Teenage figure skater Alina Zagitova prevailed in her duel with Evgenia Medvedeva to claim Russia’s first gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Friday.
The 15-year-old took the women’s title for the Olympic Athletes from Russia by a slender margin of just 1.31 points from her friend, compatriot, training partner and arch rival.
Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond finished third.
“I can’t believe I’m the champion. It’ll take some time to sink in,” said Zagitova, who beat two-time world champion Medvedeva despite both scoring matching 156.65 points in the free-skating.
“I’m happy I handled my nerves well. My hands were shaking but my body did everything that I trained for,” she added.
Zagitova’s world record short programme score of 82.92 just 48 hours earlier made the difference, giving her a combined total of 239.57.
Medvedeva, skating last, was not at her best, and crumpled into the arms of her coach in tears after her routine to Anna Karenina gave her a combined score of 238.26.
Medvedeva, who broke her foot and was sidelined for two months from October, was so distraught she was unable to finish a television interview.
An Olympic official followed her round with a box of tissues.
“I didn’t think and I don’t want to think about my injury,” she said.
“I don’t want to look back. I did great work today and did my best.”
The duo were among the 168 athletes from Russia who passed rigorous testing to compete as neutrals under the OAR banner in South Korea after Russia were banned over state-sponsored doping.
The winter sports’ powerhouse may have had to wait until the three days from the end of the Games but their title famine was finally ended by the starlet from the Western Urals.
The girl in a red ballerina’s costume has enjoyed a sensational debut season on the senior circuit.
Zagitova had got the better of Medvedeva in last month’s European Championships, and came out on top again to become the second youngest Olympic ladies champion after American Tara Lipinski in 1998.
And displaying the composure of someone far beyond her years she produced a flawless four minutes free dance set to Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus’s score to the ballet Don Quixote, about the fictional Spanish nobleman.
Despite falling short of the personal best free dance from the opening week’s team event in which the OAR took silver she did enough to take the title.
They’re dubbed the “Garlic Girls” but go by the names Pancake, Yogurt, Steak, Cookie and Sunny – meet the South Korean curlers who are whipping up a recipe for success at the Olympics.
The Koreans, ranked eighth in the world, have emerged medal contenders at the Pyeongchang Games.
After stunning top teams like Canada, Switzerland and Sweden, they were the first to advance to Friday’s semi-finals.
Their giant-killing feats on the ice have drawn big crowds in a country where curling is little known.
Their skills have wooed fans while their affectionate nicknames have added a light-hearted twist to their feats on the ice.
“I think the names are so fun,” said Oh Ja-young, a spectator from Bundang. “But if they weren’t doing so well, I wouldn’t pay attention to their names.”
All of them have “KIM” written on the back of their uniforms, the most common Korean surname that they share.
To minimize confusion, Kim Eun-jung, Kim Seon-yeong, Kim Kyeong-ae, Kim Yeong-mi and alternate Kim Cho-hi decided to adopt nicknames – and a brainstorming session took place at the breakfast table.
But in contrast to their fun nicknames, the curlers mean business on ice.
“They play with a lot of passion, very technically sound,” Rick Patzke, chief executive officer of the US Curling Association, told AFP.
“It’s great to see the home crowd getting behind them here.”
The curlers were apparently unprepared for the fervent flag-waving home crowd that packs the stadium each time they play.
They entered the tournament as outsiders and saw the crowds build up as they went from win to win.
“We are surprised that curling can be so welcomed in Korea,” said the team’s coach Kim Min-jung. South Korea sent its first curling team to the Olympics in 2014.
“We’ve always wanted to make curling a more popular and common recreational sport in Korea and we’re happy we are getting there,” Kim added.
Only last month, curling was considered an obscure sport in South Korea.
Now, memes of the South Korean curlers have gone viral online and several fans are posting good-humoured clips mimicking the sport with cleaning supplies.
Despite the sudden spike in the team’s popularity, they are no flash in the pan – they have been in the sport for more than a decade.
Their hometown of Uiseong – a rural town of around 54,000 people famous for garlic farming – built a curling centre in 2006 with funding from the local government.
As a result, many students at Uiseong joined the curling team, including the Olympians.
They struggled with funding for training and struggled to attract fans in the past, but not any more.
“We always thought we could come this far,” said the team coach. “Now I’m careful to say this, but we thought of doing even better.”
But the curlers had no idea they have emerged as Korean celebrities — they switched their mobile phones off at the start of the competition to avoid any distraction.
“They can just tell that they are receiving a lot of attention by the number of fans that come to the stadium,” coach Kim said.
However, Kim added the curlers are aware they are being called the “Garlic Girls” after the hometown’s main product.
“We don’t like garlic,” she said. “We would just like to be called ‘Team Kim’.”
Russian curler Alexander Krushelnitsky was stripped of his Pyeongchang Winter Olympics bronze medal Thursday after admitting doping, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said.
The 25-year-old was one of 168 Russian athletes who passed rigorous testing to compete as neutrals in Pyeongchang after Russia were banned over a major doping scandal.
“The athlete has admitted the anti-doping rule violation; he is disqualified from the mixed doubles curling event,” the court said in a statement.
Krushelnitsky, who won mixed doubles bronze along with his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, has protested his innocence and officials have hinted at foul play.
But Krushelnitsky decided not to contest Thursday’s CAS hearing, saying it was “stupid to deny” testing positive for meldonium, an endurance booster.
However, CAS said Krushelnitsky, who is provisionally suspended, “reserved his rights to seek the elimination or reduction of any period of ineligibility based on ‘no fault or negligence’ following the conclusion of the Games”.
The International Olympic Committee will this week decide whether to lift Russia’s suspension in time for Russian athletes to carry the national flag at Sunday’s closing ceremony, taking into account the conduct of their athletes in Pyeongchang.
Norway’s Kristin Skaslien and Magnus Nedregotten lost out to Krushelnitsky and Bryzgalova in the bronze medal play-off.
Reallocating the medal is down to the World Curling Federation and the International Olympic Committee, CAS said.