Evgenia Medvedeva says she is preparing for “war” to deny her close friend Alina Zagitova Olympic figure skate gold after her compatriot set a new world record short programme on Wednesday.
Zagitova displayed maturity far beyond her 15 years in a spellbinding routine to music from the film Black Swan to earn a massive 82.92 points to lead the ladies competition.
Her flawless two-and-a-half minutes on the ice at the Gangneung Arena, featuring a complex triple lutz, triple toeloop combination, gave her a narrow advantage of 1.31 points over her training partner and buddy going into
Friday’s free dance final.
Their closest challenger is Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond on 78.87, with Japan’s Satoko Miyahara in fourth.
“We are friends, we are young girls, we can talk about anything with each other,” said Medvedeva, 18, who like Zagitova is making her Olympic debut.
“But on the ice, we must fight, I feel like it’s a little war, when you skate you are alone,” added the double world champion Zagitova said she is up to the challenge.
“I’ve said many many times, Evgenia and me are very good friends off the ice but in practice or competition I get this feeling of rivalry, it’s not bad or negative or malicious feeling of rivalry but it is there.”
Asked at the post short programme press conference about her maturity and serious nature Zagitova replied: “I am very calm, I don’t show emotions, I don’t splash them around.”
Then almost apologetically she added: “This is how I am, it’s my nature.”
The two skaters are set to fight it out for what could be the first gold of the Games for the Olympic Athletes from Russia — who are competing as neutrals, after Russia were banned for doping.
Medvedeva refused to be drawn on the significance of that, commenting in English: “I’m trying not to think about medals, my main goal is to show a clean free skate, to be satisfied with my performance.”
Zagitova’s world record feat was all the more remarkable given she had watched Medvedeva a few minutes earlier breaking the record she had set last week in the team event with a score of 81.61.
“I was very happy when I saw the score, but I did not expect it,” the girl from the Western Urals said.
“This is the best performance of my life, but there is still room to grow.”
Zagitova has swept all before her in her first senior season, arriving in South Korea unbeaten in her four competitions, culminating in depriving Medvedeva of her European title in Moscow last month.
Medvedeva holds the world record for the free dance and combined, but the Muscovite knows she will have a herculean fight on her hands to deny Zagitova.
Medvedeva was beaten six points by Zagitova at the European Championships, the first time the pair had skated against each other in competition.
But she was also making her comeback in the Russian capital after a two-month hiatus recovering from a broken foot.
In her enforced absence Zagitova had stolen the skating spotlight, and on this form she may well do so again as she attempts to become the second youngest ladies Olympic skate champion behind American Tara Lipinski, who won the 1998 gold medal aged 15 years, eight months and 10 days.
They are trying to follow up Russia’s first ever women’s skate title in Sochi four years ago, with Medvedeva recalling: “I was only 14 then.
“I remember when Russia won gold (with Adelina Sotnikova), it was really amazing, I just sat in a chair and thought ‘I want the same feeling'”.
One of them is likely to experience that come Friday.
United States hopes of capturing Olympic men’s hockey gold for the first time since 1980 were crushed on Wednesday with a 3-2 quarter-final shootout loss to the undefeated Czech Republic.
Petr Koukal scored the only goal in a penalty shootout while goaltender Pavel Francouz blanked the Americans to lift the Czechs into the semi-finals.
“They had good moves. I was stretching so much,” Francouz said. “We were the lucky team. We haven’t had any easy games in the tournament. That has made us stronger.”
In search for their first gold medal in 20 years, the Czechs advanced into a Friday matchup against the winner of a later quarter-final between the Olympic Athletes from Russia and Norway.
“We know we have a tough game in front of us,” Czech captain Martin Erat said. “We have to play our own style and focus on ourselves.”
Koukal faked and when US goaltender Ryan Zapolski moved, flipped the puck past him on the decisive shot.
“I’m so happy it was a goal,” Koukal said. “It’s a big moment for me. I know the Czech people are so happy.”
“It’s a huge disappointment because we were right there,” US captain Brian Gionta said.
Former NHLer Jim Slater, whose shorthanded breakaway equalised for the Americans in the second period, was dismayed at the finish.
