A trio of teammates swept the podium, with Alexandra Trusova winning the bronze. Six years after her world title, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is back on the podium at age 24.
Along with quadruple jumps and triple Axels, the ladies' free skate was full of dramatic twists and turns Friday night in Stockholm.
Skating last, short program leader Anna Shcherbakova, the 16-year-old Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSR) athlete rose to the top, claiming her first world title behind a 233.17 total score at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships.
A Russian trio swept the podium as 2015 world champ Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (220.46) hit two triple Axels in her free skate in delivering an emotional performance for silver, while Alexandra Trusova fell twice in her free skate, but landed three out of five attempted quads for a monster (and winning) 152.38 free skate and 217.20 overall, helping to salvage what had been a disappointing short program for the bronze.
American Karen Chen was enchanting, finishing fourth and helping to secure a provisional third Olympic spot for the American team at the Beijing Winter Games next year.
It was a disappointing night for Japan, as Kihira Rika faltered in her free, finishing seventh. Sakamoto Kaori took sixth. Japan will join the FSR and U.S. teams in sending three ladies to the Olympics in 2022.
Belgium Leona Hendrickx had the skate of her career, finishing fifth.
An emotional Shcherbakova said after her win: "Honestly I really don't know what to say now because after my performance I really tried to do my best and fight for every element. I'm not satisfied with my performance, but I'm so, so happy that I'm first. It was my goal. It was a real fight for me."
It's the first time one team has swept the ladies' podium at worlds since the U.S. did so in 1991.
Nothing came easy of the women on Friday night, each of the top three falling at at least one spot in their free skates.
Shcherbakova didn't panic after going down on a quadruple flip, hitting seven triple jumps thereafter - including a triple Lutz-triple loop combination in the back half of her program - and skating with flowing ease to a Philip Glass medley. She had the highest score in the program components, the judges awarding her commitment to the music.
"What an accomplishment for Anna to come away with the title on her first appearance at worlds," said Olympic Channel's Meryl Davis, the 2014 Olympic ice dance champion.
Davis continued: "It was certainly a dramatic ladies’ event that kept us all on the edges of our seats the whole time. Despite several mistakes, each of these young athletes are to be commended on their extraordinary efforts throughout this challenging season. It’s going to be exciting to see how their work shapes the landscape of this field over the next year into the 2022 Games."
Shcherbakova will celebrate her 17th birthday on Sunday, something she says she'll do with her team, led by coach Eteri Tutberidze.
Twelfth after the short program, Trusova knew she needed to deliver in the free skate.
She did mostly that. Despite falling on two quadruple jumps, she landed three others, including quad flip, Lutz and toe. Her 152.38 edged out Shcherbakova's 152.17 for the best of the night.
"When you do the unsuccessful skate, you forget it and then just keep going," Trusova said, reflecting on her disappointing short program.
There was no such disappointment over the two days of skating for Tuktamysheva, who was skating at worlds for the first time since her championship win in 2015. She opened with a thrilling triple Axel-double toe combination to start her free skate, then hit another triple Axel before going on to hit five more triples, though she fell on a triple flip midway through the program.
She broke into tears as her scores came up after the free skate, the numbers assuring her a spot back on the podium.
"'I am a very stoic person, I usually never cry," Tuktamysheva said. "Maybe once I cried before during my career. I was waiting for such a moment in my career when I will get so emotional and it happened today."
She continued: "For me, the silver medal at worlds only gives me energy and motivates me for the next season. I want to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games."
Tuktamysheva, 24, is the oldest medallist at worlds since Ashley Wagner in 2016. She has yet to qualify for the Olympics in her career.
There were plenty of storylines throughout an evening that had everything, including a beautiful skate from Chen, the PyeongChang 2018 Olympian who was at worlds for the first time since 2017.
"I'm really proud of myself for delivering a solid short and free program," Chen told reporters, saying she was "in shock" when she found out the U.S. had secured a third spot.
The U.S. will need to confirm that spot at the Nebelhorn Trophy next season, the secondary Olympic qualifier event, to ensure that third position does, indeed, go to the Games.
Chen's teammate Bradie Tennell finished ninth, saying she had boot issues this week that didn't allow her to skate her best.
It was disappointment for Kihira, second ofter the short program, who turned a planned triple Axel into a double to open her free skate and then never recovered. Japan is without a ladies medal at worlds since 2018.
Hendrickx made the biggest leap from the short only second to Trusova, going from 10th to 4th. Her fifth place is a career-best in four worlds appearances.
Also of note: Olga Mikutina of Austria had a standout free skate to finish eighth overall, while the Korean team struggled, Lee Haein and Kim Yelim finishing 10th and 11th respectively having both been in the top eight in the short program.