Russian upstart Adelina Sotnikova skated from behind her teammate's shadow to claim ladies' figure skating gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 20. Defending champion Yuna Kim of Korea won the silver, while 27-year old Carolina Kostner, who finished just 16th at the 2010 Vancouver Games, secured the bronze for Italy. Team USA's Gracie Gold finished just off the podium in fourth.
Kim entered the free skate just a fraction of a point ahead of the 17-year old Sotnikova, who was clearly hungry to perform well before the home crowd. Although Sotnikova's long program wasn't picture-perfect, she won the round with a score of 149.95 to Kim's 144.19, and the Olympic title with a total mark of 224.59.
The outcome marks an upset, as Kim was widely expected to become the first woman to repeat as the ladies' Olympic champion since East Germany's Katarina Witt accomplished the feat in 1984 and 1988. It's an enormous victory for Sotnikova, who saw her younger teammate, 15-year old Julia Lipnitskaia, captivate her nation's attention with a set of sterling performances during the team event. Lipnitskaia fell during the Feb. 19 short program, and finished the competition a disappointing fifth.
Although the judges' decision seems questionable given Sotnikova's less than perfect skate and the specter of potential home nation score inflation, NBC Sports Network commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir defended the outcome following the competition's end. Lipinski noted Sotnikova's passion, and opined that "the person that wins has the most heart," while Weir appreciated how she skated "with abandon" and successfully made her Olympic moment happen.
Though team USA didn't earn a podium finish, the outcome gives reason to hope for solid results in the future. Former two-time national champion Ashley Wagner came in seventh and 15-year old Polina Edmunds finished ninth in her senior-level international debut.
Action from the 2014 Winter Olympics continues Feb. 21.