Morning Chronicle - Russian teen does it for grandma in dazzling Olympic skating debut

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Russian teen does it for grandma in dazzling Olympic skating debut
Russian teen does it for grandma in dazzling Olympic skating debut

Russian teen does it for grandma in dazzling Olympic skating debut

Fifteen-year-old Kamila Valieva dominated on her Olympic debut Sunday in Beijing, coming close to breaking her own world record and propelling the Russians into first place ahead of the United States in the figure skating team event.

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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 pep talk -- asked later what was said, Valieva laughed that it was "a secret".

With a deep breath and a nod, the teenager moved into starting position.

- Russians take lead -

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.

"I'm skating for my grandmother who passed away so I think it was that feeling got me," she said afterwards, wearing an off-shoulder purple ombre dress glittering with rhinestones, and clutching a fluffy pink rabbit tissue box.

Her efforts pushed the Russians ahead of the United States overall, who were in the lead at the day's start.

Karen Chen, of the US, fell attempting to land a triple loop, finishing in fifth place.

"I think the idea of competing started to sink in and I felt a little tense," 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, which started immediately with the men's singles.

China started the day in third but nearly didn't make it after a nervous performance from Zhu Yi, who fell early on and looked to be holding back tears as she awaited her score.

In the end they placed fifth after a tiebreaker with Georgia.

- Gladiator beats Jesus -

Further disappointment awaited Team USA, as Vincent Zhou failed to claw back the lost points with his "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" programme.

He was third, behind top-placed Yuma Kagiyama of Japan –- who scored a personal best of 208.94 to Hans Zimmer's "Gladiator" theme –- and Russian Mark Kondratiuk, who skated to "Jesus Christ Superstar".

Kagiyama and Zhou are in the running for a medal in the men's individual, beginning Tuesday, though the favourites are their compatriots Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen.

The mercurial Hanyu hasn't been seen in public in Beijing yet, but he will defend his title.