GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) At mid-ice, the Canadians gathered for a group huddle that turned into a massive hug.
They earned it: Gold for Canada.
While the stars of Monday’s Olympic free skates were a Russian and an American woman, Canada’s deep squad grabbed the team gold medal it so desperately sought.
”We’re born on the ice,” said ice dancer Scott Moir, who with partner Tessa Virtue tied an Olympic figure skating record with four medals. ”We think we’re the best in the world. Winning this is like winning hockey and winning curling.”
The top spot was clinched when Gabrielle Daleman finished third behind Russian Alina Zagitova and American Mirai Nagasu in the women’s event. That gave Canada 63 points to 58 for the Russians with only the ice dance remaining. The Russians could pick up a maximum of four points in that discipline.
The United States repeated its showing in the 2014 Sochi Games with a bronze medal.
Just before Daleman’s clincher, Patrick Chan won the men’s free skate against a weakened field, and with a mediocre performance.
Regardless, Canada’s quest for a medal its skaters said they set about winning ever since they wound up second in Sochi was complete with one program remaining.
”I worked my butt off incredibly hard these past four years to get on this team,” Daleman said. ”We have such an incredible, strong team, and I’m proud to say we’ve won and I’m prouder to have been part of it.”
With their team gold medal assured, Virtue and Moir tied the record for most Olympic medals won by figure skaters. Evgeni Plushenko and Gillis Grafstrom also won four apiece.
”Obviously the skaters in generations before us didn’t have the opportunity to win multiple medals at an Olympic Games,” Moir said. ”We recognize that. But what we do realize – and I think I learned this from Evgeni Plushenko actually – is a lot of things have to go right. You have to be pretty fortunate to do multiple games and have a shot at medals. When I look at that, I just think of how fortunate we’ve been to compete on the world’s best scale.”
The women’s free skate was top scale – and historic – for the Americans. Nagasu, whose career hit several roadblocks since finishing fourth at the 2010 Olympics – she was bumped from the 2014 U.S. team in favor of Ashley Wagner – had the performance of her life. Not only did her teammates rise in applause, so did skaters from other nations, and not simply because she landed the triple axel so few women even attempt.
”I don’t know if you could tell – it was more something I could feel – but to nail it the way I did, even out of the corner of my eye I could see my teammates standing out of excitement,” Nagasu said. ”And at that moment I wanted to stop the music and get off, but I still had my whole program ahead of me, and to complete the performance to the best of my ability is really exciting.”
Zagitova, the rising star from Russia and current European champion, topped Nagasu’s score by 20 points. The 15-year-old stamped herself as the main challenger to countrywoman Evgenia Medvedeva for the gold in the individual event with a brilliant combination of jumps, spins, artistry and overall presence.
”I’m really happy with my skate. I was able to cope with my nerves and I’m very pleased that I didn’t let my team down,” Zagitova said. ”I always motivate myself that I do everything in training well, all the elements, so why can’t I do that in competition, too?”
Just like Friday’s men’s short program, the men’s free skate was anything but memorable. Chan won it despite several major mistakes – his struggles on the triple axel struck him once again. His artistry boosted his mark significantly, and, frankly, the four other competitors are not his main competition in the individual event later this week.
The 10-time national champion and 2014 Olympic silver medalist moved Canada closer to that highly sought gold, extending its lead by a point.
”We wanted to make sure one of us would beat the Russians in our events, and I’m so honored to have done it,” Chan said.
Adam Rippon, replacing U.S. champ Nathan Chen, skated a fluid and at times mesmerizing routine, but his marks were damaged by inconsistencies with his jumps, including omitting a planned quad lutz.
Still, his third-place finish extended the Americans’ lead over Italy to two points, helping the Americans get closer to replicating their showing in Sochi.
”I worked so hard for this moment,” said Rippon, who was added to the team by the U.S. committee in January ahead of Ross Miner. ”I still have another week of competition to go, but to have that moment, my family is here, I have friends watching at home. To do it for them who have supported me and watched me and been on this long road that’s been up and down, that feels incredible.”
As did the team bronze medal, of course.
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