Ice Network

OAR dominance has rest of field chasing bronze

World silver medalist Osmond closest to Zagitova, Medvedeva after short
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond may have the best shot at joining Olympic Athletes from Russia Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva on the podium in Korea. -Getty Images

To no one's surprise, Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva placed first and second in the ladies short program Wednesday, notching 82.92 points and 81.61 points, respectively, and setting new world records in the process. Survey the mixed zone at Gangneung Ice Arena and you won't find anyone willing to bet against the two teenagers bringing home gold and silver to Russia.

While Zagitova and Medvedeva, who both train in Eteri Tutberidze's group in Moscow, are fiercely competitive on the ice -- after the short, Medvedeva called their rivalry "a little war" -- others seem resigned to fighting for the bronze medal. Call them, "Olympic Athletes, Not from Russia (OANR)."

At age 31, competing in her fourth Olympics and with a world title, four European crowns and the 2014 Olympic bronze medal to her credit, Italy's Carolina Kostner might be forgiven for begging out of the fray.

"Although I don't feel old, it is amazing to be here," said Kostner, who sits sixth with 73.15 points. "I feel I am at my best condition I ever felt in (terms of) the whole package, and right now it's about enjoying it. I will try my best. Just being here is a huge victory and the rest is the icing on the cake."

Younger skaters also can't seem to imagine breaking up the Russian duopoly.

"My chances for a medal are only about 20-30 percent," said Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, who finished fifth in the short program with 73.18 points. "I don't feel exactly competitive with the very top skaters yet. I have to fight with myself first."

Asked if she could defeat the Russians, Japanese champion Satoko Miyahara smiled and shook her head a bit.

"I know the Russians do their best always, they are very consistent," Miyahara, fourth with 75.94 points, said. "I would be very happy if I get the bronze medal."

Kaetlyn Osmond, the big-jumping Canadian who placed second in the world to Medvedeva last season, skated an electric short to an Édith Piaf medley and sits third, just 2.74 points out of second place.

Of all of the OANR, Osmond has the best chance to defeat Zagitova and/or Medvedeva. Her triple flip-triple toe loop combination was higher and cleaner than Medvedeva's; it received a lower score, only because it wasn't done in the second half of the program. Yet Ravi Walia, who trains Osmond in Edmonton, hardly entertains the thought of sneaking into the top two.

"These Russian girls do not miss," Walia, who has coached Osmond for 12 years, said. "They are very reliable. They get very good scores, partly because they are doing their jumps in the second half and get bonus points, but partly because -- they just get good scores. There's not a lot of room there."

So what are Osmond's chances for a medal, then?

"Oh, a medal -- you asked about beating the Russian girls," he said. "Medaling is possible. If Kaetlyn does her job, medaling is a realistic possibility for her. It's easier for us to just think about her doing her job, because if she doesn't, there is no medal."

It's clear that, although his skater sits less than three behind Medvedeva, Walia's sights are set on bronze.

As for Osmond herself, she's not thinking about the Russians, not letting herself even consider climbing up on to the podium. And for her, that might be the best way to win that medal.

"I have no idea what the competition is like, I stay very much in my own little bubble before I compete and even after I compete," Osmond said. "My coach always reminds me I do this every day in practice, and when I compete, it's the reward for that."

Osmond's program Wednesday was a big uptick from her short in the team event earlier in the Games, when she flubbed her triple-triple combination. She spent about a week training off-site, at a rink arranged by Skate Canada, and thinks that helped.

"I was able to separate from the village, separate from the excitement of everything that was going on and really go back to my regular training, just like I do at home," she said.

"I wasn't going to shy away from anything in my (short) program," she added. "I was going to attack every element and leave nothing behind. That was definitely what I did, but I definitely had to remind myself to control my excitement, control my energy."

That's a mindset Osmond has worked to maintain since breaking her right fibula in two places during a practice session in September 2014. It took two surgeries and nearly a year for Osmond to return to competition, but Walia thinks it took far longer for her to regain her competitive edge.

"It was a struggle. It took a year to get her back physically and then another year to get her back mentally," Walia said. "We didn't know that would happen, we didn't plan for that. Physically she was quite good. I didn't think it would take that long to get her to be able to compete again, she never had that problem when she was younger."

Walia and Osmond credit her work with a sports psychologist with helping her break through at the world championships last season, and giving her the tools she needs to fight for a medal at PyeongChang.

"She does that weekly, and it's been really helpful getting her more focused, more confident and staying in the moment," Walia said.

Numbers don't lie. Osmond's highest free skate score ever, set at a minor international event in Canada in September, is 142.34 points. Medvedeva's personal best is more than 18 points higher. But winning -- or even placing second -- isn't uppermost in their thoughts.

"To be honest, the focus is not really on beating the Russian girls," Walia said. "Our focus is having Kaetlyn have the same type of performance in the free skate that she did in the short program today."