Five things to know about Alina Zagitova, the newly-crowned women’s figure skating champion at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Friday:
When she had no name:
Her gold medal triumph in Pyeongchang will make Alina Zagitova a household name. Stangely enough, she spent the first year of her existence without a first name. Born on May 18, 2002 in the Western Urals her parents couldn’t make up their minds on what to call the baby girl until she was one. They finally settled on Alina, after celebrated Russian gymnast Alina Kabaeva.
Best till last:
Her free dance calling card is backloading all her jumps into the second half of her program. This has come under fire from some quarters, including a well-known US figure skating columnist who urged the judges in South Korea to penalize her “strategic” ploy to garner extra points. Zagitova answered her critics at Friday’s post-competition press conference: “My program is very harmonious, I begin to slow music, and towards the end it changes to become more dynamic, it speeds up, and this is where I put my jumps. I skate and jump to the beat of the music, and to end it like I do captivates the crowd, makes them want to watch to the end.”
A while back when thoughts of Olympic glory were a distant dream, Zagitova’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze, sent her packing over her poor attitude. “At one point my coach told me to leave the school and go home. She wanted to let me go because I wasn’t working hard enough, I didn’t appreciate the seriousness of it all. I cried a lot, for three days I didn’t practice, it made me realize how much I loved skating. The coach then said ‘let’s try again’, I was very happy, I had butterflies in my stomach. If it wasn’t for that moment maybe I wouldn’t be here.”
It’s easy to forget Zagitova is just 15 when you see how she conducts herself. Quizzed about her maturity and serious nature Zagitova replied after her record-breaking short program on Wednesday: “I am very calm, I don’t show emotions, I don’t splash them around.” Then almost apologetically she added: “This is how I am, it’s my nature.”
Zagitova carved her name in Olympic folklore aged 15 years and 281 days. But she missed becoming the youngest ever women’s figure skate champion by 26 days. That record is held by Tara Lipinski, the American skater who was 15 years and 255 days when she won gold in 1998, in Nagano, Japan. Fittingly, Lipinski was at the rink on Friday to watch Zagitova in her capacity as part of US network NBC’s Olympic coverage. With her career, health permitting, stretching far into the future Zagitova spoke in awe of Carolina Kostner, the 31-year-old Italian star who was competing on Friday in her final Olympics. “For me Carolina is the best role model, lots of medals, lots of competitions. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to achieve the same success but I know very well if I manage to do it right then why not?”