BEIJING — Kamila Vasilieva stood at the edge the rink to receive some last-minute advice from Eteri Tutberidze. She then took a deep breath and glided quickly to the middle of ice in the cavernous Capital Indoor Stadium.
Then, he left everyone else in a state of shock.
The 15-year old Valieva’s performance at the Beijing Games confirmed her status as the gold medal favorite. She also compiled one of the most successful short programs in history. After the second day of competition in the team event, Valieva’s score of 90.18 on Sunday pushed the Russian team, heavily favored, into the lead.
She said that she was happy to be in the lead and that she hopes that it continues in the free-skate.
It made it through the men’s skate free, where Mark Kondratiuk came in surprising third behind Yuma Kagyama from Japan. The Russians finished with 45 points. This was three more than the U.S. and six more than Japan. They now head into the free dance, pairs, and women’s free skating that will determine the medals.
The Americans lost out on Day 1, after leading the competition thanks to Nathan Chen’s winning performances and the ice dancers Maddison Hubell and Zachary Donohue. Karen Chen lost her last jump in the women’s short program. Vincent Zhou, who was substituting for Nathan Chen, struggled during his free skating.
The U.S. was left behind by the Russian team, and had to be vigilant for Japan in third.
Zhou stated, “The rest is extremely strong and everybody here is ready to say that they are part of getting the work done.”
The dominant story line of Beijing’s figure skating program is whether the formidable trio of Russian women, led by Tutberidze (all of them Russian), can win the right to be the first to reach the Olympic podium.
It will be the incomparable Valieva’s soaring jumps, unmatched artistry that land her on top.
During her brief program on Sunday, she did not disappoint anyone. She is poised and confident beyond her years. Valieva opened her program with a clean triple flip and a smooth triple axel before moving on to a triple lutz and triple toe loop combination. This pushed her score up to 90.18 points, just a few points shy of her European championships world record of 90.45.
With 74.73 points, Wakaba Higuchi from Japan came in second place in the team event.
“I was a little nervous,” Valieva said. She is the fourth woman to land a Triple Axel in Olympic history. “But along with that, I know that my team always supports me, so it all happened with this kinda neutral attitude.”
Neutral? Think about what she will do if she puts it into drive.
Valieva’s performance was so energetic that the American team gave Valieva a standing ovation.
It was very nice. She said that they are also athletes and know how to skate. It was great that everyone enjoyed it, not only the Americans but also the Canadian team and some others. It was truly inspiring.
The Americans were the headlines when Nathan Chen, Hubbell and Donohue, and the pairs team of Alexa Krierim and Brandon Frazier combined to create a remarkable two-point advantage over the Russian team on the first day of competition.
Team USA chose Karen Chen, an Olympic medalist, to continue the momentum over Mariah Bell (and Alysa Liu) in the women’s short skate and Zhou (for the men’s free skating).
It didn’t go according to plan.
Chen seemed a little unsure on her first triple lutz-triple loop. She then seemed to be able to regroup during her short program to the music of “Requiem for a Dream,” a 2000 psychological drama. It looked like she would make it through the remainder of the program without any problems. She did however fall on her last jump, a triple loop.
Chen stated that “all practices have felt very solid.” But, Chen added, “but I will tell you this: I felt like my morning practice was just beginning to sink in. I felt a bit, just like, tense.”
Zhou admitted that he felt a bit anxious before the program. He was also the last man to use the ice.
Zhou over-rotated his triple lutz opening triple, then was supposed do a quad flip, but did only one. Zhou was also shaky on the quad salchow, quad toe loop and then he rallied in the back to save third place.
Zhou stated that there was a little nerves because Zhou waited to skate last. But it wasn’t horrible. “It was a great way to get in my knees before the individual events and I hope Team USA can win a medal at the team event.”