By Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Canada took gold in the team figure skating event on Monday after stellar performances by Gabrielle Daleman and Patrick Chan, who landed two quads early in his free skate on his way to finally earn an Olympic gold.
After the women’s free skate, Canada was already locked in first place, with ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir still left to compete.
Although the gold medal did not depend on them, the duo still blew away competition, finishing first with a score of 118.10, six points ahead of Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani, who helped their country win bronze.
“We placed a lot of emphasis on our performance today because we needed to deliver a message and I think we needed to verify that our training plan was on track,” Virtue told reporters.
Moir, who won silver for Canada in the team event and in the ice dance at the 2014 Sochi Olympics with Virtue, said they could not squander a chance on Olympic ice.
“Every opportunity you have to skate on Olympic ice is special,” he told reporters. “That’s what it came down to today. It’s interesting taking the ice and having no impact really on what is going to happen in the team event. You just can’t blow one of those chances.”
The Olympic Athletes from Russia, with a stunning free skate by 15-year-old Alina Zagitova, the European champion, were guaranteed silver, the team’s second medal of the Pyeongchang Games.
The 27-year-old Chan, who had struggled with his jumps in the team event’s short program, landed the first two quads of his free skate, earning him a season’s best score of 179.75 points.
Skating in his third and final Olympics, Chan was inconsistent on his other jumps, rushing on his takeoffs and doubling a triple Axel before falling on the next one.
“I’m just happy I did the best I could and I left nothing, no rock unturned,” said Chan, who admitted his nerves were jangling and he “just had a conversation with myself” to get back on track.
“I achieved a big thing, which was to land the two big quads in one programme. I’m going to hold this medal tight to me and it’s going to be as good as the individual event.”
Chan, who won silver in the team and men’s singles events in Sochi, is a three-time world champion but Olympic gold had evaded him until now.
Daleman, who won bronze at last year’s world championships, landed a series of triple jumps in a stellar performance that saw her finish third, only 0.39 points behind second-place finisher Mirai Nagasu of the United States.
Zagitova, skating at her first Olympics, turned in a sizzling performance to composer Leon Minkus’s “Don Quixote.”
Skating in a flashy red tutu, the 15-year-old scored 158.08 for a season’s best to take first place.
Nagasu became the first American woman to land a triple Axel at the Olympics, cleanly hitting the jump at the start of her program to gain a season’s best score of 137.53.
TRIUMPH AFTER TEARS
Clearly overjoyed, the 24-year-old – who wept after being left off the Olympic team for Sochi in 2014 – pumped her fists and grinned as she skated off the ice.
Asked about the fact that she is only the third woman to land a triple Axel at the Olympics – after Japan’s Midori Ito and Mao Asada – Nagasu, the daughter of Japanese immigrants who run a sushi restaurant, joked that maybe it was her ancestry that helped.
“I feel really great. Going into it, I was like a train, get on those tracks and get some speed,” she said. “To nail it the way I did – and even out of the corner of my eye, I could see my team mates standing in excitement.”
“Maybe it’s the Japanese genetics – but lucky for me I’m American, so I’ll be the first U.S. lady.”
(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Sudipto Ganguly/Amlan Chakraborty)