BEIJING (Reuters) – Russian figure skaters claimed the team gold medal at the Beijing Games on Monday, with 15-year-old sensation Kamila Valieva landing the first quadruple jumps by a woman in Olympic competition.
The United States took silver while Japan clinched the bronze.
Pre-competition favourites, the Russians sewed up the gold even before the women’s singles free skate component but Valieva capped the day’s competition in style.
Wearing striking red gloves and skating to Maurice Ravel’s classic “Bolero”, she landed a quad Salchow at the start of her programme and a quad toeloop in combination before falling on another attempted quad toeloop.
Despite the mistake, she easily finished top with a score of 178.92 ahead of Japan’s runner-up Kaori Sakamoto (148.66).
“I’m very happy to land two quadruple jumps and a triple Axel,” Valieva told reporters.
“My second (quad) toeloop didn’t work out but I will work on it. It’s an incredible feeling to be skating in your first senior season and people are already talking about you.
“I have that responsibility but I think I can deal with it.”
Though groundbreaking, her performance was some way off her world record free skate of 185.29 at the Rostelecom Cup in Sochi in November.
Stanislav Pozdnyakov, President of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), clapped Valieva’s skate as her team mates shouted ‘well done’ from their box.
“We hope that the falls that occurred today in the free skate won’t repeat themselves during the other events,” said Pozdnyakov.
“Kamila always draws particular attention from spectators at home and abroad. She always has more responsibility.”
The ROC finished with a total of 74 points, a dominant win over the U.S. (65) and Japan (63).
It was the second Olympic figure skating team title won by Russian skaters, who are competing in Beijing as representatives of the ROC rather than their home nation due to doping sanctions.
Russia won the first team title at its 2014 debut in Sochi, while Russians competing under a neutral Olympic flag at Pyeongchang took silver four years ago.
Russian duo Aleksandr Galliamov and Anastasia Mishina finished first in the pairs on Monday, despite a surprising crash onto the ice with seconds left in their free skate.
Galliamov lost balance under his partner in the last lift, incurring a deduction, but their score of 145.20 was well clear of Japan’s second-placed Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara (139.60).
“I just lost my balance, I just couldn’t hold,” Galliamov told reporters.
Mishina said a lack of sleep might have been to blame.
“We had a practice at 6 a.m. This is what happened,” she said.
“I like to wake up early but not at 4 a.m.”
U.S. duo Madison Chock and Evan Bates produced a stunning free dance to a “Daft Punk” medley to win the ice dance component with 129.07 points, pipping Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (128.17).
The ethereal performance, which had Chock playing an alien and Bates an astronaut, all but ensured the U.S. would beat Japan to the silver.
With American Karen Chen fourth in the women’s singles, it was a strong finish by the U.S. after the team was rocked by a positive COVID-19 test result for Vincent Zhou, who skated in the team event on Sunday.
“We are ecstatic. This is the highest finish for our country in the history of this event,” said Bates.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Chang-Ran Kim; Additional reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Himani Sarkar/Shri Navaratnam/Ken Ferris)