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Yevgenia Medvedeva’s once-certain Olympic gold now unsure

Yevgenia Medvedeva, competing at the PyeongChang Winter Games as an Olympic Athlete from Russia, first made a name f...

Posted: Feb. 18, 2018 6:40 AM
Updated: Feb. 18, 2018 6:40 AM

Yevgenia Medvedeva, competing at the PyeongChang Winter Games as an Olympic Athlete from Russia, first made a name for herself as a junior skater. She’s been nearly unstoppable for three seasons, but, her once-certain gold medal chances, like her soaring jumps, are now up in the air.

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Medvedeva was far too young to compete at the Sochi Games, but trained under the same coach as Yulia Lipnitskaya, who won gold in the team event and captured hearts around the world by skating to music from “Schindler’s List” in a bright red dress.

The following fall, in her final year as a junior skater, Medvedeva won both of her Junior Grand Prix assignments, the prestigious Junior Grand Prix Final, and the world junior championships.

She ascended to the senior ranks the next year and landed atop nearly every podium. She won a Grand Prix assignment, finished second at another one, and then went on an undefeated streak that lasted over two years. She won the 2015 Grand Prix Final, the European Championships a few months later, and the senior world championships.

Medvedeva was the first female skater to follow up a world junior championship with a gold medal at the world championships. The anime and K-Pop lover described herself as having two minds: sometimes she felt like the grown-up she portrayed on the ice, and sometimes she just watches cartoons all day.

The next season, Medvedeva was perfect. She won both her Grand Prix assignments, the Final, her second Russian national title, the European title, and the 2017 world championships.

Medvedeva had set the highest scores ever recorded in the short program, free skate, and total overall score several times over throughout the course of her career.

She seemed to have broken the cycle over the past few years of having one dominant Russian lady who would later fizzle out. But then the bubble burst.

In the season leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics, Medvedeva struggled. She won both her Grand Prix assignments. In late November, she wore a cast on her right leg due to bone cracks in her foot. She withdrew from the Grand Prix Final and the Russian nationals.

Her young training partner, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova, won both of those titles in her absence.

Medvedeva returned to the ice in December, planning a competitive return for the 2018 European Championships in Moscow. It was her first head-to-head with Zagitova – and the end of her undefeated streak, which dated back to November 2015. Zagitova took gold over Medvedeva, separated by 5.38 points.

Medvedeva viewed the silver as a victory, mostly because she was able to compete and skate again. But her Olympic gold in PyeongChang, once seen as a lock, is more uncertain than ever. Now, Medvedeva and Zagitova are favorites for the gold and silver. Which skater earns which medal is unclear.

Medvedeva and Zagitova both are consistent, expressive, and formidable skaters. Most skaters jump with their arms pulled in tight to their chests, but both Medvedeva and Zagitova are known for jumping with their arms over their heads, which adds to the technical difficulty.

Medvedeva often earns higher artistic marks, while Zagitova is seen as having a technical advantage. Zagitova’s stamina allows her to strategize her jumps: She “backloads” her programs and her elements receive a 10 percent bonus when placed in the second half of the program.

The ladies’ short program is Tuesday, February 20 in Primetime on NBC and NBCOlympics.com and the free skate is Thursday, February 22 in Primetime on NBC and NBCOlympics.com.

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