5x3 = astounding for Russia's Alina Zagitova, jumping toward Olympic title

5x3 = astounding for Russia's Alina Zagitova, jumping toward Olympic title

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - It was just after 10 a.m. Thursday, and the leading group of women was winding down its next-to-last practice before Friday's Olympic free skate.

Olympic Athlete from Russia Alina Zagitova, the short program winner, already had done the run-through of her free skate to music from the Minkus ballet Don Quixote.

It included a combination of three triple jumps: lutz, toe loop, loop. Zagitova apparently did it just because she can; the element is not a planned part of her program.

It was only the first course of the sumptuous jumping banquet Zagitova offered to the small audience at Gangneung Ice Arena.

After doing two more combinations of three triple jumps, which are common fare for her, the 15-year-old sated everyone's appetite with an extraordinary concoction.

She did a triple lutz followed by a triple loop and another triple loop and another triple loop and another triple loop. One lutz, four loops. A combination of FIVE triple jumps.

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In the "little war" between top Russian women skaters, generation next - Alina Zagitova - wins first skirmish at Olympics

In the "little war" between top Russian women skaters, generation next - Alina Zagitova - wins first skirmish at Olympics

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - Last year, the Russian television network RT did an illuminating documentary on how coach Eteri Tutberidze trains her two enormously talented skaters, Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova, and on the relationship between the two teenagers.

At one moment in the 26-minute film, Medvedeva talked about keeping up with the burgeoning technical abilities of the many younger girls whom Tutberidze and her assistants also coach at the Crystal Rink in southwest Moscow.

"I don't want to lag behind the younger generation," Medvedeva said.

Then she laughed about the irony in her words.

"I'm 17, and I'm talking about the younger generation," she added. "Isn't that terrible?"

It is even more ironic that one skater in that generation may have arrived so soon she may take the 2018 Olympic gold medal away from Medvedeva, now 18, winner of the last two world titles.

That would be Zagitova, 15, who beat Medvedeva in a game of "Can you top this?" during the ladies short program Wednesday at the Gangneung Ice Arena.

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ShibSibs prove blood thicker than naysayers

ShibSibs prove blood thicker than naysayers

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - It began so simply in 2004: Alex Shibutani was tired of having his 12-year-old butt kicked by rivals in singles skating. His 9-year-old sister, Maia, was having more success, so Alex decided he would be better off trying to skate with her in ice dance.

"When we came up as a sibling team, it was just so natural, and we thought, 'OK, this is going to be a great journey we can be on together,'" Maia said.

She also quickly discovered it was more fun to be on the ice with Alex than to be out there by herself. And they were good together, good enough to start winning medals in national competitions the next year and keep winning medals as they moved up through skill levels, from juvenile to intermediate to novice to junior.

And then it got complicated.

"As you start to move forward and people start to take your skating more seriously, you stand out because you're different -- two Asian kids that are also brother and sister," Alex said. "People start to take notice of your ability and potential and they start asking, 'When the cuteness fades, what is the ceiling of their career?'"

The consensus was a pretty low ceiling. Theirs was a discipline in which love stories play a part in such a huge percentage of programs, in which no Asians or Asian-Americans -- and only one brother-sister team, Isabelle Duchesnay and Paul Duchesnay of France -- had ever won an Olympic medal until the Shibutanis took the bronze Tuesday.

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Talking point: Nagasu suddenly in singles medal conversation

Talking point:  Nagasu suddenly in singles medal conversation

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - Before the Olympics began, the idea that Mirai Nagasu would be in any discussion about potential women's singles medalists was fanciful, even a bit preposterous.

That all changed last Monday.

"I've had her in the conversation for a week," said Robin Cousins of Great Britain, the 1980 Olympic gold medalist and BBC commentator.

A history-making triple axel jump in the team event free skate put Nagasu's name on the Olympic sports world's lips -- and on those of entertainment world celebrities like the Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik and Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who have congratulated her about it on Twitter.

"What Mirai has done is absolutely amazing," said teammate Karen Chen, speaking of the triple axel. "I think she will inspire many younger skaters that the impossible is possible."

But it was the 3 minutes, 45 seconds of near-flawless performance following her triple axel that convinced the sport's observers she was not a one-trick pony but a skater with renewed mastery of overall skills to match the resolute will that has generated one of the most endearing comebacks in figure skating history.

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On Karen Chen's first Olympics and Frank Carroll's last

On Karen Chen's first Olympics and Frank Carroll's last

Frank Carroll's 12th and final Olympics as a coach ended a day earlier than expected.

Although the premature finish owed to the misfortune of his last Olympic student, Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, it turned out to be advantageous for Carroll, 79, who left for home in Southern California on Saturday, the day after Ten failed to qualify for the free skate.

"I'm sick as a dog," Carroll wrote in a text message Sunday, calling his illness "cold-like but getting worse."

Ten, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world medalist, placed 27th of 30 in Friday's short program. Only the top 24 made Saturday's free skate.

His poor performance was not a surprise, given the foot problems that have plagued Ten since the 2015-16 season and were exacerbated by a severe ankle injury suffered last August. Ten, 24, said Friday it was painful even to put on skating boots.

"It has been incredible," Carroll said of his Olympic coaching career.

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