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How Alina Zagitova gamed the system en route to ‘Russia’s’ first gold medal

How Alina Zagitova gamed the system en route to ‘Russia’s’ first gold medal

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — For the first 2:10 of her not quite four-minute free skate routine here at the ladies’ final, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova spun, twirled, stepped and acted out a choreographed scene from “Don Quixote,” whose music played the entire time.

What Zagitova didn’t do was jump.

Those would come and those would come brilliantly, brilliantly enough that Zagitova would later win the gold medal. She won the game, though, by gaming the system … fair and square but still bizarre to see.

Under current International Skating Union rules, a skater gets a 10-percent bonus for all jumps completed in the final two minutes of their performance. The theory is that jumps done at that point deserve a bump because the skaters are tiring out, mainly because of jumps at the beginning of the performance. It sounds reasonable.

Then Zagitova came by and stuck a toeloop through the loop hole. Rather than tire out during her first two minutes, she essentially skates around, conserves energy by doing simple maneuvers and then packs the entire program into the last 1:45.

Why attempt a jump early, when you can just attempt it later and have it count for more?

It was many things, including controversial.

Mainly though, it was ingenious. Leave it to a teenager to win the Olympic Athletes from Russia’s first gold medal at these Olympics.

Zagitova edged out fellow Russian Evgenia Medvedeva, who won silver. Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond won bronze.

Zagitova’s performance went like this. The first 2:10, not much. There was choreography, a fly into a camel spin and a step sequence. If the crowd at the Gangneung Ice Arena dozed off, no one would have blamed them. Then came the action.

At 2:10, she threw a triple lutz-triple loop combo. At 2:23, a double axel-triple toe loop combo. At 2:38, a triple flip-double toe loop-double loop combo. At 3:06, a triple lutz. At 3:15, a triple salchow. At 3:25, a triple flip. At 3:34, a double axel. That’s seven jumps in 84 seconds. She later squeezed in a change foot combination spin and completed everything at 3:55 to a roaring audience and clearly impressed judges.

Zagitova scored 156.65, the same as Medvedeva. Since Zagitova led going into the day, she won gold, 239.57-238.26.

Then she defended her system, claiming it was about artistry.

“My program is very harmonious, I think,” she said. “In the beginning, I skate to slow music. And in the end, it speeds up and this is where I put my jumps. It captivated the audience. … People look forward to my jumps. I think it is a well-choreographed routine.”

It’s certainly successful. Anyone could do this. No one else does. The next 10 finishers averaged 2.7 jumps before the two-minute mark. Medvedeva did two. Osmond did three. Americans Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell attempted three each. Marai Nagasu tried four, although she bailed out of her signature triple axel.

Essentially everyone else was skating uphill.

 su said earlier this week she doesn’t know if she could even tr

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