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The first time Yulia Lipnitskaya took the ice at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, she seemed incapable of nerves.
The 15-year-old nailed jump after complex jump with an almost dispassionate resolve as she helped Russia to a gold medal in the team figure skating event. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn’t help giving her a pat on the head afterward.
But Wednesday, during the women’s individual short program, it was a different side of Lipnitskaya that came through.
On the final jump of her program, she took a tumble, uncharacteristically touching both hands to the ice on a bobbled triple flip. It was the same jump she nailed so cleanly in last week’s team event.
For Russia, it was a moment of pause for a country that has never won gold in women’s figure skating and sees Lipnitskaya – rightly so – as its best shot in years.
But on a night when the focus was on the Olympic debuts of so many young skaters, including Canadians Kaetlyn Osmond, 18, and Gabrielle Daleman, 16, it was wily veteran Kim Yu-na of South Korea who led the field at the comparatively seasoned age of 23.
Kim, the gold-medal winner at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, sits in first place heading into Thursday’s long program. Skating in one of only a handful of international competitions she has attended since taking time off after Vancouver, Kim landed all her jumps for a score of 74.92 points.
But it’s a slim lead.
Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova, often overshadowed by Lipnitskaya’s meteoric rise, sits second with 74.64, while Carolina Kostner of Italy is third with 74.12.
Osmond, who is hoping for a top-eight finish at her first Olympics, to go with the eighth-place finish she had at last year’s World Championships, stumbled in her short program. That slip left the skater from Marystown, Nfld., in 13th heading into the long program, with a score of 56.18.
Daleman is 19th, with a score of 52.61.
Despite her strong skate, Kim later told reporters she was indeed nervous, and the butterflies of being back on Olympic ice affected her jumps during warm-up.
“I was really nervous when I was in the warm-up,” she said. “I just said, ‘Let’s believe in myself,’ and that’s how I tried to relax.”
It was Lipnitskaya who said she wasn’t nervous. Her fall, she insisted, wasn’t because of jitters from skating on home ice, with a pro-Russia crowd chanting her name. Sitting nearly 10 points back of Kim, the gap between the two is likely impossible to make up in the long program.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Lipnitskaya told reporters. “I don’t know what happened.”