Russian figure skater Adelina Sotnikova managed to pull off a surprise victory in the race for Olympic gold by outperforming South Korean skater and defending Olympic champion Yuna Kim. Many expected a contentious battle for the women’s figure skating competition, but few anticipated the largely overlooked 17-year-old Russian skater to dominate the event the way she did, and ultimately, bring home the gold to her home country as the first Russian female in her individual category.
The young Russian, who was excluded from the team skating competition, managed to capture second place after the short program component of the women’s individual figure skating event, with Yuna Kim in first place by the slightest of margins. Sotnikova has stated that her exclusion from the team event angered and motivated her to perform beyond all expectations. Obviously, that impetus paid off for Sotnikova when it came time to showcase her talents. In fact, all three of the top women: Kim, Sotnikova, and Italian Carolina Kostner were within a one point margin going into their free skate (long) programs. In the end, it all came down to level of technical program difficulty. Sotnikova’s was a very well-constructed, technically superior program with seven triple jumps with five in combination, while Kim’s program consisted of six triple jumps with three in combination. The difference in technical difficulty put Sotnikova ahead of Kim by more than five points in the final results (224.59 versus 219.11). Therefore, Sotnikova captured the gold medal, Kim received silver, and Kostner rallied for the bronze medal as a result of their collectively clean programs and technical efforts.
As for the three Americans involved in the ladies’ individual event, all of them managed to finish in the Top 10: Gracie Gold took fourth place, Ashley Wagner captured seventh, and first-time Olympian Polina Edmunds placed ninth. However, the Sochi Olympics served as the first time since 1936 that the Americans failed to medal in either men or women’s individual figure skating events. Yet, all was not entirely lost for the Americans in skating events as they did capture the gold medal in ice dancing for the first time and the bronze in the new team skating event.
These individual results were not without controversy. There are many who feel that the judging process is flawed and potentially biased. Noting that it entails anonymous voting, one of the judges had been suspended for a year over attempting to manipulate an event at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, and the fact that another judge is married to the head of the Russian figure skating federation. Seventh-place American finisher Ashley Wagner even called out the judges in public comments. Moreover, an online judging petition has been started that had garnered more than a million signatures in only a few hours in the aftermath of the competition.
Despite the controversy, the chances that the results would change are slim. Both Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim skated very clean, near flawless programs; however, Sotnikova’s was more technically difficult and sound. Sotnikova managed to capture a magical moment, much like Kim did during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when she won the gold medal. Going into the Sochi Olympics, Kim was hoping to win back-to-back, consecutive gold medals in the ladies’ individual event, a feat which has not been achieved since skater Katrina Witt in 1984. Instead, Kim would settle for silver and announce her retirement from figure skating. However, given that the 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in Kim’s homeland of South Korea and she played a pivotal role in that decision, whether her retirement holds remains questionable. Regardless, many familiar faces present at these games have stated that they would return for future Olympics including Adelina Sotnikova.
By Leigh Haugh