Zagitova leads Medvedeva at European figure skating champs
MOSCOW (AP) Alina Zagitova led the European figure skating championships on debut after the short program with a dramatic performance of strong and precise jumps on Thursday.
Russians swept the pairs medals, led by defending champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, whose free skate vaulted them to gold despite finishing fifth in the short program a day earlier.
Zagitova, the Grand Prix Final champion, nailed all of her jumps, including a fast triple lutz-triple loop combination. She followed with a triple flip spectacularly done with both arms raised.
''It's my first Europeans, but I was able to calm down and I was able to show what I have worked on with my coaches,'' Zagitova said. ''I am very pleased to have finally skated a clean short program.''
She finished with 80.27 points, more than 1 1/2 ahead of Russian teammate Evgenia Medvedeva, the dominant women's skater of recent years. Medvedeva, who sat out the Grand Prix Final and Russian nationals to recover from a cracked metatarsal bone, stepped out of her double axel.
''I did not feel the injury, everything has healed,'' Medvedeva said. ''I've been longing to come back to the ice and compete. I'm not happy with the skate but there's time for me to tighten it up'' before the Pyeongchang Olympics.
If Medvedeva loses in the Europeans after Saturday's free skate, it would be her first defeat in more than two years.
Zagitova and Medvedeva benefited from placing all their jumps into the latter half of their program, which raises their value.
Carolina Kostner of Italy, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, was in third, less than two points behind Zagitova. The age range was far wider - the 17-year-old Zagitova was just a year old when Kostner, a few weeks shy of 31, competed in her first Europeans.
''I felt grounded and serene and I loved the authentic and genuine reaction of the audience,'' Kostner said. ''I could literally hear the silence, it was very special.''
All three are in strong podium position heading into the free skate. Fourth-place Maria Sotskova of Russia was nearly 10 points behind Kostner.
Tarasova and Morozov, skating to an assortment of boogie-woogie tunes, opened boldly with a quad twist lift. Their triple toe loop-double toe-double toe cascade was precisely synchronized, a contrast to the previous day's unfocused appearance.
''The main thing was not to burn out today. We went out there angry at ourselves, angry at our opponents, at the situation, at everything ... we skated to the maximum,'' Morozov said.
Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who were part of the gold-winning team at the Sochi Olympics, ended with silver 10 points off the lead. She fell on a triple salchow, and her hand went very close to the ice on the throw triple salchow they dramatically placed as the final element in the free skate.
''I personally think it was bad. A lot of mistakes, the jumps messed up again,'' Klimov said. ''I didn't like it and I'm not happy.''
Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert took the bronze after starting the day in second place.
Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France led after the short program, but ended fourth, their free skate plagued by small errors and her turning a triple-double-double into two doubles and a single.
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth contributed to this story.