The South Korean 2010 Vancouver Olympics Champion, “Ice Queen” Kim Yuna (23), was awarded a silver medal for the Sochi Olympics. Adelina Sotnikova (17), who won the Russian national championship in 2009 at the age of 12, received gold. No one had imagined that Sotnikova would even have a chance at being on the podium. Overshadowed by the 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaia, she has not skated in the Russian team event. “When I found out that I was not in the team, it was hurtful. I felt ugly inside,” she said. “Maybe it is all for the best — an advantage for me to make me so mad.” But on Thursday, under the great pressure of her host nation- after Lipnitskaia fell in both the short and free programs and the Russian ice hockey team was defeated by Finland, Sotnikova delivered a dazzling performance and became Russia’s first gold medalist in Women’s Olympic figure skating. “The most important thing is to see your goals, to try and try,” said Sotnikova. “If you want it, you achieve it.” And she did. She won against the defending champion Kim Yuna of South Korea. Both women skated nearly flawless programs, but Sotnikova completed one more decisive triple jump. Kim, who skated last, said, “I didn’t watch the skaters so I didn’t know about the other scores or how they skated. I can’t do anything about this.” Sotnikova’s interpretation marks surpassed Kostner’s but not Kim’s. There wasn’t much interaction with the music, but the single jump and her energy earned her higher marks.
After her win, Sotnikova said, “This is the happiest day in my life. I simply stepped on the ice today and realized how much I like what I’m doing and skated really good.” She also stated, “It’s the Olympics. And it was a long way for me.” The Russians have now won three figure skating gold medals from this year’s Olympics: women’s, pairs and team.
Yuna Kim, the reigning Olympic ladies’ figure skating champion, has been one of the most dominant athletes in her sport for years. Besides being the 2010 Olympic Champion, she also is a two-time World Champion, six-time South Korean National Champion, three-time Grand Prix Champion, and a Four Continents Championship gold medalist, setting world records for her performances in the Vancouver Olympics. This 23-year-old “Ice Queen” has never been off the podium throughout her entire skating career and had been the favorite for gold in Sochi. She announced her retirement after Sochi to much disappointment.
Before skating for the Olympics this year, Kim confessed that winning isn’t the most important thing to her. “Many people talk about winning two straight gold medals, but I’m not focusing on defending the title,” Kim stated before her competition, “I just hope to do everything I’ve prepared to do.” The former Olympic champion also stated that motivation was the most difficult thing for her in Sochi. “It’s different from the Vancouver 2010 Games because I had a clear goal at that time. Then, I could die for gold in the Olympics,” she said. “but that desire, that strong wish, was not as present.” This may have been a factor in why she couldn’t match the feat of Katarina Witt or Sonja Henie, who both won back-to-back Olympic titles in skating, though having her home country as the host nation for this Olympics played a very big role in giving Sotnikova the gold. The results probably would have been different if it was 2018 and the Olympics held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Carolina Kostner, 27, earned Italy’s first ladies’ figure skating medal by claiming bronze. Her 142.61 was a season’s best. “This medal is absolutely worth gold,” she said. “I will cherish it in my heart. It feels so great that patience, sacrifice, hard work, and faith are paid at the end.” Kostner has been struggling since the Turin Games, where she was ninth. At Vancouver she placed a dismal 16th, and she wondered if her skating career was over. But she kept going. “I skate because I love it,” she said. “Hard times make you understand what you really want.”
Before the short program, Lipnitskaia’s former coach had boasted that she had more armory in her skating than Kim, and that if she could take the gold medal away from the South Korean. But the 15-year-old “Ice Princess” placed fifth, far below expectations. Toward the end of the 2-minute, 50-second routine, she crashed on the triple flip that she pretty much never misses. “I wanted to skate my best today but it didn’t work,” she said. “I’ve lost control over my jumps — tiredness and emotions.” After she finished, she showed almost no emotion, a direct contrast to when she helped the Russian skating team win gold. “For the jump I didn’t have enough strength,” Lipnitskaia said. “I got very tired on the steps sequence.”
Her coach Tutberidze insisted, “It was a technical mistake, nothing else. It was not because she was under pressure or too nervous, no, just a technical mistake.” Still, Yulia Lipnitskaia has a bright career ahead. She is the youngest skater to participate in the Women’s Figure Skating competitions, and the youngest Russian athlete to win a gold medal. Perhaps it was simply too much to ask a 15-year-old to skate in every phase of both the team and singles competitions — she was the only medal contender to do so — against such a deep, mature field. In addition, there is already the pressure and distraction that is inevitable in the Olympics.
Mao Asada of Japan, the silver medalist of the Vancouver Olympics and Kim’s biggest rival, finished a disappointing 16th in Wednesday’s short program. In Sochi, Asada was the only woman to attempt a triple axel, one of the toughest jumps in figure skating. But this lead to her downfall. After her stumble including the triple axel, Asada was criticized by the head of her own country’s Olympic organizing committee, who is also the former Prime Minister of Japan. Her free skate program, however, was dazzling. Asada scored a career-high 142.71, the 3rd highest score this Olympics for the free skate. She moved up from 16th to 6th.
As for the Americans, U.S. champion Gracie Gold, second to Lipnitskaia in the team free skate, just missed the podium and finished fourth. The 18-year-old was visibly off-balance on the first jump of her triple lutz-triple toe loop combination, yet managed to right herself and landed tospring back into the air for the second jump. “I thought I’ve come too far not to land this stupid double axel,'” Gold said. “I did not train that hard to go down and mess up this one jump. I am landing it with a smile on my face.” Gold will be back in 2018 for another chance at the podium.
Gracie juggles before competitions to calm her nerves. “It’s a mix of focus and kind of a mental tool to occupy my mind in the hours leading up to the event,” she said in January.
Ashley Wagner, a two-time US Figure Skating Champion, placed 7th overall. “This sounds so, like, `PC athlete,’ but honestly, I worked my butt off every single day since nationals and I’ve been way too tired, way too sweaty, way too exhausted and angry with training to not go out there and do it,” Wagner said. A triple flip-triple toe of her short program was downgraded, and it took every ounce of her strength to turn and not step out of it. But she didn’t, and her other two jumps were landed smoothly and cleanly.
The 15-year-old American Polina Edmunds, for someone whose only previous senior international experience was running into skaters in the hallway at the Grand Prix final, staying calm and being in the top 10 is a big achievement. The high school sophomore made a solid Olympic debut and placed 9th. “It’s just another competition,” she said. “It’s really cool to see the Olympic rings everywhere, of course. I just kind of tried to stay in the moment and remind myself that ice is ice.”