Medvedeva boost for tainted Russia

Emmeline MOORE
Gold medallist Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia celebrates after the woman's Free Skating event at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland on March 31, 2017

Evgenia Medvedeva was in class of her own as the golden girl of women's figure skating sealed back-to-back world titles and looks to restore Russia's tarnished image at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The 17-year-old from Moscow had watched on television as Adelina Sotnikova surged past South Korean superstar Kim Yu-Na to claim a controversial gold in Sochi.

It capped a glorious Winter Games for the 2014 hosts during which Medvedeva's childhood idol Yevgeny Plushenko powered Russia to the team figure skating gold.

Russia has since been plunged into a damaging scandal amid claims of systematic state-sponsored doping between 2012 and 2014 resulting in their athletes being banned from the Rio Olympics.

And Russia still face a race against time to be declared compliant with world anti-doping regulations in time for the 2018 Games.

"Obviously I watched the Olympic Games in Sochi and the most memorable moment for me was the victory ceremony in the team event," recalled Medvedeva after her record-setting gold medal winning performance in Helsinki on Friday night.

"The skaters were standing on top of the podium with the gold medals around their necks and the whole country was celebrating and proud because our country was the strongest.

"It makes me sad to read and hear the news now. But we have to support each other. I know from my experience what a great role support plays and we should not give up."

Medvedeva is now the overwhelming favourite for gold in Pyeongchang as South Korea's Kim was when as the reigning world champion she lit up the Vancouver Games.

The Russian led all the way in Helsinki's Hartwall Arena to crush her rivals finishing more than 15 points ahead of Kaetlyn Osmond, 21, one of two Canadians on the podium for the first time with 19-year-old Gabrielle Daleman a distant third.

Medvedeva glided across the ice delivering a powerful and emotional skate to music from the film "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", which depicts events surrounding the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The two-time European Champion reeled off 11 jumps including seven triples plus two double Axels linked by intricate and balletic steps to continue her unbeaten run to 10 consecutive competitions.

Her performance also gave her a new best mark of 154.40 in the free skate for a record overall total of 233.41 -- bettering her own previous bests in both by over three points.

- 'Reap benefits' -

The two-time European champion becomes the first woman since American Michelle Kwan in 2001 to successfully defend her world titles.

But Kwan never went on to lift the Olympic gold despite her five world golds.

"I try not to think too far ahead because you never know what will happen in the future," Medvedeva said.

"I hope that all the work that my coach and I put in every day will reap positive benefits."

Russia, the United States and Canada all clinched a maximum three spots in the women's competition in Pyeongchang, with Japan going to South Korea with two after losing one.