SOCHI, Russia — Adelina Sotnikova smashed her career best to become the first Russian to win the Olympic women’s figure skating title on Thursday, leaving defending champion Kim Yuna sobbing with silver and some neutrals questioning the scoring.
South Korea’s Kim had been favorite to join Norway’s Sonja Henie and Germany’s Katarina Witt as the only women to have won back-to-back Olympic titles but, despite delivering a flawless display, she lost her title by 5.48 points to Sotnikova.
Italian Carolina Kostner, who executed every one her jumps beautifully, earned 7.24 points fewer than the Russian and took bronze.
Yet Sotnikova was the only one of the trio who failed to produce a perfect skate, the 17-year-old snatching a landing from the double loop at the end of her triple-double-double combination jump.
Witt, who won gold in 1988 and 1994, could not comprehend the scoring.
“I am stunned by this result, I don’t understand the scoring,” she said on German TV from her commentators’ booth at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
Perhaps the judges had been influenced by the fact Kim attempted only six triple jumps, compared to Sotnikova’s seven.
The trio had entered the long program separated by just 0.8 of a point following their short skates.
Sotnikova then obliterated her season’s best for the free skate by more than 18 points with a score of 149.95, earning a total of 224.59.
She steered clear of any judging controversy.
“Any questions are for the judges, not for me. I did my job. I gave a gift to Russia,” said a jubilant Sotnikova, who had nervously paced the corridors backstage and was seen biting her fist as she waited for Kim to finish her program.
“I smashed my season’s best. In fact, I smashed my highest score for my whole career, and I did it at the Olympics. I didn’t think I could skate like I did today.”
American Ashley Wanger, who finished a disappointing seventh, was more critical of the judging.
“People don’t want to watch a sport where you watch people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean,” she said. “It’s confusing, and we need to make it clear for people.
“People need to be held accountable. They need to get rid of anonymous judging. There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base.”
Despite the judging issues, not a new issue in the sport, Russia celebrated breaking down the last Olympic figure skating barrier that had remained for the hosts.
A skater from the USSR, the Unified Team or Russia had never won the individual women’s event and they had barely featured on the podium.
Surprisingly, Sotnikova had not even been given a look-in for the team competition which Russia won 11 days ago, the country instead obsessed by 15-year-old dynamo Julia Lipnitskaya.
But with Lipnitskaya failing to reproduce the magic in the individual competition, falling heavily in Wednesday’s short program and finishing fifth behind American hope Gracie Gold, Sotnikova stepped up to deliver the performance of a lifetime.
Even before she had finished her final pose, the crowd erupted and were on their feet.
“Today I realized that I really love what I do, and I can skate very well,” Sotnikova said.
“I am really happy because this is the Olympics, and I worked toward this for a very long time. I might be 17, but I dreamed of making it to the Olympics and getting a gold.”
In other events on Thursday, Canada won the women’s curling final 6-3 against Sweden, maintaining their unbeaten record in all 11 games played in Sochi.
Victory over the Swedes, who were seeking a third straight title, avenged a bitter defeat for the Canadians in the final in Vancouver in 2010.
Of the two medals up for grabs in freestyle skiing at the Extreme Park in the Caucasus Mountains above Sochi, the first went to world champion Jean Frederic Chapuis, who led a French podium sweep in the men’s ski cross final.
Norway scraped the narrowest of wins in a dramatic finish to the Nordic combined men’s team event, holding off Germany to grab the gold by 0.3 seconds.
That victory cemented Norway’s place atop the medals table with 10 golds.
As the Games enter the home stretch, with less than four days of competition to go, winning gold is not everything.
Britain’s tense win over Switzerland in the women’s curling bronze medal match meant the country is now guaranteed to match its best ever Winter Games medal total of four.
And the Swiss women’s ice hockey team were ecstatic when they came from behind to beat Sweden 4-3 in the bronze medal game, for their first ever podium finish in the event.