Kamila Valiyeva, Olympic favorite, wins European figure skating title with record

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Russian Kamila Valiyeva won the two toughest competitions before the Olympics by record margins, capped by the European Championships on Saturday, proving she is the overwhelming favorite for the Beijing Winter Games.

Valiyeva, a 15-year-old undefeated in her first senior international season, landed three quadruple jumps in the free skate, totaling 259.06 points and prevailing by 21.64 in Tallinn, Estonia. Shockingly, she fell (on a triple Axel) in competition for the first time since October.

That beat the previous women’s margin of victory record under an 18-year-old scoring system. Countrywoman Yevgenia Medvedeva held the previous record of 18.32 points from 2017. Spain’s Javier Fernandez has the record across all disciplines — 60.21 points in 2016.

“The medal means that I don’t just come to the practices for nothing, and I guess the most important for me is not to burn out after this season, to calm down as much as possible and try to make the audience happy with my performances,” Valiyeva said, according to the International Skating Union.

Valiyeva’s performance was all the more impressive because she beat a field that included the Olympic silver- and bronze-medal favorites — training partners Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, who were second and third in Tallinn.

Last month, Valieyva won the Russian Championships by the largest women’s margin in that event’s history. That competition is considered tougher than the Olympics, given the world’s six highest-ranked skaters this season are Russian.

In four international starts this season, Valiyeva posted the four highest scores across all events.

Her best — 272.71 — is 35.29 points clear of the second-ranked skater’s best (reigning world champ Shcherbakova). That’s greater than the margin separating Shcherbakova and the world’s 28th-ranked skater, American Karen Chen, according to SkatingScores.com.

Russia has yet to name its three-woman Olympic team, but Valiyeva will lead it. It’s the third consecutive Olympics that the world’s top-ranked skater going into the Games is a 15-year-old Russian coached by Eteri Tutberidze.

In 2014, Yuliya Lipnitskaya delivered in the team event for Russia and faltered individually, placing fifth. In 2018, Alina Zagitova won a close duel with Medvedeva for gold.

Russia is favored to achieve the first podium sweep in Olympic women’s figure skating, a year after taking all the medals at the world championships.

If any of the three Russians err in Beijing, the next tier of contenders includes American Alysa Liu, Japanese Kaori Sakamoto and Belgian Loena Hendrickx.

Earlier at Europeans, Russian pairs swept the medals and are now the world’s top three ranked pairs by best total score this season: Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskiy.

Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who took silver behind Mishina and Galliamov at last season’s world championships, are ranked fourth but haven’t competed since early November. The 2018 Olympic silver medalists may also get a boost from competing at home at the Beijing Games.

Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov won the ice dance with the world’s third-best score this season. Only French Olympic favorites Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who skipped Europeans, have scored higher.

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