SOCHI, Russia – When she was done electrifying the Iceberg Skating Palace, 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova reached down onto the Olympic ice, grabbed some ice shavings, lifted them to her mouth and drank them in.
The Russian who looked to be a nervous wreck delivered a brilliant free skate to win ladies figure skating gold here Thursday – the first ever for Russia in ladies' figure skating – stunning reigning Olympic champion Yuna Kim of South Korea and the brilliant Carolina Kostner of Italy in the process. They finished second and third, respectively.
Sotnikova delivered an astounding score of 149.95 – 18.32 points higher than her season best and 8.44 points better than anyone in the field had scored this year – amidst the roaring noise and stomping feet of the pro-Russian crowd, the reward for a performance that was equal parts artistic and athletic. She finished with a score of 224.59.
The score was through the roof, 5.76 points higher than what Kim was given on another flawless-looking program and 7.34 above what Kostner received for her own tremendous program.
The judging, because of the size of the gap between the scores, is likely to be analyzed and criticized for years to come. In fact, American Ashley Wagner wasted no time, saying "people need to be accountable."
"This sport needs fans and needs people who want to watch it," Wagner, who finished seventh, said. "People do not want to watch a sport where they see someone skate lights out and they can't depend on that person to be the one who pulls through."
American Gracie Gold fell during her long program although she otherwise skated well, winding up with a 136.90 to finish in fourth place at 205.53. In the end, her free skate wouldn't have mattered. Even if she skated perfectly, she was unlikely to have been able to make up enough ground to crack the top three of Sotnikova, Kim and Kostner, who had sizeable leads after Wednesday's short program and programs of equal or greater difficulty.
Gold wound up just off the podium but essentially maximized her ability with her finish. Wagner remained upright and skated strong, but she continued to struggle to impress international judges. She received just a 127.99 on the free skate and finished in sixth place.
The story of the night was Sotnikova, who the judges simply loved. The four-time Russian champion had been overshadowed during the Olympics by countrywoman Julia Lipnitskaia, who was brilliant in the team competition at the start of the Games.
However, over the past two nights, Sotnikova, of Moscow, showed her class by outlasting this loaded Olympic field. She combined grace, charisma and athletic ability to wind up dominating the judges' thinking.
Kim, the 23-year-old skating icon who won gold in 2010, was great herself, bringing her traditional blend of floating leaps and almost impossibly fluid spins. It wasn't enough, though. On this night in Russia, ladies figure skating gold finally went to Russia.
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