By Pritha Sarkar
HELSINKI (Reuters) - A performance full of grace and technical wizardry proved that Evgenia Medvedeva will be the woman to beat at next year's Winter Olympics as the Russian soared above her rivals to retain her title at the world figure skating championships.
Friday's triumph with a world record total of 233.41 points made her the first woman since American Michelle Kwan in 2001 to win back-to-back world titles and enhanced her reputation as a skating phenomenon since she has now claimed 10 titles in a row.
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No one came close to ending her run on Friday as she romped to victory by a margin of 15.28 points over Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.
The 17-year-old made it a clean sweep of world records as her free skate score of 154.40 was also an all-time best.
Osmond and team mate Gabrielle Daleman captured their first world championship medals by finishing second and third respectively.
Osmond, who scored 218.13, and Daleman (213.52) produced the performances of their lives to earn Canada their first women's medals at the worlds since Joannie Rochette won a silver in 2009.
It was also the first time Canada had won two podium places in the women's competition.
The 21-year-old Osmond credited her success to "aiming for excellence rather than aiming for perfection" but her skating skills were no match for the poise or artistry that Medvedeva brings to the ice.
Wearing a sparkling grey and pink dress, the Russian appeared to have grown wings as she floated through her free skate, beautifully executing all of her 11 jumps to the haunting melodies of the 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' film soundtrack.
The balletic style of her jumps, where she twirls her arm above her head as she spins through the air, adds another dimension to the flawless presentation of her routines and she had fans purring as she opened with a soaring triple flip-triple toeloop combination.
The "oohs" and "ahhs" grew louder and louder before reaching ear-splitting levels as she whirled around in a blur for her final Biellman spin.
Among those giving her a standing ovation was Daleman, who was waiting to go on the ice next.
"I applauded her as she's such a beautiful and amazing skater and I respect her so much as a skater. To see her score was absolutely amazing... but at the same time it was motivating for me as the crowd was lifting you up," said the 19-year-old.
American Karen Chen was fourth, while Japan's Mai Mihara was left to wonder what might have been had she not messed up her short skate as she surged from 15th to fifth in the overall standings following an exquisite long program on Friday.
"I was so happy to be able to perform the best Cinderella program of the season. I was almost crying," said the Japanese Four Continents champion.
Russia's Anna Pogorilaya did burst into tears - but those she shed were of utter despair.
The 2016 bronze medallist suffered a total meltdown on Friday as she fell - over, and over and over again.
When she crash landed for the third time - following a triple loop - she simply lost the will to pick herself up and comically slid backwards across the ice on her bottom.
Somehow she got back on her feet for the final few seconds of her routine but once her nightmare was over, she collapsed on to her knees and bent over to hide her face from the crowd who had started to chant her name.
But there was no hiding the fact that a score of 111.85 for the free skate had dropped her from fourth to 13th.
Despite Pogorilaya's ordeal, Medvedeva's win meant Russia, along with Canada and the U.S., secured the maximum three spots in the women's competition at next year's Winter Olympics.
Japan, however, lost a place and will have to make do with sending two skaters to Pyeongchang.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris)