Russian Teen Yulia Lipnitskaya Steals Show in Olympic Figure Skating Team Trophy

Diane Pucin@@mepucinOlympics Lead WriterFebruary 8, 2014

Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia holds flowers given to her by spectators after competing in the women's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

The Russians knew what to expect.

Many were standing even before Yulia Lipnitskaya knelt to start, bent her head low and put her hands down on the ice. 

The Russian team was already safely into the top five of the mixed-team figure skating competition. They were going to be in the finals and make it there in first place.

But not many of us have seen the 15-year-old Lipnitskaya skate. Tara Lipinski, now an NBC commentator, knew what it was like to win a gold medal at 15. But she had never skated in a team competition and she wasn't sure whether this team thing would be good for Lipnitskaya.

It was very good. 

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 08:  Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia competes in the Figure Skating Team Ladies Short Program during day one of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/G
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Lipnitskaya had won the European Championships nearly a month ahead of the Sochi Games by crushing veteran Carolina Kostner, who was third, and her 17-year-old teammate Adelina Sotnikova.

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The youngster isn't shy. After Europeans, Lipnitskaya told Russian media she planned on winning an individual gold medal in Sochi and adding a team gold would be, she said through a translator, nice.

Skating with a lightness that we haven't seen since Lipinski's 1998 run to gold in Nagano, Lipnitskaya landed the mandatory jumps in her short program with the ease of a teenager who felt no pressure, only the love of the crowd.

For someone her age, Lipnitskaya told stories with her facial expressions as well as her elegance. Most skaters so young are jumping beans, using their small and undeveloped bodies to make triple jumps and combinations seem as if they could be performed by anyone.

But Lipnitskaya was not just a jumper. Her finishing spin was centered and she never left the spot where she began. By the time her leg was over her head and she was making us all dizzy with her twirling, the crowd in the arena and even those watching at home should have been on their feet.

Going into the final day of team competition, the Russians lead Canada by six points. It's hard to imagine there won't be a gold medal for the home team and that Lipnitskaya won't be the key to that victory.

The Americans, thanks mainly to ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis, who won the ice dance by a solid three points, are third with 34 points, with Italy fourth and Japan fifth. The final five teams in the competition were eliminated Saturday. 

Once upon a time, the United States produced young women who could do wondrous things on the ice. Michelle Kwan, Lipinski, Sarah Hughes, Sasha Cohen. Remember them? Probably more than you'll ever remember Ashley Wagner, who skated ladies singles for the U.S. on Saturday. She was average. There wasn't the emotion-filled smoothness we saw from Lipnitskaya. Maybe American champion Gracie Gold, who will skate the women's singles long program for the U.S. in the final day of the team event, will give Lipnitskaya a run for her money. But that would be a huge surprise.

Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

When Lipnitskaya became the youngest European champion in history (Irina Slutskaya was 16 when she won the first of her seven Europeans in 1996), those of us who were worried about what has happened to American ladies should have been appreciating the teen who may become the singular star of these Games.

The Russians love their figure skating, and if Lipnitskaya continues to skate as she did Saturday, there will be no more beloved or honored star in these Games for the hosts.

The team competition is a new event. It wasn't expected to introduce a singles star to the world.

But it just may have. The Olympics are only two days old and are already dominated by a sweet-faced 15-year-old who has put herself in a position to be the big star of these Games.

If she continues to skate as she did Saturday, Lipnitskaya will deserve it.

Diane Pucin is the Olympics lead writer for Bleacher Report. She covered seven Games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @mepucin


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