On Thursday night, the Olympic women's free skate aired in the United States and though no Americans earned spots on the podium, one 15-year-old athlete from Russia absolutely blew everyone away. Russia's Alina Zagitova won Olympic gold, and the video of her performance explains itself. In the short program and free skate, she scored a combined 239.57 points.
Zagitova might be young, but she didn't come out of nowhere. During the short program days prior to the free skate, the athlete broke a world record by scoring 82.92 points while skating to "Black Swan." Another OAR skater had scored 81.61 just moments prior. “I’m happy to have a clean skate and really grateful to myself for that,” she said via a translator, the Huffington Post reported. “I don’t think it was my best, I can be better. My next goal is to of course have a clean free skate.” And maybe that's the mentality that led her to gold.
In fact, Zagitova was actually named after an Olympian — Russian rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva — according to the PyeongChang Olympics site. The site also reported that she began professionally training in figure skating at the young age of 7. That was in 2008, to put it into perspective. And just years later, she's a gold medalist.
The PyeongChang Olympics site reported that in addition to the Olympic gymnast she was named after, Zagitova also idolizes fellow Russian Olympic figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva. As it turns out, she edged past her hero at the 2018 Winter Games, which meant absolute heartbreak for Medvedeva, whose beautiful performances won her a silver medal. Though their rivalry in the games was surely friendly, it can't be easy competing against one of your friends — a friend who shares the same figure skating coach, Eteri Tutberidze, for that matter.
After the short program when Zagitova's score surpassed her own incredibly high score, the 18-year-old acknowledged that her friend deserved it. “It was not my best but it was okay,” Medvedeva said, according to the Huffington Post. “Every day I see Alina working so hard and she did her best today."
I was calm performing the routine, the game will go on. I am happy with setting a new personal record. I’m good friends with Alina, I practice together with her and talk with her all the time.
Still, it was heart-wrenching to see Medvedeva in tears after learning she won the silver and not the gold on Thursday night. In fact, some viewers claimed the 18-year-old should've been the gold medalist instead of Zagitova. NBC Olympics even posted a poll to Twitter asking "Do you agree with the ladies' figure skating total scores?" Her performance, like Zagitova's, was flawless.
Tara Lipinski, who also won the gold medal in women's Olympic figure skating at just 15 years old back in 1998, described what makes Zagitova stand out, the New York Times reported:
She was literally a junior last year; it’s even hard for me to understand that. What sets her apart is she has this fearlessness and the technical brilliance. I think she knows in a confident way that she’s the best.
And during a press conference after the women's individual short program, Medvedeva summed up her and Zagitova's competitive, yet friendly relationship, saying,
I hear so many news that Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva are opponents on the ice and off the ice. We are humans, we communicate as usual, we are friends, we are girls, young girls. We can talk about everything to each other.
When we take the ice, this is sport and we must fight. In every competition, I feel like a little war. This is sport, this is war. We must show our best, no matter if you are nervous or not. When you take the ice, you are alone. Yes, your friend is competing here, but you have to fight.
No one could have said it better. The 2018 Olympics women's figure skating competition was definitely one for the ages, even if the United States came back empty-handed.