BEIJING, China — Kamila Valieva became the first woman to land a quad in the Olympics — two of them, in fact — and her historic free skate put a stamp on the Russians' dominant run to the gold medal in the team event at the Beijing Games on Monday.
The 15-year-old Valieva opened with a huge quad salchow and followed with the difficult triple axel before landing another quad, this time a toe loop in combination with a triple toe loop. The only blemish on her program came when she fell on her quad toe loop late in the program, but by that point, her first gold medal in Beijing was assured.
Another one could come shortly in the individual event, where the Russians are favored to sweep the podium.
They finished with 74 points in the team event to win their second gold medal in three editions of it. The U.S. earned the silver after back-to-back bronze medals at the past two Olympics, thanks largely to a winning dance program from Madison Chock and Evan Bates, while Japan climbed onto the team podium for the first time.
The celebration by Team USA was tempered by word shortly before the medal ceremony that Vincent Zhou had tested positive for COVID-19 after his free skate Sunday as part of regular screenings. Zhou was being tested again and needed to return a negative result or he would miss the start of the men's competition.
His positive test is certain to stress the rest of the American team, including Nathan Chen, whose quest for individual gold begins with Tuesday's short program. The two have been part of the same practice group since arriving in Beijing.
The Americans were the talk of Capital Indoor Stadium after Day 1, when Nathan Chen won the men's short program, ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue earned the highest score in their discipline and the pairs duo of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier finished third with one of their best short programs.
Valieva wiped out their hard-earned lead all by herself Sunday, then the Russians kept putting distance between the field.
Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, the reigning world champs, took maximum points in pairs to begin the final day of the team event, even though they inexplicably collapsed to the ice on their final lift. And their ice dancers, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, finished second to Chock and Bates to clinch the gold medal.
That left no pressure on Valieva to unload the first quad — and then the second — by a woman in Olympic competition.
“In our team we’ve got Kamila Valieva, and Mark Kondratiuk too, and Sinitsina and Katsalapov, and Mishina and Galliamov, so probably every skater wants to keep the standard high and not let the team down,” Galliamov said.
The only controversy, both in Russia and abroad, was the decision to use the same lineup throughout the team competition. Two substitutions are allowed and only those who skate in the team event earn a medal, leaving some to suggest that Anna Shcherbakova or Alexandra Trusova deserved an opportunity to perform for the Russian team Monday.
Then again, that would have kept Valieva from being the one to make quad history.
Meanwhile, the Americans began their day watching a shaky program from Knierim and Frazier score just 128.97 points, last among the five nations, leaving Team USA and the Japanese team deadlocked for silver with two disciplines to go.
Sinitsina and Katsalapov's performance to a Rachmaninov piano concerto was timeless and elegant, but they lost a point for an overly long lift sequence to score 128.17 and give Chock and Bates the opening they needed.
Performing their avant-garde alien-astronaut love story, the U.S. champions skated with the kind of emotion and precision that could land on them on the dance podium before the Beijing Games are done. Their score of 129.07 was their highest in international competition and, more importantly, edged the Russians by less than a point.
“I honestly had no expectations,” said Chock, who along with Bates captained the American team. "I heard the Russians’ (score) right before we skated and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s such a hefty score.’ And then it was like: ‘All right, focus.’”
With maximum points from ice dance, the only way the Americans could squander their long-sought silver medal would be for Kaori Sakamoto of Japan to win the women's free skate and for Karen Chen to finish last for their team.
Chen made sure that wouldn't happen, following her shaky short program with a redemptive free skate.
The 2018 Olympian landed all five of her triple jumps, including the triple loop — paired with a double loop — that sent her spilling to the ice on Sunday. As the Cornell student wrapped up her program, set to a piano concerto by Japanese violinist Takako Nishizaki, she had to cover her face in a failed attempt to hold back the tears.
“Just coming back from yesterday is a huge thing for me,” Chen said. “I knew I could have landed that loop. I knew that I’ve been training so well and I’m just waiting for that moment. And for today, to go out there and to do that, was just such an incredible feeling. I know it’s the team event, but still it’s an incredible feeling."