Ice Network

Russian Solyanka: How Zagitova beat Medvedeva

Tarasova receives rousing standing 'O'; Orser lays out plan for Fernández
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Despite her budding rivalry with Evgenia Medvedeva, Alina Zagitova said she considers her Russian training mate a "good friend." -Getty Images

One crowd-pleasing trick, at any major skating event, is when someone in the audience is caught by an in-arena camera and discovers him or herself on the jumbotron. During the ice resurface in the middle of the ladies free skate, the camera caught legendary coach Tatiana Tarasova while she was commentating for Russian television. The rink erupted in thunderous applause. The grande dame looked at the screen, saw her own face and offered a broad smile to the audience, whispering "spasiba" (or "thank you," in Russian).

Try finding a country where a coach doing commentary would be recognized right away and cheered by 14,000 spectators. Skating definitely is a national sport in Russia.

Choreographing the best

On Sunday morning, the gala choreographer tried to organize the group of champions he had at hand. Despite his rather simple instructions, this exercise did not prove to be easy. He spent more than 20 minutes shouting orders into a microphone, asking those in attendance to do basic turns and figures all together along the boards, to the sound of Russian folk music. As seen (and heard) from above, it could be said that the best individual skaters on the continent would not make a great synchronized skating team.

Coach Orser's own secret solyanka

Coach Brian Orser laid out the plan he has in place for the coming weeks for Javier Fernández, the recently crowned champion of Europe for the sixth year in a row.

"Javier skated here exactly the way I expected him to skate. We worked a lot on his free program, to build his stamina and strength, before Moscow. I anticipated him to be better than he had been all season, and he is exactly there.

"Now we are going to polish a few minor things, but mostly we are going to add some mileage. We don't want him to do too many run-throughs because that would be tedious and we want the programs to remain fresh. But between run-throughs, he'll have other things to do. Those will be even more difficult for him than run-throughs, actually -- they will serve to improve his stamina. He doesn't know that yet! Plus, there will be 'big night' long programs, when he has to do the thing not as a run-through but as the real thing. He'll have to get nervous a bit.

"The plan is all set. It's on paper, and it starts Wednesday."

Good luck, Javi.

The power of GOEs

How did Alina Zagitova defeat Evgenia Medvedeva? Let's look at the scoresheet.

On paper, the elements Zagitova and Medvedeva skated in the free program had nearly the same base value, with one notable exception: Zagitova landed two lutzes and two flips, while Medvedeva landed one lutz, two flips and a toe. A lutz is worth 6.0 points, a toe 4.3. That is a 1.7-point advantage for Zagitova.

On the ice, things were also quite different. Zagitova got extra credit for landing all of her jumps in the second half of her program, whereas Medvedeva landed her flip and lutz in the first half. Zagitova got 6.61 points (more than a well-executed triple lutz) through the highlight distribution bonus, 1.13 more than Medvedeva.

On top of those differences, Zagitova's Grades of Execution (GOEs) totaled 16.66 points, Medvedeva's just 14.39.

GOEs and highlighting have become such difference-makers in skating.

Those little sisters…

Many wondered what Medvedeva would have to say about Zagitova after being defeated by her.

"She is a good friend!" Zagitova said of her training mate during the press conference. "We encourage one another. It's like a game for us: If Zhenia does triple-triple-triple, I'll try to do the same."

Medvedeva, who was sitting next to Zagitova, replied, "I'd like to say that I have always followed one principle: 'I have my own way.' I try to follow this because I have learned that you need not to look around too much, for skating is an individual sport. Yes, competition motivates us, but you need to concentrate on your own elements, and for me, that's very important."

In other words, "Little sister, would you please stop doing the same things as I'm doing?" Everyone who has a little sister who looks up to them should understand that plea.

What were the next words out of Zagitova's mouth?

"I have tried to concentrate on myself…"

Little sisters, we love you!

No talk, no see…

A Japanese journalist dared to ask Fernández about Yuzuru Hanyu's condition.

"Yuzu doesn't like it when we talk of him," Fernández replied, as seriously as his coach, Orser, answered icenetwork a few days before. "So, I won't say anything. Anyway, we are seldom on the ice together. Not because we are rivals, really; there's nothing personal there. But, you know, everybody is pretty much stressed out right now, with the Olympics coming up, and if everybody around you is stressed out, there is no doubt that you'll be stressed out as well. This way, the ice is cleaner and the atmosphere is just normal!"

Until next time!

We started our coverage with a piece on how coaches manage to oversee a stable of skaters who are at once friends and fierce rivals. Fernández' comments, just like Zagitova's and Medvedeva's, give us some additional insight into how world-class skaters coexist with each other on a day-to-day basis. This last serving will surely spice up the Solyankas we've been privileged and grateful to share with you. The Olympics should be a fabulous competition!