Every once in a generation a great athlete bursts onto the scene, plants their flag and proves instantly to the world the next great champion has arrived. I’m talking about the transcendent debuts that let you know in a moment this rookie is not some mere flash-in-the-pan, but someone who’s career will burn bright for the foreseeable future.
Ted Williams’ 145 RBIs. Night Train Lane’s 14 INTs in 12 games. Wilt Chamberlain’s 37.6 PPG with 27 RPG. Oscar Robertson’s near triple-double season of 30.5/1o.1/9.7. Fred Lynn’s MVP. Bird and Magic. Eric Dickerson’s 1,800 yards with 18 TDs. Mike Tyson becoming the heavyweight champ at age 20. Tiger Woods winning the SI SOTY and the Masters in his first year on tour. Mike Trout’s .326 with 30 HR and 49 steals. And to that mighty roll we can add the name of Alina Zagitova.
The 15-year-old Russian with the heart of a lion and the blood of ice water coolly and calmly put her toe pick into the surface at Gangneung Arena and established a level of dominance that would make all those past young greats I mentioned shudder. As you can see, this competition was over before it even began when she landed five triples in a row. FIVE. It defied not only description, but the very laws of physics. And delivered the message loudly and clearly that the future of the world’s greatest sport had arrived. An angel of death in the form of a delicate young Russian lady with impeccable grace who isn’t even eligible for a learner’s permit yet. And its name is Alina Zagitova.
She was flawless. Again, as she had in the team event, Alina saved all her jumps for the back half of her Free Skate and nailed them all. In the end she produced a record score of 156.65, which combined with her Short Program gave her a 239.57 total. And turned the skating world on its head.
Of course in the great Circle of Life that is competitive sports, ever great young champion that comes along takes the place of an older legend. Jack Nicklaus took the torch from Arnold Palmer. Gretzky replaced Orr. Michael Jordan took over for Bird and Magic. And Zagitova’s performance for the ages cast a long, dark shadow over her OAR teammate Evgenia Medvedeva, the veteran 18-year-old.
It’s hard not to feel for Evgenia, who came into this competition as the undisputed Best in the World. She was expected to Layback Spin away with the gold. But people age. Father Time is still undefeated. She was amazing, skating the program of her life and left nothing on the ice. On any other night she would’ve had no challenger. In fact, she and Alina had the same Free Skate score and the razor thin margin in the Short was the difference. Again, Circle of Life.
And now we’re left to wonder if at 18, Medvedeva’s brilliant future is behind her. Though at least we’ll still get to enjoy her Sailor Moon exhibition program, the most cosplay routine of all time:
And so ends one of the most memorable slate of skating battles in the history of the Olympic games. For the world, if not for the U.S. as all three of the Team USA Ladies hit the ice and finished a spirit-crushing 9th, 10th and 11th. This is not what we sent Trump to Washington for and if he doesn’t do something to find a solution he won’t be around for Beijing in 2022. #MakeAmericaSkateAgain.