Spellbinding Valieva propels Russian Olympic team into pole position


The Russian Olympic Committee ended Day 2 of the figure skating Team Event in pole position

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) advanced to the next stage of Beijing 2022’s figure skating Team Event by finishing first on Day 2 with 45 points.

The ROC was one of five teams to get through to the final day of competition penciled in for Monday and has a comfortable lead ahead of the United States (42 points), Japan (39), Canada (30) and hosts China (29).

The star of the show was 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, who put together an incredible short program to Kirill Richter’s In Memoriam and is a gold medal favorite in next week’s women’s individual competition.

The teenage prodigy’s “flawless” showing lifted the ROC from second to first.

And although her 90.18 score fell short of her 90.45 world record this season, it was still the highest scoring short program in competition history and blew away nearest challenger Wakaba Higuchi, who put in 74.73 for Japan.

“I’m happy that I was able to bring the maximum score to my team,” said Valieva after her feat. “I did everything I could have done today.”

© Andrew Milligan / PA Images via Getty Images

Clutching a stuffed rabbit after the feat, Valieva revealed that she felt “very nervous, but also calm” when becoming the first European woman to land a triple axel at the Winter Olympics.

“I think I don’t feel the pressure; it’s actually the opposite, I feel it’s easier here,” Valieva, making her Olympic debut, added later.

“Well, maybe not easier but more inspiring. The atmosphere here is incredible. I don’t try to achieve high scores, I am here for the clean skate,” she claimed, while revealing that she woke up at 3AM but slept at 8PM, which was “cool”.

“I’m skating for my grandmother who passed away [in 2019] so I think it was that feeling that got me,” additionally admitted.

Also awe-inspiring on his maiden Olympic outing was Valieva’s teammate Mark Kondratiuk, who arrived in Beijing as a Russian champion in December and a European king in January.

© Annice Lyn / Getty Images

He earned the respect of legendary comedian Ben Stiller for the way he “rocked out” to his Jesus Christ Superstar program, and earned an 86.56 score in his program components (artistry) which saw him complete three quadruple jumps while skating “with passion throughout”.

Though he finished second behind Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama on 181.65 points to his fellow 18-year-old’s 208.94, Kondratiuk contributed to the ROC finishing in top spot.

On Monday, the ROC will battle for Russian athletes’ first Team Event gold medal in figure skating since Sochi 2014, after finishing second to Canada in Pyeongchang four years ago. 

In chronological order, pair skating comes first on Monday followed by the ice dance and women’s single skating.

The Russian team is sitting at the top of the table. © Catherine Ivill / Getty Images

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