Fifteen-year-old Alina Zagitova stole the show in figure skating today as American skier Lindsey Vonn took bronze in her final Olympic downhill and Norway’s Marit Bjoergen became the most successful athlete in Winter Games history.
Zagitova was breathtaking in the Russian-dominated short programme, breaking the world record set just minutes earlier by her team-mate, 18-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva.
It put the Russian starlets top of the standings ahead of Friday’s free skate, where Zagitova will attempt to become the youngest women’s singles figure skating champion since Tara Lipinski in 1998.
They also look set to win the first gold of the Games for the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who are competing as neutrals after Russia’s national team was banned over a major doping scandal.
“We are friends, we are young girls, we can talk about anything with each other,” said Medvedeva, who like Zagitova is making her Olympic debut.
“But on the ice, we must fight, I feel like it’s a little war, when you skate you are alone,” added the double world champion.
America’s Vonn, 33, was aiming for a second downhill title in her final Olympics, but it was not to be as she finished third behind Italy’s Sofia Goggia and Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway.
But the 2010 winner was delighted to reach the podium, becoming alpine skiing’s oldest female medallist after a series of injuries which threatened to wreck her career and ruled her out of Sochi 2014.
“If you think what’s happened over the last eight years and what I’ve been through to get here, I gave it all and to come away with a medal is a dream come true,” said Vonn.
“You’ve got to put things into perspective. Of course, I would have loved a gold medal but, honestly, this is amazing and I’m so proud.”
Bjoergen reached 14 Olympic medals when she took bronze in cross-country skiing’s women’s team sprint free, outstripping compatriot Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who has 13 in biathlon.
Bjoergen, 37, is also the second most successful woman at either the Summer or Winter Games, trailing only Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina with 18 medals.
“It’s hard to understand, actually,” Bjoergen said.
There was disappointment for the United States when their men’s ice hockey team, missing NHL players after a row over money, crashed out 3-2 in the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic.
In other action, Russian skier Sergey Ridzik recovered from a crash in the ski cross final to take bronze, behind Canada’s Bredy Leman and Marc Bischofberger of Switzerland.
The competition, where four skiers race each other down a twisting track featuring a number of jumps, was marred by a series of heavy falls.
France’s Terence Tchiknavorian broke his leg and Canadian racer Chris Del Bosco was also taken to hospital after a sickening wipe-out.
Among the evening events, Nigeria’s women were jubilant after completing their campaign as their country’s first Winter Olympians – despite finishing dead last in the women’s bobsleigh.
Jamaica’s women, making their debut after Jamaica’s 1988 Cool Runnings men’s team, placed one spot higher than the Nigerians.
At the other end of the standings, Germany’s Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz took gold by seven-hundredths of a second ahead of America’s Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs.
Japan upset the Netherlands in the women’s team pursuit speed skating, but Norway were too strong for hosts South Korea in the men’s event.
Norway remained top of the medals table on 13 golds – one ahead of Germany – at the end of day 12.
On Thursday, Vonn and fellow American skier Mikaela Shiffrin will attempt to sign off with a medal in the women’s combined, and USA and Canada meet in what is set to be a bruising women’s hockey final.