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Zagitova triumphs on strength of stunning free

15-year-old upends two-time champion Medvedeva; Kostner wins bronze
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Russia's Alina Zagitova held a slim lead over countrymate Evgenia Medvedeva entering the day, but after laying down an elegant free skate, the 15-year-old locked up her first European title. Behind the power of a strong triple lutz-triple loop -- for which she received 13.61 points -- Zagitova earned the second highest free skate (157.97) and total scores (238.24) ever recorded, and those marks catapulted her to the top of the podium. -Getty Images

Alina Zagitova, this season's wunderkind, entered the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships as the youngest competitor in the field. On Saturday in Moscow, the 15-year-old departed the event with her first European crown, a title she won ahead of her practice mate and teammate, Evgenia Medvedeva. Italy's Carolina Kostner, who was far from her best on this day, procured enough points to secure the bronze medal.

Zagitova made the jump to the senior ranks this season, winning her two Grand Prix assignments as well as the Grand Prix Final. She kept her momentum going in Moscow throughout the week, imposing the sureness of her jumps and the sober interpretation of her programs through her practice sessions. The idea she might win emerged day after day, and those thoughts turned into reality Saturday night at the Megasport Arena, when she became the 2018 European champion.

Dressed in a flower-like orange tutu, Zagitova delivered a stellar performance to Léon Minkus's ballet Don Quixote, in an outing chock full of "Tara Lipinski syndrome," when in just four minutes, a skater is able to achieve everything they worked so hard for. Zagitova engulfed the audience as she delivered her jumps, which flowed with such grace and poise.

The 15-year-old landed every one of her planned jumps, receiving extra credit for many of them. She landed her first triple lutz-triple loop two minutes, 10 seconds into her program, and went on to land a double axel-triple toe, triple flip-double toe-double loop, and three additional triples. Her three spins and step sequence all were rated a Level 4, and she'd go on to amass 157.97 points in the segment -- topping her season's best by 6.63 points -- and 238.24 points overall.

Her visible energy as she left the ice captured the hearts of everyone in the arena, even before Medvedeva began her routine. The 14,000 fans in attendance gave Zagitova a standing ovation -- the first given to any skater at the compeitition -- and sent tons of flowers and plush toys floating onto the ice.

"I'm really happy for having skated two good performances, and I'm happy to have won the European championships," Zagitova admitted. "On a scale of 5, I would give myself a level of 4 today. There were still a few mistakes, which I've already discussed with my coaches, and I will correct them."

It was certainly not easy for Medvedeva to follow Zagitova, especially after she saw the array of gifts pouring across the ice for her teammate.

The two-time defending champion was the final skater of the night to perform, unfolding her program to Dario Marianelli's Anna Karenina in a brilliant way. She had to change the order of her jumps, however, as she could not do her planned triple flip-triple toe combination to begin her program. This, in a way, was beneficial, as it allowed her the opportunity to land it later -- at a time when the element brought extra credit, two minutes, 16 seconds into her program. Just as her teammate had done, the 18-year-old received a Level 4 for her three spins and step sequence.

At the end of her program, however, Medvedeva found herself 5.52 points behind Zagitova in the technical element department. Her components were higher (by 1.84 points), but that was not enough to compensate for the missing points. She racked up 154.23 points for her free, a new season's best, and 232.86 overall to win the silver medal.

"A silver is a silver, and nothing will change the color of the medal," Medvedeva said. "When I woke up this morning, I just told myself, 'you can do what you can do, so you should show what you can show right now.' But, I just think it's a rather good result for me, after a two-month break. Not everything was clean in that program, but I think I succeeded in interpreting Anna Karenina, and the crowd liked it. I really savored the standing ovation they gave me."

In a more private surrounding, as she was leaving the press conference room, Medvedeva whispered, "I'm going to work so hard!"

Italy's Carolina Kostner created a superb piece with her subtle and hugely strong program to Claude Debussy's "L'après-midi d'un faune." Dressed in a unique sparkling green outfit, she attempted jumps she hadn't attempted for many seasons, most notably a triple lutz and a triple flip-triple toe combination. Her jumps had been solid in practice all week, but they eluded her when it mattered most.

Kostner fell on her opening triple lutz, and went for a triple flip-double toe instead of her planned triple-triple. She experienced other mishaps throughout the program as well, and the mark for her technical elements was only the eighth highest of the night. Her superior components, the third best of the competition, saved her day -- and the bronze medal. She garnered 125.95 points for her free program, and 204.25 points overall, finishing 33.99 points behind Zagitova.

Kostner also showed regularity throughout the week of practice, an indication that she should be considered a real contender for the Olympic podium, as she's able to fight up to par -- even technically -- with the best skaters in the world. Never count out a faun!

"It was not at all my best performance, and it's a pity because my body is ready and my practices were mostly flawless," she said. "Then you get into the real competition and it just slips away. But I can go home with much more positives than negatives."

Russia's Maria Sotskova skated a delicate and smooth program to Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune," much to the delight of the hometown faithful. Her program was highlighted by two combinations: a triple lutz-triple toe and triple flip-triple salchow, as well as three more triples. She fell on her planned lutz, but that turned out to be her only mistake. She amassed 132.11 points for her free, and that mark enabled her to retrieve some of the ground she lost to Kostner in the short program. In total, Sotskova ended in fourth place with 200.81 points.

Belgian Loena Hendrickx almost reiterated the incredible result her brother Jorik achieved last season in Ostrava. This year, however, belonged to Loena as she solidified her place in the top five after delivering a flawless program. She amassed 121.78 points for her free, topping her season's best by a whopping 38.01 points!

Nicole Rajicova of Slovakia also rallied the Muscovite audience to her cause, but slipped to sixth overall in the final standings.

Entering the competition, Russia -- and Eteri Tutberidze's school -- already had one undisputed leader.

Now they have two.