Gangneung, South Korea • That Russian gold medal drought at the Pyeongchang Olympics is closer to ending.
Teen figure skaters Alina Zagitova or Evgenia Medvedeva will almost certainly take gold in one of the Winter Games marquee events after they went 1-2 in the women’s short program Wednesday with the highest scores ever.
Medvedeva had not lost a competition in two years until she was beaten by Zagitova at the European Championships in Moscow. That set the stage for an Olympic showdown, and with the Russian team having no gold medal so far, the spotlight was even more glaring for them.
They responded with world records.
Medvedeva had set the previous mark for a short program in the team event, when her team won silver. Zagitova handled the free skate.
Russia had never won Olympic gold for women until Adelina Sotnikova took home the medal in Sochi. Another is looming heading to Friday’s free skate to conclude Olympic figure skating. It should break the Russian gold medal drought unless one of their teammates beats them to the podium in another sport.
Medvedeva wasn’t at her best, yet her mark was a record 81.61. A group of Russian fans swayed together in the stands and chanted her name when that number was posted.
“I’m satisfied with my performance today. It was not my best, but it was OK,” she said. “All the battle is still ahead.”
Three skaters later came her training comrade, 15-year-old Zagitova, who put down a more difficult program, including a triple lutz-triple loop combination that outdid Medvedeva’s flip-toe loop combo.
So, another world record, 82.92.
And again the Russian fans rocked back and forth, this time chanting Zagitova’s name.
“Well done to her,” Medvedeva said. “She did everything she could.”
Not exactly, her friend and rival said.
“A few imperfections,” Zagitova explained.
“I’m happy I was able to cope with my nerves and skate well, set a world record,” she added, “but I’ve still got something to work towards and I can’t afford to relax.”
Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman, second and third respectively at last year’s worlds, had varying success.
Osmond, in her best performance of the season, nailed everything with speed and precision to wind up third with 78.87 points. Daleman looked confused and made a gesture with her hands as if to say “What happened?” after going down on the second half of a combination jump. She was seventh Wednesday.
“I left nothing out on the table and I’m really glad I could do that,” said Osmond, the 2017 world silver medalist.
Italy’s Carolina Kostner, the bronze medalist at Sochi and, at 31 the veteran in this field, struggled and wound up just ahead of Daleman.
It was not a strong showing for the Americans, each of whom had a major mistake.
Nine days after becoming the first U.S. woman and third overall to land a triple axel in the Olympics, Mirai Nagasu came down on two feet on the jump, then fell to the ice. While the rest of her program was clean, Nagasu’s chances for an individual medal to go with her team bronze were damaged. Nagasu, 24 and the fourth-place finisher at the Vancouver Games, earned 66.93 points, a season’s best, but was ninth.
“Sometimes it isn’t the right day, and today was one of those days,” Nagasu said. “This isn’t a sport where mistakes are forgiven. You only get one shot.”
U.S. champion Bradie Tennell went first among the 30 skaters, hardly an advantageous position. She led for 2 hours, 40 minutes until the upper echelon began skating and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto passed Tennell. A fall on the back end of a combination jump — Tennell had been virtually perfect with her jumps in her breakthrough season — was costly.
Tennell ended up 11th, one spot behind Karen Chen, the 2017 American champ. Chen put a hand down on her triple lutz and couldn’t finish a combination jump.