As Kamila Valieva glided across the ice, a shower of camera shutters echoed through the Olympic figure skating arena. She was the skater to watch on the second day of the team event, and she delivered the performance many people had come to see.
Wearing a purple, flowing dress that made her look like Disney princess, Valieva, 15, easily won the short program on Sunday, landing each of her jumps softly, as if trying not to wake a sleeping baby, and floating through her program without showing even a hint of effort. She received seven perfect scores for artistry (and not one of those came from a Russian judge).
Valieva’s score of 90.18 points blew past her nearest challenger, Wakaba Higuchi of Japan, who scored 74.73. Her final score was just shy of her world record score for the short program, 90.45, which she set last month at the European Championships.
Most important to her Russian team, though, was that her commanding performance lifted the Russian squad across the United States and into first in the team standings.
“I’m happy that I was able to bring the maximum score to my team,” Valieva said through a Russian translator. “I did everything I could have done today.”
Clutching a cuddly stuffed rabbit, she added, “I felt very nervous, but also calm.”
After the women’s short program, only five of 10 teams advanced to the final stage of the competition: the Russian Olympic Committee, the United States, Japan, Canada and China. The Russian team remained in the lead after men’s free skate finished on Sunday afternoon. The final day of competition is scheduled for Monday.
The United States is in second place, and Japan is third. With the standings and points the way they are now, the Russian and the United States teams are already guaranteed medals.
Still, the Americans ended the day lamenting what could have been. Disappointing performances by Karen Chen and Vincent Zhou, both two-time Olympians who admitted to feeling nervous before taking to the ice on Sunday, severely damaged the Americans’ chance to win the gold medal. The United States team has won bronze in the team event at the past two Winter Games.
On Sunday, Chen finished fifth in the short program after falling on a triple jump and under-rotating another jump.
“I’m definitely disappointed about the loop because I should have hit it and I know I can hit it, ”Chen said. “If I had a chance to go out there and do it again, I know I can.”
Zhou, the only person since March 2018 to beat the three-time world champion Nathan Chen, planned to execute five quadruple jumps but landed only two of them cleanly. He missed one of them all together, rotating only once in the air instead of four times.
Zhou gave himself a B-minus grade for his effort but said he would easily reset himself for the men’s individual competition, which begins on Tuesday.
“Things will start to come together better,” he said.
On Friday, the first day of the team competition, American skaters had a much better showing.
Nathan Chen, the gold medal favorite in the men’s singles, finished first, as did the ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier finished third in pairs.
When the competition resumes on Monday, it is more than likely that Russia will remain in the lead for the gold medal, if only because its women are so far ahead of their competition. Russian women swept the podium at the 2021 world championships – and Valieva was not even there. She had yet to even skate in her first senior event.
When asked on Sunday if she was unbeatable, Valieva hugged her stuffed rabbit closer and giggled.
She declined to answer the question.