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Adelina Sotnikova of Russia reacts after competing in the Figure Skating Ladies' Free Skating on day 13 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Russians finally have their women's figure skating gold.
It was given to them Thursday by 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova, who came to Sochi as the face of Russian skating, found herself briefly overshadowed by a younger teammate, then stormed back with a pair of dazzling routines that brought joy back to a country whose skating program is struggling to regain its Soviet-era dominance.
Sotnikova fought back two older, decorated rivals, defending Olympic champion Yuna Kim of South Korea and Italy’s Carolina Kostner, to become Russia’s first female skater to win individual gold.
"I didn't think I could skate like I did today," Sotnikova told reporters afterward, according to NBC Olympics.
Kim, 23, trying to become the first woman in more than three decades to win consecutive Olympic crowns, skated last in the free-skate portion of the competition, and fell short. She settled for a silver to close out a storied career in which she never finished lower than third.
Kostner, 27, a former world champion, became the first Italian to win an Olympic figure skating medal with a bronze.
American Gracie Gold finished 4th. Her teammates Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds finished 7th and 9th.
That podium shutout followed the same in Vancouver four years ago, marking the first time since the World War 2-split 1936-48 Winter Games that the U.S. failed to win a medal in consecutive Olympics.
The most remarkable upset, however, occurred at the top of the program.
The fiery Sotnikova began the competition on Wednesday hardly in the discussion of medal favorites.
The four-time national champion was considered Russia's second-best skater in the Olympics, following commanding performances by 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, who helped lead Russia to first-ever gold in the team figure skating event.
But that dynamic switched on Wednesday, when Lipnitskaya succumbed to the immeasurable pressure heaped upon her by the host country, which was knocked out of the men's hockey competition hours earlier.
Lipnitskaya fell hard in her short skate, and on Thursday, skating before Sotnikova, fell again in her free skate, twice leaving the Russians in the audience in stunned silence.
In both cases, Sotnikova came to her country's rescue.
She sparkled in her Thursday free skate, landing soaring jumps in a spirited routine that was accompanied by a Camille Saint-Saens violin piece. The home crowd roared with renewed hope, and Sotnikova burst into tears of relief. She scored a stunning 149.95 in her free skate. That made her combined score 224.59.
That forced Kim, whose gold-winning Vancouver performances still stand as world records, to outdo herself.
She seemed to instead opt for a safer, less ambitious routine that earned a 144.19, for a combined 219.11. Kim has said that she will retire after the Sochi Games.
Kostner ended the day with a combined 216.73, overcoming disappointing finishes in Torino and Vancouver to become the fourth oldest woman to win a figure skating medal.
For the Americans, the results were disappointing, but they represent a bright future for the U.S. figure skating program. Wagner is 22, Gold is 18, and Edmunds is 15.