Olympic ladies' figure skating preview: Medvedeva and Zagitova fight for gold

Figure skating’s marquee discipline, the ladies’ event, will close out competition in PyeongChang. Many of the t...

Posted: Feb. 20, 2018 12:38 AM
Updated: Feb. 20, 2018 12:38 AM

Figure skating’s marquee discipline, the ladies’ event, will close out competition in PyeongChang. Many of the top athletes in the field – including Yevgenia Medvedeva, Alina Zagitova, Kaetlyn Osmond, and Team USA’s Bradie Tennell and Mirai Nagasu – already have Olympic medals to their name from the team event earlier in the Games.

Locked in a particularly tight battle are Medvedeva and Zagitova, who are friends off the ice but fierce rivals on the ice. Expect one of them to end up the gold, while the other is relegated to silver.

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.

Here are some names to know before the competition kicks off.

Bradie Tennell, Team USA

Credentials: 2018 U.S. national champion, 2017 Skate America Grand Prix bronze medalist, 2018 is her Olympic debut

Buzz about Tennell: As Tennell put it, three months ago, she was a “nobody.” Then she won bronze at Skate America, became national champion, and was named to her first Olympic team.

Season so far: Over the summer, she competed and won an event in Philadelphia. In September, she placed fourth at the Lombardia Trophy in Italy. In her first-ever senior Grand Prix assignment, Skate America, she captured a bronze medal and put herself back into the Olympic conversation. She became national champion in January 2018 and earned a spot on the PyeongChang Olympic team.

At the Olympics so far: Tennell contributed her short program for Team USA in the team event, and won a bronze medal for her efforts.

Notes: Tennell’s short program, set to music from the South Korean blockbuster “Taegukgi,” should be well-received by audiences in PyeongChang.

Mirai Nagasu, Team USA

Credentials: 2010 Olympian, 2008 U.S. national champion, two-time Four Continents Championships medalist

Buzz about Nagasu: She placed fourth at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, but was not selected to compete in Sochi four years ago. She’s doubled down on her work ethic, even mastering the triple Axel – elusive in ladies’ skating.

Season so far: Nagasu opened her Olympic season with a silver medal at an international competition in Salt Lake City. Then, Nagasu traveled to Russia where she finished ninth at her Grand Prix assignment. She followed that up with a fourth place finish at the Grand Prix event in Japan. At the U.S. Nationals, Nagasu finished second and earned a spot on the Olympic team for 2018.

At the Olympics so far: Nagasu has already made history at the Games by becoming the first U.S. woman – and just the third woman ever – to land a triple Axel on Olympic ice. She did so in the team event free skate, where she won a bronze medal alongside Team USA.

Notes: Nagasu and Yevgenia Medvedeva have the same short program music, albeit different arrangements.

Karen Chen, Team USA

Credentials: 2017 U.S. champion, fourth place at the 2017 World Championships

Buzz about Chen: Now that Chen has her boot problems behind her (and broken in a new pair in time for the Olympics) she should expect to be more consistent in her performances.

Season so far: Chen opened her Olympic season with a bronze medal at the U.S. International Classic in September. She was assigned to Skate Canada and Skate America on the Grand Prix series, where she finished seventh and eighth, respectively. Meanwhile, she changed her short program and free skate music several times, finally landing on the programs she used to finish fourth at Worlds in 2017. At the national championships in January, Chen secured a spot on the Olympic team with a bronze medal finish.

Notes: Karen Chen choreographed both her short and long programs herself. In her short program, set to “On Golden Pond,” she portrays a peacock. She counts 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi among her friends and mentors; they are both from Freemont, California. “Everyone thinks that Karen Chen is my sister. Unfortunately we’re not related, but we’re good friends,” Nathan Chen said.

Yevgenia Medvedeva, OAR/Russia

Credentials: 2016 and 2017 world champion, 2015 and 2016 Grand Prix Final gold medalist, 2016 and 2017 European gold medalist, two-time Russian national champion

Buzz about Medvedeva: From November 2015 to January 2018, Medvedeva was undefeated in individual competition and was once considered a virtual lock for Olympic gold. Should she return to full health after spending part of this season in a cast on her foot, she should still be a podium threat.

Season so far: After winning both of her Grand Prix assignments, it was revealed she had a stress fracture in her foot. She was forced to withdraw from the Grand Prix Final and Russian nationals. She returned in time for the European Championships, where her two-year winning streak was snapped. She captured silver behind her 15-year-old training partner, Alina Zagitova.

At the Olympics so far: Medvedeva was part of the Team OAR/Russia squad in the team figure skating event. She competed her short program and earned a silver medal already in PyeongChang.

Notes: Medvedeva’s short program includes the sound of her own breathing and is about the “flight of the soul” as it leaves the body when someone dies. Her free skate is a bit easier to grasp from an audience standpoint: she performs to music from “Anna Karenina.”

Alina Zagitova, OAR/Russia

Credentials: 2018 European Championships gold medalist, 2017 Grand Prix Final gold medalist, reigning Russian national champion

Buzz about Zagitova: Zagitova and Medvedeva share a coach, and are the two brightest stars in the PyeongChang ladies’ field. Medvedeva often gets higher artistic scores, but Zagitova may have a technical edge as she “backloads” her programs. All of her jumps are in the second half of both her short and long programs, where they earn a 10 percent bonus.

