Olympic figure skating champion Alina Zagitova, who stunned in Pyeongchang four weeks ago, again left the crowd speechless in Milan on Friday but for a different reason — delivering a free skate in which she struggled to stay on her feet.
The 15-year-old fell three times to finish fifth at the world championships, ending her bid for a sweep of all the major titles in her first senior season.
The hopes of Italy’s Carolina Kostner also took a tumble as the veteran looked to cap her 14-year world career with a world title on home ice.
Kostner, 31, and Zagitova, had gone 1-2 in Wednesday’s short programme, but both tumbled off the podium into fourth and fifth respectively.
Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond seized her chance and vaulted from fourth to take her first world gold to add to her silver last year.
Zagikova’s fall from grace was shocking.
She had won the ISU Grand Prix final title in December, claimed European gold in January, the Olympic title in February with the world title programmed for this month.
She looked a shadow of the skater who won hearts with her grace and composure in South Korea, winning a duel with teammate Evgenia Medvedeva to become the second youngest Olympic ladies champion after American Tara Lipinski in 1998.
All that was left to cap the fairytale was four minutes on the Milan ice.
The girl in the red ballerina’s costume had looked composed as she took to the ice for her free dance set to Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus’s score to the ballet Don Quixote.
She stuck with her tried and trusted method of backloading all her jumps into the second half of her programme to earn maximum points.
But this time she couldn’t land them.
She collapsed in tears afterwards as she left the ice to be comforted in the arms of her coach Eteri Tutberidze.
“She is only 15 years old and this was her debut at the world championships. Unfortunately she was not able to deal with the nerves,” said another of her coaches Daniil Gleikhengauz.
“We coaches ourselves don’t understand what happened. She never skated poorly like that. We’ll have to analyse it.”
– Kostner’s home demons hit again –
Kostner — competing in her 14th world championships — was chasing a seventh world medal to add to her gold from 2012, two silver and three bronze.
But she once again failed to shine at home, as during the 2006 Turin Olympics and the 2010 worlds, also in the northern Italian city.
Not even the rowdy home support could lift an uninspiring skate to Debussy’s “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune” even before she fell on a triple Salchow.
“This fourth has a bitter taste,” said 31-year-old.
“I’m sorry I could not find the right rhythm on the ice, but who would have thought I’d go home with a small gold medal in the short programme?
“Fifteen years ago nobody knew skating and I was just an exotic girl who came from the mountains.
“Today the stadium was full of people, with a lot of affection and passion.”
Osmond — winner of the Olympic team gold medal with Canada and the singles bronze — pulled out a flawless free skate to “Black Swan”.
She surged from fourth to first with a total score of 223.23 points well ahead of Japanese skaters Wakaba Higuchi (210.90) and Satoko Miyahara (210.08) who completed the podium.
“I still can’t quite believe it,” said the 22-year-old from Edmonton who becomes the first Canadian woman since Karen Magnussen in 1973 to win world gold.
“After the Olympics I was on an emotional high. It was a crash coming home,” she said. “Being the world champion is not something I ever expected.”
Higuchi, 17, moved up from eighth with Miyahara, 19, holding third, as they earned three women’s berths for Japan at next year’s worlds in Saitama.
“I felt we lost a spot (at the Olympics) because of my mistakes last year,” said Higuchi. “It’s good to get another spot for the worlds in Japan next year.”
SOURCE: AFP, by Emmeline MOORE