Ice Network

Zagitova delivers in European championships debut

Two-time reigning champion Medvedeva lands second; Kostner sits third
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Alina Zagitova made her first skate at the European championships a memorable one, executing all of the elements in her 'Black Swan'/'Moonlight' short program effortlessly. The Russian champion upended countrywoman and training mate Evgenia Medvedeva en route to taking first place in the event with a personal-best 80.27 points. -Getty Images

The world of ladies figure skating seems to be a Muscovite one: as fancy as Café Pushkin, as fluid as the Moskva River and as strong as Russian steel. And on Thursday at the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships in Moscow, Russian skaters dominated the field -- but not quite the way most would have expected, even here in Russia.

The Russian audience erupted in applause when Alina Zagitova's marks were displayed on the jumbo screen. In her first taste of the European championships, Zagitova amassed 80.27 points, four points above her season's best and 1.50 points more than her teammate, reigning European and world champion Evgenia Medvedeva. Medvedeva took the ice right before Zagitova, garnering 78.57 points to place second in the short program. Rounding out the top three was Italy's Carolina Kostner, as her brilliant performance placed her just 0.50 points behind Medvedeva.

Zagitova didn't allow herself become trapped as she did during the Grand Prix season. Skating to music from the Black Swan soundtrack, she opened her routine with a camel spin and step sequence, with both receiving Level 4 grading. One minute, 40 seconds into her program, she landed a unique triple lutz-triple loop combination, something rarely seen yet so spectacular. That single element added 13.61 points to her total. It was also the highest element score of the day. Her triple flip was perfect, as was her double axel, and she received extra credit for landing each jump in the second half of her program. Her two final spins were rated Level 4 as well.

Zagitova's score of 80.27 points fell short of Medvedeva's world record by a mere 0.58 points.

"I'm pleased with my performance, of course," Zagitova said. "Evgenia and I are good friends, at least in practice. But even in competition, we are encouraging and supporting each other. Competition is a good stimulus for me. If Evgenia lands a triple-triple-triple combination, then I'll try to do the same! I'm trying to focus on myself to pull out great skating, but it's a great honor for me to be skating alongside such legendary skaters as Carolina and Evgenia."

Medvedeva's program, set to Frédéric Chopin's "Nocturne," followed a similar pattern as Zagitova's, opening with a camel spin and step sequence, which were rated Level 4. She landed her own combination, a triple flip-triple toe, one minute, 36 seconds into her program. Her other jumps -- a triple flip and double axel -- were also landed in the second half of her program. Despite these accomplishments, Medvedeva did suffer a tumble on her final double axel, her most fragile jump and one she jumps at the lowest height.

That tumble, when added to the point difference between a triple lutz-triple loop and a triple flip-triple toe, created the 3.50-point technical element gap between the two Russian champions. Medvedeva earned superior components scores (38.14 compared to 36.28 for Zagitova), especially for her skating skills and transitions, but it would not be enough to catch her teammate in the standings.

In the post-event press conference, Medvedeva looked so relieved and more lively than ever.

"It's been a long time without a competition and without a press conference," she said. "And I'd like to thank all the people who've helped me for my comeback. Now, here I am, back to the ice, and I finally can compete. I'm not happy with my skate today, for sure, but there is still time for me to tighten the screws."

The Russian audience was ecstatic over the performance their champions delivered, and they consistently create some of the best atmospheres when the time comes for welcoming a true mastery of art.

Kostner, skating before the Russians, delivered a stunningly breathtaking rendition of Céline Dion's "Ne me quitte pas" (or "Don't Leave Me, Please," in French). She unfolded her elements as the music was revealing its emotions, opening her program with a magnificent triple flip-triple toe combination, which added 10.30 points to her tally instantaneously. The Italian went on to land her subsequent triple loop right at the musical inflexion, bending her body lightly over her own curve to mark the emotion the lyrics were carrying. Step by step, heartbeat after heartbeat, Kostner uncovered the singer's own emotions.

Her three spins were rated Level 4, and her step sequence was like a quest toward rediscovering ones past, though still so close and not yet vanished. Rated a Level 4 as well, the step sequence brought her 2.10 points for execution, more than half of the face value of a Level 4 sequence (3.90 points). By the end of her routine, Kostner had amassed 78.30 points, a score 3.68 points higher than her season's best.

In just two seasons, she has managed to come back up to par technically with the Russian superstars. Artistically, she's in a master class. Her component scores ranged from 9.25 points for transitions to 9.86 points for interpretation, and were the best of the field.

"Moscow represents a special city for me as I won my first world medal here," the Italian champion said shortly after departing the ice. "Competing with the best in Europe is a challenge, but also a big joy. I felt grounded and serene today. I loved the authentic and genuine reaction of the audience. I could literally hear the silence while I was skating."

Russia's Maria Sotskova didn't disappoint the audience either. Performing her own rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," Sotskova had to settle for a plain triple lutz to open the program instead of her planned combination. Despite the change, she rallied right along, landing an ample triple flip-triple toe combination. Two of her spins and her step sequence were rewarded with a Level 4 grade, her third spin, a Level 3. She amassed 68.70 points for her program, and while it was a distant 9.6 points behind the podium, the Russian will still enter the free skate in fourth place.

Rounding out the top five was Slovakia's Nicole Rajicova, who registered 61.01 points by delivering a solid program of her own. No other skater outside of the top five managed to hit the 60-point plateau.