“Disappointed. Frustrated. I feel pretty empty right now. To lose at the Olympics that way is pretty tough,” Slater said.
“We thought we were good enough to challenge for a gold medal.”
Francouz, who made 18 saves in the game, denied Bobby Butler on the Americans’ final chance to seal the triumph but said his toughest shootout stop was on Olympic goals leader Ryan Donato, the Harvard University star who netted his fifth of the tournament in the first period.
“I kind of lost the puck. I was lucky there,” Francouz said.
While the NHL’s top stars are absent for the first time since 1994 over money and injury issues, no drama was lacking on a day when four teams ensure playing for a medal and four are sent home empty handed.
“It’s not the ending we wanted but I gained some brothers on this team,” US forward Troy Terry said. “It was a life-long experience.”
Donato scored off a Terry pass 6:20 into the first period, but Czech defenceman Jan Kolar equalised 8:52 later on a blue-line slapshot and defenceman Tomas Kundratek gave the Czechs a 2-1 lead in the second period before Slater’s equaliser.
There were thousands of empty seats, with some whole lower-level sections vacant in the half-full arena.
Lindsey Vonn’s bid for a second Olympic downhill gold medal came unstuck Wednesday as the US ski star finished third in the women’s blue riband event won by “crazy” close friend Sofia Goggia of Italy.
Goggia described herself as a “samurai” after timing 1min 39.22sec for a first ever downhill title for the Italian women’s team.
The 25-year-old came in 0.09sec ahead of Norway’s giant slalom silver medallist Ragnhild Mowinckel, with Vonn a further 0.42sec adrift.
Goggia made a mistake on the upper part of the polished 2.8km-long Jeongseon course, but produced a magnificent gliding mid-section and strong bottom third.
It reaffirmed the fine form she has shown on the World Cup circuit this season, with two victories and two second places in the downhill, and also second and third placings in the super-G.
“I was really focused, I moved like a samurai,” said Goggia, her head coach Massimo Rinaldi labelling her as “crazyhorse”.
“Usually, I’m really chaotic, but I wanted to take in every little detail, every particular in the morning. I believed in myself — and then what counts. I didn’t take any risks. I just used my brain because I have one sometimes and I use it!”
Rinaldi said it was a “special” day for Italy, adding: “Sofia’s always skiing fast, always skiing 110 percent, sometimes the mistakes come, but she’s always trying to do her best.”
Vonn made few errors in her descent, but it was just not enough, Mowinckel providing a surprise factor with her second place after starting 19.
After the race Vonn, 33, confirmed that it would be her last Olympic downhill and said: “I gave it all today, skied a great race. Sofia just skied better than I did.
“It’s sad. It’s my last downhill. I wish I could keep going, I’m having so much fun and I love what I do, but my body just can’t take another four years,” she said.
“But I’m proud to be competing for my country, giving it all and proud to come away with a medal.”
Mowinckel followed up on her giant slalom podium with another strong showing for Norway, which now tops the alpine medal table with six.
“Well, we do have a lot of snow up there in Norway,” she said. “It’s a great environment for winter sports and there’s saying that ‘we are born with skis on our feet’.”
Vonn’s bronze at least made up for disappointment of her sixth place in the super-G when an error at the bottom cost a podium place in a sensational race won by Czech snowboarder Ester Ledecka.
All eyes were again on Vonn, winner of 81 World Cup races, as she started the second race in her Pyeongchang Games campaign in brilliant sunshine.
Dressed in a figure-hugging white catsuit with red and blue stripes, Vonn reached speeds of 115 kmh and flew more than 30 metres off the jumps.
Vonn won the blue riband title at the 2010 Vancouver Games but missed Sochi through injury.
But the gold was beyond her as she finished behind Goggia, whose friendship she has said is based on them both being “100 percent crazy”.
The pair embraced at the finish area, Vonn allowing herself a slight look skywards, a sigh and shrug of the shoulders.
She at least broke the record for oldest female medallist in alpine skiing, previously held by Austrian Michaela Dorfmeister when she won the super-G in 2006.