Zagitova, 15, sets skate mark as Bjoergen makes Games history
FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD Alina Zagitova stole the show in figure skating yesterday as American skier Lindsey Vonn took bronze in her final Olympic downhill and Norway’s Marit Bjoergen became the most successful athlete in Winter Games history.
Zagitova was breathtaking in the Russian-dominated short program, breaking the world record set just minutes earlier by her teammate, 18-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva.
It put the Russian starlets top of the standings ahead of tomorrow’s free skate, where Zagitova will attempt to become the youngest women’s singles figure skating champion since Tara Lipinski in 1998.
They also look set to win the first gold of the Games for the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who are competing as neutrals after Russia’s national team was banned over a major doping scandal.
“We are friends, we are young girls, we can talk about anything with each other,” said Medvedeva, who like Zagitova is making her Olympic debut.
“But on the ice, we must fight, I feel like it’s a little war, when you skate you are alone,” added the double world champion.
American Vonn, 33, was aiming for a second downhill title in her final Olympics, but it was not to be as she finished third behind Italy’s Sofia Goggia and Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway.
But the 2010 winner was delighted to reach the podium, becoming alpine skiing’s oldest female medalist after a series of injuries which threatened to wreck her career and ruled her out of Sochi 2014.
“If you think what’s happened over the last eight years and what I’ve been through to get here, I gave it all and to come away with a medal is a dream come true,” said Vonn. “You’ve got to put things into perspective. Of course, I would have loved a gold medal but, honestly, this is amazing and I’m so proud.”
Bjoergen reached 14 Olympic medals when she took bronze in cross-country skiing’s women’s team sprint free, outstripping compatriot Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who has 13 in biathlon.
Bjoergen, 37, is also the second most successful woman at either the Summer or Winter Games, trailing only Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina with 18 medals.
“It’s hard to understand, actually,” Bjoergen said.
While Bjoergen’s milestone was the highlight, the United States’ victory in the event was its first Olympic gold in women’s cross-country skiing.
Jessica Diggins passed the Swedes and the Norwegians on the final lap to give the US an upset victory.
Norway won the men’s sprint, giving the country its 13th cross-country medal at the games to tie an Olympic record.
In other action, Russian skier Sergey Ridzik recovered from a crash in the ski cross final to take bronze, behind Canada’s Bredy Leman and Marc Bischofberger of Switzerland.
The competition, where four skiers race each other down a twisting track featuring a number of jumps, was marred by a series of heavy falls.
France’s Terence Tchiknavorian broke his leg and Canadian racer Chris Del Bosco was also taken to hospital after a sickening wipe-out.
At the other end of the standings, Germany’s Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz took gold by seven-hundredths of a second ahead of America’s Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs.
Japan upset the Netherlands in the women’s team pursuit speed skating, but Norway was too strong for hosts South Korea in the men’s event.
Norway remained top of the medals table on 13 golds — one ahead of Germany — at the end of day 12.