GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The Russians finally have a gold medal at the Olympics, thanks to a 15-year-old who beat the fellow teen who inspired her to become a figure skater.
Alina Zagitova won one of the Games' spotlight events Friday, edging her friend and training partner Evgenia Medvedeva, 18. That ended the gold drought for the Olympic athletes from Russia, the designation given to the nation's competitors after the IOC banned Russia because of a doping scandal. Zagitova and Medvedeva tied in the free skate, a rare occurrence, but Zagitova won the short program Wednesday.
"I can't believe I am the champion," said Zagitova, the second-youngest woman to win the title. She is about a month older than American Tara Lipinski was when she won in 1998.
Bronze went to Kaetlyn Osmond, giving Canada four overall medals in figure skating.
Medvedeva seemed well on her way to gold as she went unbeaten for two seasons. But she battled a cracked bone in her right foot this season, and Zagitova emerged, eventually surpassing Medvedeva.
Medvedeva had set a world points mark in the short program, and a few minutes, later her countrywoman beat it. The difference in the short program wound up being the margin between gold and silver.
On Friday, Zagitova went first, greeted by loud chants and cheers from the Russian fans desperate for that first gold.
She nailed everything with fluid flair and technical brilliance. Zagitova earned 156.65 points for her program to "Don Quixote," laying down the challenge for her countrywoman.
Medvedeva matched it, but that was not enough.
"I wanted to leave everything out there on the ice," she said. "I've got no regrets."
Osmond had considered retiring earlier. Now, she skates away from South Korea with a bronze medal.
"I felt strong and in the best shape that I've ever been in my entire life," she said. "I can't believe that I ever thought about retiring."
Zagitova backloaded her program that featured 10 jumps, earning bonus points for difficult tricks late in the free skate. She needed them because her lead going in was only 1.31 points.
Her poise on the ice and off — unlike many of the other competitors, no tears flowed from Zagitova — belied her years. Whether she can follow up this triumph with more — unlike 2014 winner, Russia's Adelina Sotnikova, who has struggled since — will be fascinating to watch.
Other than Mirai Nagasu's triple axel, it was not a memorable Olympics for the American women. They finished ninth, 10th and 11th, their weakest showing since World War II. Sixth place had been the low point.
Nagasu, fourth at the Vancouver Games in 2010, became the first American woman to land that 3 1/2-revolution jump in an Olympics, helping the United States take the team bronze. From there, it was downhill. She never got elevation for the triple axel Friday and ended up 10th. She was one spot in front of Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. champion. Bradie Tennell, this year's winner at nationals, was ninth.
Chen fell once and had bobbles on other jumps and moves. Tennell, who heading to South Korea hadn't missed a jump all season, twice stepped out on planned combinations.
Chen and Tennell are expected to keep skating and will need vast improvement to catch up to the Russians, Japanese and Canadians who have come to dominate the women's event.
Italy's Carolina Kostner, the 2014 bronze medalist, was fifth, one spot in front of Japan's Kaori Sakamoto.
The once-vaunted U.S. skating program hasn't had a medalist since Sasha Cohen took silver 12 years ago in Turin.
"I think we all could have skated better, but you know, you knock us down and we get up to fight," Tennell said.
Just why the United States has fallen so far is a matter of debate. American skaters have been slow to take on new challenges on the technical side, unwilling to try new combinations or more difficult jumps like skaters from Russia and Japan. The days of winning with sheer artistry are long over, and those who are mastering the toughest combinations are ruling the sport.
The Russians started taking more risks after being shut out of medals in 2010, and their new focus on back-loaded programs — skaters get bonus points for difficult tricks in the second half of the free skate — has paid off with three of the last six women's skating medals.
"The juniors and novices skating right now will be coming out in maybe two or three years," Lipinski said. "What they will bring to the U.S., hopefully when they become age-eligible, is we will see some little sprite coming through who can do everything the Russians and Japanese are (doing here)."