Why Alina Zagitova Won the Gold Over Evgenia Medvedeva

Getty Silver medal winner Evgenia Medvedeva of Olympic Athlete from Russia (L) and gold medal winner Alina Zagitova of Olympic Athlete from Russia celebrate during the victory ceremony for the Ladies Single Skating Free Skating on day fourteen of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 23, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

The armchair judges on social media are upset that 15-year-old Russian upstart Alina Zagitova edged out fellow Russian Evgenia Medvedeva to win a gold medal in figure skating at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

The general rap on Alina is that she is an athlete, whereas Evgenia is an artist. This is simplistic as Zagitova has a stunning balletic artistry all her own, and Evgenia can execute jumps like almost no other. However, the two skaters have distinct styles in some ways, with the somewhat older Medvedeva, 18, giving a deeply soulful performance as Anna Karenina after battling back from injury.

In the end, the scores were very close. Zagitova scored 239.57 points to take the gold. Medvedeva earned 238.26, taking the silver medal. Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada won the bronze medal, but the real battle was between the two Russians, who are friends off the ice and share the same coach. What gave Alina the gold, though? Here are the scores for the free skate by judge:

Here’s what you need to know:

The Short Program Put Zagitova Over the Top

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Confused which skater performed better in the February 22 free skate? The judges were too. Zagitova and Medvedeva earned identical scores in the free skate, 156.65 points each. What gave Zagitova the gold? Her slightly better performance than her rival in the earlier short program.

Zagitova finished the short program with a score of 82.92 points, slightly higher than Medvedeva’s 81.61.

The scores were so strong and the rivalry so intense that Medvedeva broke the world record with her score, only to see Zagitova break it. That made the difference in the end.

Zagitova Is Technically a Stronger Jumper (Think: Triple Lutz/Triple Loop)

What’s important to remember is that the judges see things in jumps that those less familiar with skating might miss. You might think that a person who bobbles a jump can’t score higher than a person who nails every one of them. That’s not necessarily true; it depends on the technical difficulty of the jumps. As Vox points out, a skater who falls on a much harder jump might earn more points than a skater who lands a less technically difficult one.

Neither Zagitova nor Medvedeva fell on the ice.  So, what was it about Zagitova’s short program that gave her the edge over Medvedeva in it? The technical difficulty of a jump.

“Zagitova performs a triple lutz–triple loop combination, the highest-scoring combination in the field,” reports Vox.

It’s all in the scoring.

According to NBC, “Skaters receive two sets of marks for each program: the technical element score (TES) is based on the difficulty and execution of the technical elements, such as the jumps and spins, and the program component score (PCS) is based on artistry, interpretation and presentation. The TES and PCS are combined for a skater’s total score.”

Zagitova Stacks Her Jumps in the Second Half of the Performance

Alina Zagitova family, Alina Zagitova

GettyRussia’s Alina Zagitova.

Because it’s so difficult to do and gets her more points, Alina Zagitova places her jumps in the second half of her performance. Under figure skating rules, this earned her a 10 percent bonus. Some people on Twitter are upset enough about this to insist that figure skating institute a “Zagitova Rule” banning this bonus for the next Olympics, but, in PyeongChang, those were the rules, and Alina played by them.

Some people feel that stacking jumps in the second half of a program harms the flow of the program and, thus, its artistry. Others feel it shows an athletic prowess that deserves to be rewarded. It brings us back to the age old debate of artistry versus athleticism.

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On Twitter, many observers felt that Medvedeva deserved the gold medal.

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Some people disagreed, though.