We’re going to talk about figure skating. No, it’s not a month ago. You haven’t woken up in February in the middle of the Winter Olympics when everything Adam Rippon said or did made international headlines. Figure skating goes on even after the Olympics are over. It is March, which means it’s time for the world championships in figure skating. Who cares if the Winter Olympics were just a month ago?
As you might expect, a lot of the big stars from the 2018 Olympics decided not to compete in Milan, including the definitely not dating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, men’s champion Yuzuru Hanyu, and the Shib Sibs, the bronze medalists in ice dancing.
But Alina Zagitova, the 15-year-old Russian skater who upset the defending two-time world world Evgenia Medvedeva in Pyeongchang, was in Milan. She was expected to run away with the title and had been undefeated all season during her first year in the senior ranks. And, more importantly, Medvedeva pulled out, citing the same injury that had taken her out of the early part of this season.
Zagitova was in second after the short program, less than a point behind than Italy’s Carolina Kostner. Kostner, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and a former world champion, had struggled all season in the long program. It didn’t seem likely that Kostner would be able to hold off Zagitova—even if the 31 year old skated cleanly—because the Russian had more technical content in her free skate. Zagitova has come from behind to win it in the long program before.
So when Zagitova took to the ice in the second-to-last spot, everyone expected her to put up a huge score and go into the lead ahead of Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond, the 22-year-old bronze medalist from Pyeongchang, and remain there even after Kostner had her turn on the ice.
Then Zagitova fell on her very first jumping pass. And then she fell two more times after that. Forget winning—Zagitova wasn’t even going to medal. She was already in fourth place with one skater, Kostner, left to go. She would eventually end up in fifth. In the span of one month, Zagitova went from best in the world to off the medal podium.
The way seemed clear for Kostner to close out her remarkable career in front a home crowd and become the oldest ladies world champion in history. It would’ve been the perfect end to her long career.
But Kostner also failed to deliver, falling once and missing a critical jump combination. Like Zagitova, she didn’t just miss out on the gold; she didn’t even get a medal. She fell from first to fourth.
The winner ended up being Osmond, the Olympic bronze medalist and the 2017 world silver medalist. She started her long program in fourth place, which was certainly in striking distance of a medal but it didn’t seem likely that she’d end up with the gold. But she hit, which is something the three skaters ranked ahead of her after the short hadn’t been able to do. With the exception of one step out of a jump, she skated the rest of her Swan Lake program almost flawlessly to go into first ahead of Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi, who also skated brilliantly. Five skaters later, after falls from Zagitova, Kostner, and Satoko Miyahara, Osmond was still in first. This win makes her the first Canadian woman to win a world title since Karen Magnussen did it in 1973.
Osmond saved her falling for after the competition. As she was skating around the rink with the Canadian flag in celebration, she tripped and fell.
It’s not so shocking that Osmond won. In the run-up to the Olympics, Osmond was frequently pointed to as the only skater in the women’s field who might be able to challenge the two Russian teens for the gold. But this outcome never seemed very likely, in part, because the Russian skaters were so damn consistent. Until now. With Zagitova’s fifth place finish, this is the first time since 2013 that the Russian women haven’t medaled at worlds.
It’s highly unlikely that this the start of a medal drought for the Russian women such as the one that existed from 2007-2015 for the U.S. women, not with the talent they have coming up the ranks. At the recent Junior World Championships, Alexandra Trusova became the first woman to land two quad jumps in the same program. And world junior silver medalist Alena Kostornaya was recently showing off a gorgeous triple axel in training. This medal-less outcome for the Russians is definitely a blip, not a sign of things to come.
Speaking of medal-less outcomes, the top American finisher was Bradie Tennell, who finished sixth, which is an improvement on her Olympic performance. In Milan, Tennell did what everyone expected her to do in Pyeongchang—hit two clean programs. The next highest placer for the U.S. was Mirai Nagasu in 10th. Like Tennell, Nagasu improved on her individual competition performance in Pyeongchang, hitting two clean programs, if not her overall ranking. (She also placed 10th at the Olympics.) In Milan, Nagasu didn’t attempt her triple axel.
The third American skater in the competition was Mariah Bell in 12th. Bell, who competed at last year’s world championships, wasn’t originally slated to skate in Milan. Karen Chen, the third member of the U.S. women’s Olympic delegation, was supposed to compete, but pulled out. The next up should’ve been Ashley Wagner, who placed fourth at U.S. Nationals, but she declined her invitation, which is why Bell got the nod.
The U.S. women weren’t really expected to contend, so a medal-less result can’t really be viewed as a surprise or a disappointment. But they surely had hoped to hold onto three American spots for next year’s world championships. The way you get this is by adding the placements of the two top finishers. If the result is 13 or lower, that country gets three spots the following year. If not, you go down to two. With their top two finishers placing sixth and 10th, the U.S. women will be down to two slots for next year’s world championships.
And now the figure skating season—at least for the women—is really over.