In what became an unexpected twist, Adelina Sotnikova from Russia, beat out Yuna Kim from South Korea and her own compatriot Yulia Lipnistkaya, when she won Olympic gold on Thursday.
Amid the controversy by some, Adelina’s free skate was technically superior to Yuna Kim’s. And while some suspect Sotnikova’s scores were inflated, components scores have always been subjective. She skated with so much heart and determination and portrayed that on the ice. That in itself, was enough to win her the gold medal.
In a country renowned for its world class ballet, figure skating is considered a national sport in Russia. An elegant and seemingly breezy sport but the pressures to make it to the top are daunting. And in Russia, the pressure is felt even more so.
Just ask 2002 Olympic gold medalist Alexei Yagudin and newly crowned Olympic champ Sotnikova. Both skaters were shunned by their federation in favor of younger rising figure skating stars.
Sotnikova was ousted by the Russian figure skating federation during the national team event. Instead, that spot was given to 15 year old European champion, Yulia Lipnistkaya. Lipnistkaya practically became an overnight success. Meanwhile, Sotnikova’s earlier accomplishments were ignored. The Russian federation considered her a “has-been”.
However, Adelina showed them all how wrong they were Thursday night. Both of her routines in Sochi were excellent and the sheer determination on her face was telling. Prior to the event, everyone doubted Sotnikova could pull it off. No one in the media was even talking about her but she proved them wrong. She beat out the favorite, Yuna Kim, by more than five points and took the gold.
Afterwards, Sotnikova said,
"I really wanted to participate in the team competition because I understood that we would win a medal because our team is so strong. When I found out I was not in the team, I felt so sorry and I felt offended. I felt so cheated in a way. Anyway, I still had my goal to show this skating, the one that I did today. Maybe it is all for the best that I didn't compete in the team competition and it was an advantage for me that it made me so mad to win the gold medal."
In the same way that Sotnikova was shunned by the Russian figure skating federation, so was Alexei Yagudin. He was written off by his federation and his former coach, Mishin, in favor of a younger skater named Plushenko.
At the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, with the help of his new coach Tatiana Tarasova, Yagudin beat Plushenko. He won the gold medal to the tune of “The Man in the Iron Mask.” Plushenko settled for silver. A golden moment for Yagudin and one he has handled with great humility, grace and respect ever since. He gave full credit to his coach, Tarasova, for believing in him when others didn’t.
During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, defending 2006 Olympic champ Evgeny Plushenko, complained loudly that American Evan Lysacek did not deserve the gold medal because there were no quadruple jumps in his program. While Plushenko did land a quadruple jump, Lysacek’s program was neatly skated and flawless throughout.
Not content with the outcome, Plushenko’s ego took to his website that year and displayed a picture of three Olympic medals: his 2002 Salt Lake City silver, 2006 Turin gold and the 2010 Vancouver “platinum” medal he claims he deserved in lieu of the silver medal he won that year.
This year he bumped off a capable Russian figure skater who beat him at nationals for the only spot in Men’s figure skating that Russia had in the Sochi Olympics. While he participated in the team event, he withdrew from the men's single event, complaining of excruciating back pain. Perhaps Plushenko knew that his stamina was no longer in par with the rest of the men vying for Olympic gold. Critics say he feigned extreme pain, saving himself and his country an embarrassing performance and score.
However, most agree that Plushenko should have checked his ego back in 2010 and hung up his skates then.