At the Olympics so far: Zagitova stunned in her free skate in the team event, where she helped her OAR teammates to a silver medal.

Season so far: Zagitova’s first season as a senior skater coincided with the Olympic season. She came on strong, winning both her Grand Prix assignments in China and France. Then, in the absence of Medvedeva, Zagitova captured the Grand Prix Final gold medal and the Russian national title. When Medvedeva and Zagitova met for their first head-to-head competition at January’s European Championships, Zagitova took home the gold.

Notes: Zagitova is the youngest competitor in the ladies’ field at the PyeongChang Olympics. If she wins gold, she’ll be the second-youngest ladies’ Olympic champion – just 26 days older than Tara Lipinski was when she won gold at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Maria Sotskova, OAR/Russia

Credentials: 2017 Grand Prix Final silver medalist, Russian national silver medalist

Buzz about Sotskova: She is often overshadowed by her two OAR/Russia teammates, Medvedeva and Zagitova. However, Sotskova placed fourth at the Europeans last month, and was eighth at the 2017 World Championships.

Season so far: In the Olympic season, earned silver medals at her Grand Prix assignments in Canada and France. She captured another silver medal at the Grand Prix Final. She earned yet another silver medal at the Russian national championships. At the European Championships in January, Sotskova finished fourth.

Notes: Sotskova briefly trained in the United States under Nathan Chen’s and Adam Rippon’s coach, Rafael Arutunian. She stayed with a host family and practiced her English.

Carolina Kostner, Italy

Credentials: 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, 2012 world champion, five-time European champion

Buzz about Kostner: After the Grand Prix Final, Kostner came to the 2018 European Championships with only her Oberstdorf, Germany-based coach, Michael Huth. Kostner worked with Huth for over a decade, culminating in the Sochi bronze medal. After her break from skating, she worked on her comeback with Alexei Mishin in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Season so far: To open the Olympic season, Kostner earned a silver medal at a competition in Finland. Then, she captured two silvers at her Grand Prix assignments in Russia and Japan. She qualified for the Grand Prix Final, where she placed fourth. She won another national title before heading to the European Championships in January, where she stood on the podium with bronze.

At the Olympics so far: Kostner competed in the figure skating team event for Italy, where they finished fourth, matching their result from 2014.

Notes: Kostner turned 31 years old on February 8, the day before the Opening Ceremony, making her the oldest skater in the ladies’ field.

Gabrielle Daleman, Canada

Credentials: 2017 Worlds bronze medalist, 2015 and 2018 Canadian national champion

Buzz about Daleman: Placed 17th in her Olympic debut in 2014, and learned afterward that she had a stress fracture in her foot. Now healthy and with more international success to her name, Daleman is focused on her consistency and improving her artistry.

Season so far: After Worlds, Daleman skated on the Stars on Ice tour but withdrew, citing a medical emergency. Later, reports surfaced that she suffered a ruptured cyst and would be off the ice for two weeks. She returned relatively healthy for the Olympic season. She opened the season with a six place finish in Finland. Then, her Grand Prix assignments took her to China and the U.S., where she finished sixth both times. She bounced back at Canadian nationals, where she recaptured her 2015 title and was selected for the Olympic team.

At the Olympics so far: Daleman is already an Olympic gold medalist at these PyeongChang Olympics, where she contributed her free skate for Team Canada.

Notes: Daleman started this season with a “Gladiator” free skate, but went back to her “Rhapsody in Blue” in time for Canadian nationals and the PyeongChang Olympics. She trains alongside men’s world champions Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Spain’s Javier Fernandez, who are both medal favorites in PyeongChang.

Kaetlyn Osmond, Canada

Credentials: 2017 Worlds silver medalist, 2014 Olympic silver medalist (team), three-time Canadian national champion

Buzz about Osmond: She is one of the best medal hopes for Canadian ladies’ figure skating since Joannie Rochette took bronze on home ice at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Season so far: For the Olympic season, Osmond was sent to two Grand Prix events in Canada and France, where she landed on the podium both times. She earned a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, and then a silver medal at the Canadian nationals.

At the Olympics so far: Osmond competed her short program in the team event already, and Team Canada brought home the gold for the whole squad.

Notes: Osmond never planned to compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics, but she surprised everyone – including herself – when she qualified for Sochi. She maximized the opportunity, earning a silver medal in the team event with the Canadian squad and finishing 13th overall.

Satoko Miyahara, Japan

Credentials: 2015 Worlds silver medalist, 2016 Four Continents gold medalist, four-time Japanese national champion

Buzz about Miyahara: Many doubted Miyahara as a factor this season, but she’s disproved them all: she made a healthy recovery, she won a Grand Prix event, she won her fourth national title, and made the Olympic team. 

Season so far: Miyahara started her season with a fifth place finish at a Grand Prix event in Japan, and many wondered if she’d regain her strength before the Games. She came back to win Skate America and was an alternate for the Grand Prix Final. She got called in when Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew, and Miyahara finished fifth. She won Japanese nationals (for the fourth consecutive time) and was named to the two-woman Olympic team.

At the Olympics so far: Miyahara already competed once on Olympic ice, doing her short program for Team Japan. Ultimately, the country finished fifth overall.

Notes: Miyahara started skating at age 5 in Houston, Texas. She attended kindergarten and first grade in Houston when her parents, who are both doctors, moved there for work.

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