SOCHI, Russia — Many expected a Russian to win a gold medal in women’s figure skating at the Sochi Games, but hardly anyone expected that it would be Adelina Sotnikova.
Overlooked by her country earlier at the Olympic team event, Sotnikova, 17, waited patiently for the singles competition and delivered a sophisticated and aggressive performance Thursday to score a major upset over the 2010 champion, Yuna Kim of South Korea.
In the subjective world of figure skating, which is governed by an opaque judging system and a complicated scoring system not easily understood by casual fans, the outcome fostered immediate debate.
Sotnikova landed seven triple jumps to six for Kim and won the long program with 149.95 points. She finished with 224.59 overall points and became the first Russian or Soviet woman to win an individual gold medal.
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Even with her grace, maturity, composure and soaring jumping ability, Kim led by less than a point after Wednesday’s short program. On Thursday, she skated a poised and flowing tango routine and finished with 144.19 points in the long program.
Still, her routine was not the most athletically challenging. Sotnikova scored higher on the technical merit of her program. For instance, Kim did not attempt a triple loop or a double axel, triple toe loop combination, as Sotnikova did.
Also, Kim did not receive the highest level for her step sequence or her layback spin. She took the silver medal with 219.11 collective points.
“It was totally fair,” said Elvis Stojko, a two-time Olympic silver medalist from Canada. “Adelina was ready. Kim didn’t have enough technical ammunition.”
Sotnikova’s skating appears tailor made for the current scoring system, a kind of scavenger hunt for accumulated points that, some experts have complained, favors mathematics at the expense of artistry.
While Sotnikova’s skating is not as aesthetically pleasing as Kim’s, her athletic style “checks off every box” and “does everything the judges are looking for,” said Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic champion.
“I have to look at it and respect it,” Hamilton said of Thursday’s result.
Not everyone agreed. Ashley Wagner of the U.S., who finished seventh, criticized the judging system in which scores are given anonymously, saying she was left “speechless” by the outcome.
A number of international skaters, coaches and officials have said the anonymity of the judges undermines the sport’s transparency and credibility. Judges, who are appointed by their national skating federations, lack independence. Scandal is commonplace, as are apparent conflicts of interest.
One of the judges in the women’s competition, Yuri Balkov of Ukraine, was at the center of an ice-dancing scandal at the 1998 Winter games in Nagano, Japan, when he was reportedly recorded by a Canadian judge trying to predetermine the outcome.
Another judge, Alla Shekhovtseva of Russia, is the wife of Valentin Piseev, who was formerly president of the Russian figure skating federation and is now its general director.
Bowman wins gold in women’s halfpipe
Young American Maddie Bowman won the first ever women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe gold at the Olympics on Thursday and then dedicated it to the woman who pioneered the sport at this level.
The 20-year-old scored an impressive 89.00 points to edge out France’s Marie Martinod into second but after the competition her thoughts were with former athlete Sarah Burke, who died after a skiing accident in Utah in 2012 at the age of 29.
Canadian Burke was a halfpipe world champion and four-time superpipe X-Games winner.
But she was also known amongst her peers for pushing for the inclusion of her sport in the Olympic program, which bore fruit at these Games.
But Burke would never be able to take her place at the Olympics as she died following a crash at Park City.
“Gosh, it means so much for us to be able to show the world what our sport is, what we do and what we are,” said Bowman.
“I think we’re here to make our parents proud, our friends proud and especially Sarah Burke proud, because she is here with us.
“I think her lasting legacy is just to go out, ski as hard as you can, love what you do and love life. Sarah did that.
“She was an amazing skier but she was an amazing person.”
Canada wins women’s curling
Canada won the gold medal in women’s Olympic curling Thursday, beating Sweden 6-3 and avenging a loss to the Swedes in the final at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
The Canadians broke up a scrappy, error-strewn game with two steal points in the ninth to go ahead 6-3 ahead and then defended out the 10th end.
Canadian skip Jennifer Jones’ rink went through the tournament undefeated, winning 11 straight games.
It’s the first gold for Canada’s women curlers in what has been the country’s second-most popular sport since 1998, when curling returned to the Olympic program. The Canadian men’s team has won gold at the last two Olympics.
Britain beat Switzerland 6-5 earlier Thursday to win the bronze medal.