GANGNEUNG (South Korea) • Teenage figure skating sensation Alina Zagitova expressed disbelief yesterday after winning her duel with Evgenia Medvedeva to claim Russia's first gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
The 15-year-old took the women's title for the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) by a slender margin of just 1.31 points from her friend, compatriot, training partner and arch-rival.
The bronze went to Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond (231.02 points).
"I can't believe I'm the champion," said Zagitova after a fairy-tale debut season on the senior circuit. "It'll take some time to sink in."
She beat two-time world champion Medvedeva despite both scoring 156.65 points in the free-skating. Zagitova's world-record short programme score of 82.92 just 48 hours earlier made the difference, giving her a combined total of 239.57.
Medvedeva, skating last, was unable to match her world-record standard. She crumpled into the arms of her coach in tears after her routine to Anna Karenina gave her a combined score of 238.26.
But the training partners embraced after the competition, exchanging congratulations.
"I wanted to end these Olympics without any regrets. I was able to do that," said 18-year-old Medvedeva, who suffered a foot fracture that sidelined her from the Grand Prix Final in December.
"A great sports life awaits me. And like today, I will leave everything on the ice."
The two ice princesses were among the 168 athletes from Russia who passed rigorous testing to compete as neutrals under the OAR banner in South Korea after Russia were banned over state-sponsored doping.
The winter sports powerhouse may have had to wait until three days from the end of the Games, but their title famine was finally ended by the starlet from the Western Urals.
The girl in a red ballerina's costume has enjoyed a sensational debut season on the senior circuit.
Zagitova, who turns 16 in May, had got the better of Medvedeva in last month's European Championships, and came out on top again to become the second-youngest Olympic women's champion after American Tara Lipinski (15 years and eight months) in 1998.
She produced a flawless four-minute free dance set to Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus' score to the ballet Don Quixote.
With yesterday's figure skating medals, the OAR now have one gold, five silver and eight bronzes.
For Russians, the one-two was the highlight of an Olympics where many believe their countrymen have suffered injustice and even humiliation.
Yet their breakthrough came on the same day that Russian bobsleigh competitor Nadezhda Sergeyeva tested positive for a banned substance.
The 30-year-old, who finished 12th in the two-woman bob this week with Nadezhda Paleeva, is the second Russian to fail a drugs test at these Games.
A day earlier, curler Alexander Krushelnitsky, 25, was stripped of a bronze medal .
A source close to the Sergeyeva case told AFP that the banned substance was trimetazidine, a medication used to treat heart pain or vision problems. The source said that an A sample had tested positive and a B sample from the athlete would be tested today.
The latest doping case comes as the International Olympic Committee is considering whether to lift the Russian ban and allow their athletes to march under the Russian flag at tomorrow's closing ceremony.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS