BEIJING — Kamila Valieva became the first woman to land a quad in the Olympics — two of them, in fact — and her historic free skate put a stamp on the Russians’ dominant run to the gold medal in the team event at the Beijing Games on Monday.
The 15-year-old Valieva opened with a huge quad salchow and followed with the difficult triple axel before landing another quad, this time a toe loop in combination with a triple toe loop. The only blemish on her program came when she fell on her quad toe loop late in the program, but by that point, her first gold medal in Beijing was assured.
Another one could come shortly in the individual event, where the Russians are favored to sweep the podium.
They finished with 74 points in the team event to win their second gold medal in three editions of it. The US earned the silver after back-to-back bronze medals at the past two Olympics, thanks largely to a winning dance program from Madison Chock and Evan Bates, while Japan climbed onto the team podium for the first time.
The only source of controversy, both in Russia and abroad, was the decision to use the same lineup throughout the team competition. Teams are allowed two substitutions, and only those who skate in the team event earn a medal, leaving some to suggest that Anna Shcherbakova or Alexandra Trusova deserved an opportunity to perform for the Russian team on Monday.
Then again, that would have kept Valieva from being the one to make quad history.
The Americans were the talk of Capital Indoor Stadium after Day 1, when Nathan Chen won the men’s short program, ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue earned the highest score in their discipline, and the pairs duo of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier finished third with one of their best short programs.
Valieva wiped out their hard-earned lead all by herself Sunday, then the Russians kept putting distance between the field.
Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, the reigning world champs, took maximum points in pairs to begin the final day of the team event, even though they inexplicably collapsed to the ice on their final lift. And their ice dancers, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, finished second to Chock and Bates to clinch the gold medal.
That left no pressure on Valieva to unload the first quad — and then the second — by a woman in Olympic competition.
Meanwhile, the Americans began their day watching a shaky program from Knierim and Frazier score just 128.97 points, last among the five nations, leaving Team USA and the Japanese team deadlocked for silver with two disciplines to go.
Sinitsina and Katsalapov’s performance to a Rachmaninov piano concerto was timeless and elegant, but they lost a point for an overly long lift sequence to score 128.17 and give Chock and Bates the opening they needed.
Performing their avant-garde alien-astronaut love story, the US champions skated with the kind of emotion and precision that could land them on the dance podium before the Beijing Games are done. Their score of 129.07 was their highest in international competition and, more importantly, edged the Russians by less than a point.
“I honestly had no expectations,” said Chock, who along with Bates captained the American team. “I heard the Russians’ [score] right before we skated and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s such a hefty score.’ And then it was like: ‘All right, focus.’”
With maximum points from ice dance, the only way the Americans could squander their long-sought silver medal would be for Kaori Sakamoto of Japan to win the women’s free skate and for Karen Chen to finish last for their team.
Chen made sure that wouldn’t happen, following her shaky short program with a redemptive free skate.
The 2018 Olympian landed all five of her triple jumps, including the triple loop — paired with a double loop — that sent her spilling to the ice on Sunday. As the Cornell student wrapped up her program, set to a piano concerto by Japanese violinist Takako Nishizaki, she had to cover her face in a failed attempt to hold back the tears.
American figure skater Vincent Zhou tested positive as part of regular COVID-19 screening, one day after struggling through a poor free skate for the eventual team silver medalists.
Zhou is undergoing additional testing Monday to confirm his status. If the results are negative, he will be allowed to compete in the individual competition, which begins with the men’s short program on Tuesday.
The high-flying but wildly inconsistent 21-year-old Zhou arrived in Beijing with high hopes of contending for a medal. He finished sixth in the men’s program at the Pyeongchang Games, but his second-place finish at the NHK Trophy and victory at Skate American in his two Grand Prix assignments gave him hopes of earning a medal.
He’ll get at least one as part of the team silver medalists. He’ll await another COVID-19 test to see if he can earn another.