Figure Skating

Alina Zagitova's crowning moment in PyeongChang and what's happened since

Three years ago to the day, Alina Zagitova became Olympic champion in an incredible first year at senior level.

By ZK Goh ·

Winning an Olympic title is often a crowning moment.

Doing so in your debut season at the top international level is another achievement altogether.

And that was what Alina Zagitova, representing the Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) team, managed to accomplish three years ago in PyeongChang when she became the Olympic ladies' figure skating champion.

Since then, she has gone on to complete the 'Super Slam' – but her future on the ice is uncertain.

Three years on from that moment in South Korea, here is how it happened and what has followed in the time since.

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Dream debut season

The Olympic season went like a dream for the Russian skater.

It's hard to believe that 2017/18 was Zagitova's debut senior season, aged just 15.

Her technical ability shone through as she won at both the Cup of China and Internationaux de France Grands Prix, qualifying her for the Grand Prix Final.

Despite falling behind after the short program at that event, Zagitova came back strongly to win by scoring nearly five points more than her nearest competitor.

She also won at the Russian nationals in the absence of Evgenia Medvedeva, before defeating her compatriot at the European Championships – the latter's first loss in two years.

But the apex of Zagitova's season, undoubtedly, came in PyeongChang.

Alina Zagitova (centre) poses with her 2018 European Championships gold medal alongside silver medallist Evgenia Medvedeva and bronze medallist Carolina Kostner. (Photo: REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Olympic triumph

First, she took part in the ladies' free skate portion of the team event, winning the segment and scoring a full 10 points for the OAR team en route to silver.

Then in the individual event – the last figure skating competition of the Games – she set a new ISU best score for the short program.

She landed a triple Lutz, triple loop combination in addition to a triple flip and double Axel.

A double fist pump at the end of her program proved that she knew she'd done enough to set the bar going into the free skate two days later.

On 23 February 2018, she wrote her name into the record books, becoming the second-youngest ladies' champion in Olympic history (behind Tara Lipinski).

Making use of the prevailing regulations at the time, Zagitova chose to put all seven of her jumping passes in the second half of her routine, receiving a 10 per cent bonus to the base scoring value for each.

It was a strong performance technically, although her artistic scores were not as high as those of Medvedeva, who received the same total free skate score and was ranked ahead of her in the segment based on having the better program components.

Choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz's wide smile greeted Zagitova as she came off the ice, and her coach Eteri Tutberidze – not known for being someone to openly show emotion – even managed a small smile in the kiss-and-cry before reverting to a poker face.

There was no doubt that Zagitova had won and become Olympic champion, capping an incredible season.

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Rule change

While she did not go on to win the world title the following month in Milan, where Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond triumphed, Zagitova had clearly stamped her authority on the sport.

Her PyeongChang routine also led to a change in the ISU's rules for the following season.

With its decision to change the judging system to allow a wider range of Grade of Execution scores, the governing body also introduced a rule that restricted each skater to a maximum of three jumps in the second half of the program being eligible to receive the 10 percent bonus, nicknamed the "Zagitova Rule".

The new rule didn't slow her down in the 2019 season, however.

Zagitova won both her Grand Prix assignments again, before clinching silver at the Grand Prix Final and European Championships.

She completed the 'Super Slam' – winning both major junior and all four major senior international titles – when she won gold at the Worlds in Saitama, Japan, marking her as one of the best ever in terms of honours won. Of ladies' singles skaters, only Yuna Kim can also claim to have completed the Super Slam and won more medals.

A difficult 2020 season, however, saw her overshadowed somewhat by her younger Russian quad-jumping training mates.

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Future unclear

Although Zagitova is currently officially on hiatus, she has kept herself busy with skating-related projects.

Alongside the 2002 men's Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin, she co-hosts the reality skating competition and TV show Ice Age.

She has also continued to participate in exhibition shows, making a surprise appearance in the exhibition gala at the Rostelecom Cup earlier this season.

Most recently, she captained the "Red Machine" team at the exhibition Channel One Cup, a tournament put on by Russian television featuring the top skaters in the country.

Although she herself did not skate (aside from a brief show number on the first day of competition), Zagitova's "Red Machine" defeated Medvedeva's "Time of Firsts" team in the two-day contest.

The big question remains, however: What does Alina Zagitova do next?

Regardless of her choice, she has made her mark on figure skating.