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Russian skater Evgenia Medvedeva leads in season opener

By Emily Pacenti
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Russian skater Evgenia Medvedeva leads in season opener
Gold medalist Alina Zagitova (C), silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva (L), both of Russia, pose with bronze medalist Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February. File Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva came out in first place after the short program at the Autumn Classic International, her figure-skating season opener in Ontario, Canada.

The 18-year-old Russian finished the short program Thursday with 70.98 points, placing just ahead of U.S. national champion Bradie Tennell, who scored 69.26.

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Medvedeva competed with a new program set to "Orange Colored Sky" as performed by Natalie Cole and choreographed by David Wilson, in a major change of pace for the skater.

After a two-year winning streak, Medvedeva lost out on two gold medals in 2018 to Russian teammate Alina Zagitova, 16, who shared her coach. On Olympic ice, Medvedeva missed gold by just 1.31 points, prompting a rule change for the sport this season.

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Alina's narrow victory arguably came down to backloading -- the practice of putting jumps in the second half of a program to receive a scoring bonus. Alina's program put every jump in the second half of both programs, sparking a debate over whether she deserved the gold.

The new "Zagitova rule" this season allows only one jump in the short program and three jumps in the free skate to receive a bonus.

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After her Olympic loss, Medvedeva made the unorthodox move of changing coaches. She switched from elite Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze -- who also coached Alina -- to acclaimed Canadian coaching team Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson.

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Orser and Wilson also coach Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and several other top skaters. The Russian skating field, while deep, typically stays on domestic turf for coaching. Orser coaches skaters from Japan to the United States and South Korea. Medvedeva will be his only Russian.

The decision challenged Russian skating conventions and even sparked a new discussion of toxic coaching practices. Tutberidze, the former coach of Yulia Lipnitskaya, infamously encouraged skaters to eat a diet of powdered nutrients. Lipnitskaya, 20, retired last season for treatment of an eating disorder.

How Medvedeva's season goes may speak to which coaching style is more successful and perhaps break down restrictions other Russian skaters may feel tying them down to their home country.

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Medvedeva debuted at the Autumn Classic on Thursday night with a stunning short program unlike her previous skating style. Despite a spinout on a double axel, she gave a clean skate with a solid score to start the season.

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She continues with the free skate on Friday night. The Autumn Classic International runs through Saturday. It will be streamed live at Skate Canada.

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