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Russians get 1st gold thanks to 15-year-old Zagitova

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) The Russians finally have a gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics, thanks to a 15-year-old who beat the fellow teen who inspired her to become a figure skater.

Alina Zagitova won one of the games spotlight events Friday, edging her friend and training partner 18-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva. That ended the gold drought for the Olympic Athletes from Russia – the designation given to the nation’s competitors after the IOC banned the nation because of a doping scandal. Zagitova and Medvedeva tied in the free skate, a rare occurrence, but Zagitova had won the short program Wednesday.

”I can’t believe I am the champion,” Zagitova said.

Bronze went to Kaetlyn Osmond, giving Canada four overall medals in figure skating.

Medvedeva seemed well on her way to Olympic gold as she went unbeaten for two seasons. But she battled a cracked bone in her right foot this season and Zagitova emerged, eventually surpassing Medvedeva.

Medvedeva had set a world mark in the short program, and a few minutes later her countrywoman beat it. The difference in the short program wound up being the margin between gold and silver.

On Friday, Zagitova went first, greeted by loud chants and cheers from the Russian fans desperate for that first gold.

She nailed everything with fluid flair and technical brilliance. Zagitova earned 156.65 points for her program to ”Don Quixote,” laying down the challenge for her countrywoman.

Medvedeva matched it, but that was not enough.

”I wanted to leave everything out there on the ice,” she said. ”I’ve got no regrets.”

Osmond had considered retiring earlier. Now, she skates away from South Korea with a bronze medal.

”I felt strong and in the best shape that I’ve ever been in my entire life, she said. ”I can’t believe that I ever thought about retiring.”

Zagitova backloaded her program that featured 10 jumps, earning bonus points for difficult tricks late in the free skate. She needed them because her lead coming in was only 1.31 points.

Her poise on the ice and off – unlike many of the other competitors, no tears flowed from Zagitova – belied her years. Whether she can follow up this triumph with more, unlike 2014 Sochi winner Adelina Sotnikova, who has struggled since – will be fascinating to watch.

Other than Mirai Nagasu’s triple axel, it was not a memorable Olympics for the American women. They finished ninth, 10th and 11th, their weakest showing since World War II. Sixth place had been the low point.

Nagasu, fourth at the Vancouver Games in 2010, became the first American woman to land that 3 1/2-revolution jump in an Olympics, helping the United States take the team bronze. From there, it was downhill. She never got elevation for the triple axel Friday and ended up 10th. She was one spot in front of Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. champion. Bradie Tennell, this year’s winner at nationals, was ninth.

Chen fell once and had bobbles on other jumps and moves. Tennell, who heading to South Korea hadn’t missed a jump all season, twice stepped out on planned combinations.

Both are expected to keep skating and will need vast improvement to catch up to the Russians, Japanese and Canadians who have come to dominate the women’s event.

Italy’s Carolina Kostner, the 2014 bronze medalist, was fifth, one spot in front of Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto.

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