elizabet Tursynbaeva, skating toward Asada, had to grab ahold of the boards so to stop herself from crashing into the skater. Asada hit her next attempted triple axel in the warmup, as well as in her program.

-- Hongo was masterful during her Riverdance free, livening up TD Garden and bringing back memories of Jason Brown's 2014 U.S. Championships performance to the same music.

-- How about this quote from Pogorilaya? "I'm truly boiling inside," she said of her joy. "This is an incredible moment."