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In a shocker, Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova wins women’s figure-skating gold

Adelina Sotnikova and her crew are understandably thrilled by her gold-medal marks. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

A virtual tie for first place between three skaters going into the women's figure-skating long program ensured some terrific drama was in store.

But no one could have predicted what ended up happening.

Korea's Yuna Kim's near-perfect performance, in the final skate of the evening as she vied for the second consecutive Olympic gold medal that only Germany's Katarina Witt and the legandary Sonja Henie have earned, should have ended it all.

But no; the gold medal at the Sochi Olympics was awarded to Russia's Adelina Sotnikova, in a shocker of a result that thrilled the Russian crowd but shocked and awed just about everyone else.

Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond, 13th in the short program and 13th in the long program, finished ... 13th.

 

As the top three took the ice in the final flight, there was suspense.

First up was Italy's Carolina Kostner, at 27 the oldest of the three, who probably won the short program even if she only ended up with third-place marks.

She was superb, struggling a little on a couple of the jumps but landing them. Was it a precursor of things to come, that the gold medal would be earned through the front door, and not through the service entrance as was the case with the men?

"This moment is monstrumentally perfect," CBC analyst Kurt Browning said, inventing some new figure skating lingo. "She was flirty, dark, sensuous and had a smile on her face all the way, as if she knew a secret."

Pretty much. But the judges had their own ideas about how, exactly, it would go down

Second up was the forgotten Russian, Sotnikova, who other than a bobble on the third jump of a combination that wouldn't cost her much, was clean. Once the big precocious one, the big hope for the Sochi Olympics, Sotnikova was bypassed in the team event – twice, in favor of a younger rival who had become the flavour of the month, Yulia Lipnitskaya.

Feb 20, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; Adelina Sotnikova of Russia performs in the ladies free skate program during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY ... more 
Feb 20, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; Adelina Sotnikova of Russia performs in the ladies free skate program during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports) less 
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USA TODAY Sports | Photo By Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Thu, 20 Feb, 2014 1:41 PM EST
Two years older than Lipnitskaya, Sotnikova certainly handled the monumental moment far better. But at 17, she doesn't have nearly the polish, the experience, or the artistry of the other two gold medal contenders. Only the final result would tell nearly how much.

Sotnikova scored 224.59 points - the second highest score of all time, seven more than the elegant Kostner in the long program, and nine overall. It was nearly six points better than Kim.

Get ready for another round of debate about the scoring system because, as unforgettable a moment as Sotnikova created in her home country, there's no actual category for that among the many criteria used to judge the event.

Last up, appropriately, was Kim. And the burning question was: if the judges preferred Sotnikova for her athletism over Kostner for her artistry (and athleticism), what would they do if Kim had even a bobble?

It turns out they were consistent, at least on that score. Kim seemed to make the point moot. She had a slightly stiff landing on one trip, but other than that she was flawless. Gold-medal flawless. Silver-medal result.

Yuna Kim's face after it was all over pretty much tells the tale. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

In the end, when all the numbers are crunched and the motives analyzed, it will probably shake out that Sotnikova's far superior technical marks in the long program were within the realm of reasonable. But her component marks – and indeed her marks in the short program – will probably be more difficult to justify. Perhaps she ended up winning because she was the one who best seized her Olympic moment, with attack and joy and fearlessness. Kim might have been hurt by so many previous great skates – especially the one in Vancouver four years ago – that scored so much higher on the emotional scale.

She was terrific, yes. But this is the Olympics; shouldn't there have been something just a little bit ... more?

Lipnitskaya, who finished fifth, ended up the secondary story of this women's event, the new "it" girl under all kinds of pressure in her homeland to somehow pull out a medal despite a sub-par short program.

The long program, to the haunting music of the movie Schindler's list, is a terrific program for Lipnitskaya, whose youth helps to evoke the little girl who is a theme in the early part of the movie with her read coat dress, although the music in itself is so meaningful that youth really cannot do justice to it.

In the end, her performance was of a young teenager in her first Olympics, under major pressure to medal. Lipnitskaya started fantastically well but, in the second half of her program, stumbled and fell on successive triple jump attempts and looked rather disgusted with herself at the end. A slight smile, barely there, after the marks came up was about all she could muster.

Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, in 13th spot after the short program, probably disappointed herself again as she had trouble with two jumping passes. She doubled one triple, and then fell on the next after the first third of her program was top class.

Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond struggled but at 18, there will be another Olympics for her. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue …She managed to smile after it was done, though. That's a great smile, too.

Vancouver Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada, who struggled so in the short program that she ended up 16th, and in the second flight in the long program, atoned to herself for that in a major way in the long.

She landed her triple-axel – it looked a bit under-rotated, but landed and not deducted for that – and skated to the third-best long program score of all time even if two other triples also weren't quite all the way around.

Knowing this could be the end (although she said afterwards that she does intend to go to the world championships) the tears began flowing before the music ended. And yet, it was a performance that didn't tug at the heartstrings nearly as much as you think it should have. Perhaps that was because even though Asada put her complete heart and soul into it, that didn't come out during the technically difficult program - until that end.

An emotional end to the Olympic long program for Japanese star Mao Asada. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Asada's fellow skaters, though, were moved by it, taking to Twitter in big numbers to thank her. And many journalists took to Twitter to bemoan what might have been, if the short program hadn't been such a disaster.

That's a non-starter, though; the two events cannot be judged in a vacuum. Had Asada nailed her short, and been in contention for a medal, who knows how that pressure would have affected the long. As it was, she really had nothing to lose and could just throw it all out there.

Asada ended up moving up 10 spots to finish sixth overall.

Tears to smiles: Gabrielle Daleman, the 16-year-old Canadian who was making her Olympic debut, had enough issues during her long program that the tears started flowing as soon as she struck her final pose. By the time the marks came up, though, her coach, and choreographer Lori Nichol, had her laughing. "You're at the Olympics," Nichols said. It's good to be a teenager who's just getting started. Daleman finished 17th.

Peekaboo, I see you! says Gabrielle Daleman during her long program. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Social media enthousiasm: Skate Canada and the CBC, endemically invested in the outcome of the Canadian athletes' performances, stretched credulity juuuuust a little bit in their immediate reactions to Daleman's long program.

For the sake of editorial accuracy, we should point out that Daleman skated third ... out of 24 skaters. But it was technically true. CBC got pretty excited, too.

Dress of the night: Elizaveta Ukolova of the Czech Republic might have been the most awkward skater on the night; at times it almost seemed as though you were watching the slo-mo replay. According to the commenators, she has gone through a six-inch growth spurt. In a sport where an extra kilo will throw off the delicate balance, it's a wonder she can even skate at all. But Ukolova wins the fashion award, hands down; no need for gaping stretches of skin and colours not found in nature. Add some inches to this stunning dress (the photo doesn't do it true justice) and you could wear it out to a fancy social event.

Elizaveta Ukolova of the Czech Republis wins the fashion award. (AP/Ivan Sekretarev)

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