Russian teen rules rink in dazzling Olympic figure skating debut
Fifteen-year-old Kamila Valieva dominated on her Olympic debut Sunday in Beijing, coming close to breaking her own world record and pushing the Russians into first place ahead of the United States in the figure skating team event.
Valieva, the favourite in the women's individual event, swept away the competition with a score of 90.18 in the short programme, skimming across the ice with almost supernatural poise and precision.
Japan's Wakaba Higuchi came a distant second with 74.73.
"I felt a little bit nervous, but also calm," a glowing Valieva said afterwards, adding this was an unusual feeling.
"I'm so happy to be at the Olympic Games."
Valieva is the 2022 European Champion and her teammates Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova took silver and bronze at the same competition.
All train with coach Eteri Tutberidze, who was rink-side Sunday for a last-minute talk -- asked later what was said, Valieva laughed that it was "a secret".
With a deep breath and a nod, the teenager moved to take her starting position.
Skating to Kirill Richter's "In Memoriam", Valieva looked in complete control as she landed a triple axel in a programme that showcased her balletic discipline.
Wearing an off-shoulder purple ombre dress glittering with rhinestones, and clutching a fluffy pink rabbit tissue box, Valieva told journalists "we'll see" when asked if getting on the ice for the team would help her with the individual event.
"I'm so grateful that I was able to perform in the team event," she said.
- Fear and falls -
Her efforts pushed the Russians ahead of the United States overall, who had been in the lead going into the day's events.
Karen Chen, of the US, fell while attempting to land a triple loop. She finished in fifth place.
"This morning... I think the idea of competing started to sink in and I felt a little tense, and so now that I know how my body and how my mind’s going to react, I can better-prepare for future competitions," she told AFP.
The top five teams from the short programme section of the team event -- the Russians, United States, Japan, Canada and China -- progressed to the free programme section.
China, who went into the day in third position, nearly didn't make it into the final after a nervous performance from Zhu Yi, who fell early on and looked to be holding back tears as she waited to receive her score.
But in the end they placed fifth after a tiebreaker with Georgia.