15-year-old Alina Zagitova set the new highest score ever recorded in the ladies’ short program on Tuesday night to lead the field, including her training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva, who sits second. Both Olympic Athletes from Russia train in Moscow, and are separated by just 1.31 points. Team OAR has yet to win a gold medal in PyeongChang, and either skater could claim the team’s first. The first-ever Russian gold medal in ladies’ figure skating wasn’t captured until Sochi 2014, when Adelina Sotnikova pulled off the feat.
Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond finished third in the short program with 78.87 points.
Zagitova performed her short program to music from “Black Swan” and turned into the creature by the end of the program: watch in the video below as she swipes her dress to make the colors change right as she hits her last pose. Zagitova executed a clean triple Lutz-triple loop, a triple flip and a double Axel to score 82.92 points, the newest short program score ever seen.
“I was very happy when I saw the score, but I did not expect it. Now my name will be connected to that record,” Zagitova said after her performance. “From the score, this is the best performance of my life, but there is still room to grow. I could have more speed going into the jumps, the landings of the jumps could have been smoother, there could have been more emotions.
“The important thing is to show progress with each competition. You need to get better and better.”
Plus, Zagitova added that if someone told her two or three years ago she’d be at the Olympic Games she would have been “very surprised.”
Medvedeva finished close behind with 81.61 (originally a high-scoring short program before Zagitova skated). Medvedeva’s short program, set to Chopin’s Nocturne, featured a solid triple flip-triple toe jump combination, triple loop and double Axel. The concept of the program is about the “flight of the soul” as it leaves a person’s body at the point of “clinical death.” She tallied 81.61 points.
“Today, for the first time, I went out with the thought not to give way to my emotions,” Medvedeva said, adding that she felt even more of the Olympic magic than she did previously in the team event. “In the team event I was nervous and my legs were shaky. I was full of emotions, but they were happy emotions - to be at the Olympic Games, I felt like celebrating. Wow I'm at the Olympics.”
Medvedeva, 18 years old and unbeatable from November 2015 to January 2018, once looked like an Olympic gold medal super favorite. She comes to PyeongChang as the two-time reigning world champion, the first woman to win back-to-back world championship gold medals since Michelle Kwan in 2000 and 2001.
Medvedeva most recently lost to her 15-year-old training mate Zagitova at the European Championships in Moscow in January, setting up a tight race in PyeongChang. Medvedeva cracked bones in her right foot and was in a cast for parts of November and December. Zagitova won December’s Grand Prix Final with Medvedeva’s withdrawal from the event. Medvedeva returned to the competitive ice at Europeans, where her undefeated streak snapped.
They’re friends off the ice – Zagitova is even inspired by Medvedeva – but once the ice, there’s no question that they both consider themselves top contenders for gold. This is Zagitova’s first season competing as a senior (or elite-level) skater. Their formidable coach, Eteri Tutberidze, trained 2014 Olympic darling Yulia Lipnitskaya in the lead up to Sochi.
Osmond, already a gold medalist in PyeongChang with Canada in the team event, won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships. Her 78.87 points was enough to get her into third place, where she remains a medal contender in the free skate.
“I just really wanted to enjoy my program,” Osmond said. “I got to skate it in the team event and as much fun as I had it still wasn't the enjoyment that I wanted. Today that was my goal, to have fun, enjoy it and to stay focused.
“I barely remember my last Olympic experience it was such a whirlwind. Here, I feel so much more mature, so much more in control and to be able to put a program like that is always much better than it was four years ago.”
2014 Sochi bronze medalist Carolina Kostner from Italy finished sixth with 73.15 points.
“It was not my best performance, I was a bit shaky on the second landing of my second jump,” said Kostner, who is skating in her fourth Winter Olympics. “The rest, the feeling was very good. I am honored to be part of the top skaters. I hope my next performance can be better.”
Earlier at the Winter Olympics, Mirai Nagasu became the first American woman to land a triple Axel on Olympic ice. She helped the U.S. squad earn a bronze medal in the team event, tweeting later, “they honestly feel like gold.” She placed fourth at the Vancouver Olympics eight years ago before missing the Sochi team in 2014.
Nagasu attempted the jump again in Tuesday’s short program, set to Chopin’s Nocturne. She fell on the jump and but skated clean for the remainder of the program. She is the top ranked U.S. woman headed into the free skate in ninth place with 66.93 points.
“I am mad about it,” Nagasu said, referring to the Axel. “But when it came time to do the Axel, the timing just wasn't right. It didn't happen for me today, but it has been happening in practice. It happened in the team event and I know I can do it. I will learn from today and head into the free skate.”
Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. national champion, made her Olympic debut with a self-choreographed program set to “On Golden Pond.” Chen made a mistake on her opening jump but recovered later to score 65.90 in the short program. She finished 10th overall.
Bradie Tennell began her individual medal hunt as the first skater in Tuesday night’s short program. The reigning national champion is already a medalist at these Games, taking home a bronze for contributing her short program for the U.S. in the team event.
Tennell picked music from the “Taegukgi” soundtrack, a popular South Korean film, to use as her short program. Despite her characteristic consistency, Tennell fell on her opening triple-triple combination. The rest of the program was clean, however, and she tallied 64.01 points for 11th place.
“It’s always a challenge to be the first one out there, but you know, I just think about it like any other program and get out there and do our job,” Tennell said. “It wasn't my best, but I am glad that I was the first one out there. It was a special sort of challenge for me and I'm excited for [the free skate].”
The free skate is Thursday, February 22 in Primetime on NBC and NBCOlympics.com.
For more in-depth coverage of the ladies’ short program, check out Olympic Ice featuring analysts Kristi Yamaguchi, Charlie White and Ben Agosto.