Elizaveta Tuktamysheva finished 10th at the Russian Championships last season. She finished first at the World Championships on Saturday.
Tuktamysheva strolled to the biggest victory of her career, by a whopping 16.76 points in Shanghai. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara took silver, with Russian Yelena Radionova snagging bronze (full results here).
Only 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim captured a World Championship by a greater margin under the scoring system implemented in 2005.
Americans Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds finished fourth, fifth and eighth. That’s the closest the U.S. women have come to earning a Worlds medal since the last American medals in 2006.
Tuktamysheva, 18, had the title all but locked up before she took the ice for her free skate.
She led by a comfortable 8.11 after Thursday’s short program, where she landed a triple Axel, and her biggest threat, Radionova, did not impress in her free skate. Tuktamysheva then skated and wasn’t as spectacular as in the short program, but she stayed on her feet and landed seven triple jumps.
Tuktamysheva won eight international competitions this season, including her three biggest — Worlds, the European Championships and the Grand Prix Final.
She was the Russian champion two years ago, but in the Olympic season finished 10th at Nationals and did not come close to making it to Sochi.
“Following the failure last season, it was difficult,” Tuktamysheva said, according to the International Skating Union. “My coaches helped me, who always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself anymore. I realized that I am very capable and that this is not the end and that I just have to survive this moment and I am glad that I was able to come back into the elite of women’s figure skating.”
Next year, Tuktamysheva could try to become the first woman since Michelle Kwan to win back-to-back World Championships.
“I admire her so much for coming back and bringing a whole new level of difficulty to the sport,” Wagner said, according to the International Skating Union. “Triple Axels will be mandatory before we know it.”
Tuktamysheva may have to deal with the return of Russian Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, who did not compete in top-level events this season and tore an ankle ligament in November. Plus, Olympic team event star Yulia Lipnitskaya, who struggled this year and did not earn a spot for the World Championships in Shanghai.
Tuktamysheva, who joined a short list of women to land a clean triple Axel at Worlds, may continue to push her athletic boundaries.
“I haven’t excluded the idea of learning a quad toe [loop], but for sure I won’t do it in my program,” she said, according to the International Skating Union.
Next year, the Americans will again try to end their longest women’s Worlds medal drought since World War I. They’ll have home-ice advantage in Boston and perhaps a little momentum after Gold and Wagner had the second- and third-best free skates Saturday.
Gold finished fourth, improving from eighth place after the short program. Gold, who outscored everyone but Tuktamysheva in the free skate, missed a medal by 2.51 points. She was fourth at the Sochi Olympics and fifth at the 2014 World Championships.
“It’s always hard to skate a long program after a rough short program, because if you can’t get through a short well, how could you go through a long program?” Gold said, according to Reuters.
Her venerable coach, Frank Carroll, told her she skated beautifully as she came off the ice.
“You kept that going right to the end,” Carroll said.
Gold endured struggles this season, missing the Grand Prix Final with a stress fracture in her foot in December, giving up her U.S. title in January and finishing fourth at the Four Continents Championships in February, when she was the most accomplished skater in the field.
“This year was a little more rough and tumble for me,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “I’m used to being at least consistently going up, maybe a little down. Wiping the ice at the Four Continents event and breaking a foot aren’t really in my usual plans. Those are some pretty severe ups and downs.”
U.S. champion Wagner was right behind Gold in fifth, improving from 11th after a disastrous short program. She had the third-best free skate.
“You did your best,” her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, told Wagner after her performance.
Wagner was considered a great hope to win her first Worlds medal in her fifth appearance, coming off a bronze at the Grand Prix Final in December and reclaiming the U.S. title from Gold in January.
“It might sound silly because I’m 23 years old, but I’m still learning in this sport,” Wagner said, according to the AP. “I was a late bloomer. To go out there under such immense pressure, to redeem myself in a way, that’s something I’m very proud of.”
The third American, Edmunds, fell one spot from seventh, best of the U.S. in the short program, to eighth place. Edmunds was ninth at the Sochi Olympics and eighth at the 2014 World Championships.
“I’m kind of disappointed in my score,” Edmunds, who did not fall but under-rotated three jumps in her free skate, said in quotes from U.S. Figure Skating. “I feel it was low for what I executed.”
Gold, Wagner and Edmunds could all return for the 2016 World Championships in Boston, but they will be challenged by Karen Chen, a 15-year-old who finished third behind Wagner and Gold at the U.S. Championships in January but was too young for the senior Worlds this year.
Gold: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 210.36
Silver: Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 193.60
Bronze: Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 191.47
4. Gracie Gold (USA) — 188.96
5. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 185.01
8. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 177.83