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February 24, 2018

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Home » Sports » Skating

Russians shine on the ice in Pyeongchang, but Chinese optimistic for Beijing

THE women’s figure skating at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was all about Russia’s athletes, who shone in the Gangneung Ice Arena and wrapped up the top two places in single skating yesterday.

Rising star Alina Zagitova, 15, edged out two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedva to win with 239.57 points. Medvedva scored 238.26, followed by Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond with 231.02.

“They are just growing like mushrooms,” said coach Elena Vodorezova about the constant flow of successful Russian female skaters.

Vodorezova is the coach of Sochi Games champion Adelina Sotnikova and coaches Grand Prix final silver medallist Maria Sotskova, who finished eighth yesterday in Pyeongchang.

Why are the Russian girls so strong? For the experienced coach, skating mentality plays an important role.

“I think the biggest difference (between Russia and other countries) is that the children and their parents come to the ice rink with the goal to achieve something in the sport; in the West, they go to the ice rink to have fun,” she said. “Also, in other countries, practice has to adjust to school hours. It is the opposite way for us, or the children have private lessons.”

Figure skating has been a popular sport in Russia for years, but it became even more popular through TV reality competition shows such as “Ice Age.” That, along with improved conditions and the growing success of the current crop of skaters, has resulted in more and more children, mostly girls, flocking to the ice rinks.

“If we look back, about 10 years ago in Moscow, about 20 ice rinks were built in different parts of the city, this obviously led to a steady flow of children,” said Eteri Tutberidze, who coaches Medvedeva and Zagitova.

Alexander Lakernik, Russian vice president of the International Skating Union and technical delegate for figure skating at Pyeongchang Games, attributed the skater boom to good coaches.

“At one point, a lot of little girls with all triple jumps appeared. With the right technique, they keep their jumps, even when they grow. The girls are taught in the right way, especially in the group of Tutberidze,” he said.

The Russian’s success can be a good lesson for China, which is to host the Beijing Games in four years and is struggling to improve the unbalanced development of its figure skaters.

China’s history in the sport doesn’t stretch back very far, and its figure skaters did not appear at the Olympics until 1980. Among four Olympic disciplines, only pair skating has won China some credit with established pair skaters like Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo winning gold in Vancouver in 2010, and Sui Wenjing and Han Cong pocketing silver this time in Pyeongchang.

Chinese ice dancers Wang Shiyue and Liu Xinyu were held back from reaching the free skating in Pyeongchang, and Yan Han survived the men’s single short program but finished 23rd out of 24 qualifiers. Jin Boyang, 20, ranked fourth, giving China hope to make a breakthrough in Beijing.

In the women’s segment, Li Xiangning finally ranked 22nd among the 24 qualifiers with 154.43 points. Making her Olympic debut, 17-year-old Li, China’s national champion, conceded she had succumbed to nerves since day one.

The same short program, which earned her 58.62 points in the previous team event competition, produced a disappointing 52.46 due to her falling onto the ice after the opening triple flip jump and later under-rotating a triple lutz jump.

As she completed her final spin to the soothing sound track of Italian film “Cinema Paradiso,” Li stood still for a couple of seconds before dragging herself to the rink side, obviously feeling lost.

Although the mistakes did cost Li one point, they didn’t bar her from reaching the final, which she has longed for years.

“I’m too nervous. My arms and legs were as hard as the ice that I couldn’t feel myself at the rink. But I really wanna have the chance to perform the long program. Luckily, I made it,” said Li after the short program.


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