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Friendship on ice as skate buddies Medvedeva, Zagitova prepare for war

Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva says she is preparing for "war" to deny her close friend Alina Zagitova the Olympic figure skate gold after her compatriot set a new world record short programme yesterday.

Zagitova displayed maturity far beyond her 15 years in a spellbinding routine to music from the film Black Swan to earn a massive 82.92 points to lead the ladies' competition.

Her flawless two-and-a-half minutes on the ice at the Gangneung Arena, featuring a complex triple lutz, triple toeloop combination, gave her a narrow advantage of 1.31 points over her training partner and buddy going into tomorrow's free dance final.

Their closest challenger is Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond on 78.87, with Japan's Satoko Miyahara in fourth.

"We are friends, we are young girls, we can talk about anything with each other," said Medvedeva, 18, who like Zagitova is making her Olympic debut.

"But on the ice, we must fight, I feel like it's a little war, when you skate you are alone," added the double world champion.

Zagitova said she is up to the challenge.

"I've said many many times, Evgenia and me are very good friends off the ice but in practice or competition I get this feeling of rivalry, it's not bad or negative or malicious feeling of rivalry but it is there."

CALM NATURE

Asked about her maturity and serious nature, Zagitova replied: "I am very calm, I don't show emotions, I don't splash them around."

Then almost apologetically, she added: "This is how I am, it's my nature."

The two skaters are set to fight it out for what could be the first gold of the Games for the Olympic Athletes from Russia - who are competing as neutrals, after Russia were banned for doping.

Zagitova's world record feat was all the more remarkable given she had watched Medvedeva a few minutes earlier breaking the record she had set last week in the team event, with a score of 81.61.

"I was very happy when I saw the score, but I did not expect it," the girl from the Western Urals said.

"This is the best performance of my life, but there is still room to grow."

Zagitova has swept all before her in her first senior season, arriving in South Korea unbeaten in her four competitions, culminating in depriving Medvedeva of her European title in Moscow last month.

Medvedeva holds the world record for the free dance and combined, but the Muscovite knows she will have a herculean fight on her hands to deny Zagitova.

Medvedeva was beaten six points by Zagitova at the European Championships, the first time the pair had skated against each other in competition.

But she was also making her comeback in the Russian capital after a two-month hiatus recovering from a broken foot.

In her enforced absence, Zagitova had stolen the skating spotlight, and on this form she may well do so again as she attempts to become the second-youngest ladies' Olympic skate champion behind American Tara Lipinski, who won the 1998 gold medal aged 15 years, eight months and 10 days.

They are trying to follow up Russia's first ever women's skate title in Sochi four years ago, with Medvedeva recalling: "I was only 14 then.

"I remember when Russia won gold (with Adelina Sotnikova), it was really amazing, I just sat in a chair and thought 'I want the same feeling'".

One of them is likely to experience that tomorrow. - AFP

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