The Olympic women's figure skating event just got interesting

Medvedeva's injury helps Zagitova catapult into contention

By Pj Kwong, CBC Sports

Just in time for the Olympics, there's been a shake-up in women's figure skating.

At the beginning of the season, I would have predicted with great confidence that Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva would skate unchallenged to the top of the podium. Her consistency since joining the senior ranks for the start of the 2015-16 season was the stuff of legends. In her first two years competing at the sport's highest level, she won two world titles, two European titles, two Grand Prix Finals and won three of the four regular Grand Prix events she entered.

It was more of the same for the 18-year-old this season, as she won both of her Grand Prix competitions. But then, toward the end of 2017, she broke her foot. And everything changed.

Medvedeva's injury created an opening for fellow Russian teenager Alina Zagitova. The 2017 world junior champion, who is only 15, wasn't on my radar for her rookie season on the senior circuit. All she did then was win both her regular Grand Prix events, the Grand Prix Final and the European championship. The latter title, which came in January in Moscow, is of particular significance because it marked the first time Medvedeva was beaten in competition since the fall of 2015.

The question now is, has Medvedeva had enough time to get back to full strength for the Olympics? I'm not so sure. I think Zagitova's momentum and overall strength and consistency gives her an edge. Regardless, the battle between these two young Russians will define the Olympic women's event. 

Kurt Browning, a four-time world champion and three-time Olympian, agrees.

"There are about six or seven women who could win it, but it seems that it will probably be a Russian head-to-head battle for gold," he says.

The others

I see four other major contenders. The first is Italy's Carolina Kostner, who won bronze in Sochi, has been a world champion and, in my mind, writes the book on how to make skating beautiful. She has an elegance about her that is so compelling, not to mention great speed and technique. But Kostner's issue has always been nerves in competition, and the Olympics offer the biggest dose of that.

Japan's Satoko Miyahara is another elegant skater who seems to struggle with nerves. She'll have to find a way to lay down two perfect programs to make the podium.

The final two top contenders come from Canada. Kaetlyn Osmond is the 2017 world silver medallist and one of the most beautiful jumpers to ever hit the ice. Her speed, determination and gorgeus programs give her an edge.

Osmond is a terrific short program skater and her Black Swan long program is exquisite. Unfortunately, her inability to perform that free program error-free in competition this season makes me nervous.

Gabrielle Daleman reclaimed the Canadian title last month ahead of Osmond. Daleman had also struggled with her free program in the fall and elected to go back to her successful Rhapsody in Blue program that helped her take the world bronze medal last year.

Daleman is also a powerful jumper, and reintroducing her strong free program looks like a masterful stroke of strategy.

Pj's gold-medal pick: Alina Zagitova (Russia)