GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) Not even a record performance by Russian figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva could put much of a crimp in Team Canada’s pursuit of Olympic gold.
Medvedeva’s mesmerizing short program Sunday almost made everything else seem ordinary. Her 81.06 score broke her previous world mark as she virtually floated along the ice, nailing every element with a combination of technical skill and artistry that only she has perfected in recent years.
The 18-year-old two-time world champion smiled broadly as a group of her countrymen chanted ”well done” in the stands. Her marks actually seemed a bit low for such an overwhelming routine.
”I wasn’t nervous. I was focused, maybe too much,” Medvedeva said. ”I have to relax a little bit, maybe.”
Imagine what she might do then.
Still, the team gold doesn’t appear in reach for the Russians – officially competing as the ”Olympic Athletes from Russia.” The team has 39 points heading into Monday’s free skates in the other three disciplines. Canada’s deep and powerful team has 45 points, and will be favored in free dance after two-time Olympic medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir laid down a superb short dance.
Canada also won the pairs free skate Sunday with Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, while Kaetlyn Osmond was third in the women’s short.
”That was kind of what we were looking to do in the team competition, to nail a solid, season-best performance, but to have room to do it better next time,” Duhamel said. ”If this was absolutely perfect it would be hard to know what to strive for next week (in the individual event).
”But I think we had a great short and a great long where we have room for improvement in both programs.”
While Canada, which has stressed the importance of taking home the team gold for nearly four years after finishing second to host Russia in Sochi, the United States has been hopeful of replicating its third-place finish in 2014. That became more difficult Sunday when Italy surged within a single point, 36-35.
The difference between the two nations could come in the men’s event, where the United States appears stronger with Adam Rippon against Matteo Rizzo.
”I think we have some really strong performances to come,” said Rippon, who replaced two-time U.S. champion Nathan Chen in the free skate. ”For me, I just love being out here on the Olympic ice.”
Mirai Nagasu will step in for Bradie Tennell in the women’s event. Tennell was fifth in the short program, which cost the Americans some points because Italy’s Carolina Kostner, the 2014 women’s bronze winner, came in second.
Kostner’s graceful performance was highlighted by a series of exquisite spins. Her artistry can be spellbinding – sort of how figure skating used to be before the current focus on technical elements. She would be considered a favorite to finish ahead of Nagasu in the free skate, although Nagasu has a weapon none of the other skaters carries: a triple axel.
”What is going to happen is just going to add to the love I feel for the sport and the love I want to share with the audience,” said Kostner, 30 and in her fourth games.
Her teammates, Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek, were sensational in the pairs free skate to place second, two spots in front of American champs Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim. That really tightened up the bronze race.
Marchei was so thrilled at the end of their routine she let out a scream heard over the cheering crowd. When their 138.44 was posted, Marchei screamed again in delight.
Even with those Viva Italia moments, though, the day belonged to Canada. And, of course, to Medvedeva, who will step aside Monday for European champion Alina Zagitova – her training partner who snapped Medvedeva’s two-year winning streak at Euros.
”It’s not like I imagined, much calmer,” Medvedeva said of the Olympic environment, adding she won’t celebrate her record too much because ”there’s a lot of work to come.”
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org