SOCHI, Russia – Adelina Sotnikova stood before reporters answering questions about her just-completed dream performance – a lifetime-best 149.95 in a long program that put her on the verge of figure skating greatness. Pictured behind her on the interview zone TV monitors was the only person standing between her and a gold medal, defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea.
"The Olympic dream was born in 2010 during the qualifications to Vancouver," a somewhat distracted Sotnikova replied in Russian to the host nation's media horde. "And when I was watching those Olympics from the sidelines, I felt that I wanted to have my Games. I understood that it wouldn't be easy to make them, especially now that in Russia there are a lot of strong girls."
Sotnikova stopped talking as Kim finished her free skate. She could not bear to watch anymore as Kim picked up a teddy bear and skated to the bench to await the result.
[PHOTOS: Olympic Crush - Adelina Sotnikova]
"Was it clean?" Sotnikova asked to no one in particular about Kim's performance. "If this is gold, I will run to my coach. … My heart is going to jump out. … I can't take it!"
Sotnikova could barely contain her emotions as she looked up at the screen again. When Kim's score of 144.19 appeared in the right-hand corner of the monitor – for an overall total of 219.11, well below Sotnikova's 224.59 – she sprinted through the interview area and past waiting reporters to her coaches and choreographer. Her lifelong goal had come true.
"I was dreaming of it and wanted it so much!" Sotnikova said after the podium ceremony at Iceberg Skating Palace late Thursday night. "It had been in my head so long, not just since yesterday.
"I wanted to come out and skate this the best I could," she added. "When I didn't perform to my expectations I started to doubt myself. But when I overcame myself I realized that I underestimated myself, that I can do anything, and today I proved it to the world.
"I knew that I could be in the top three. I knew that Yuna Kim is very strong. And I knew that she would go out and do everything. But when I saw on the monitor the marks that were higher than hers. … I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it."
It is remarkable that this 17-year-old from Moscow even became a talented athlete, much less an Olympic champion.
Sotnikova was born two months premature and doctors didn't give her much chance to live. She was only four years old when she saw a skating rink in her neighborhood for the first time and her mother Olga took her to a group practice just to try out.
Olga didn't know that her daughter was supposed to have her own skates for that first group practice. In fact, they were the only ones there without skates.
"They are all so young, and they go out on the ice right away? Maybe they should practice on the floor first?" Olga recalled in a story by ProSport magazine. She got a stern response back: "Ma'am, what are you, a coach?"
Olga wanted her daughter to play music, while Adelina wanted to do ballet. Adelina was also into gymnastics. But when the time came to choose, her parents didn't pressure her. They left the decision up to their little girl.
She made the right choice. And ultimately, she would be rewarded for giving up school dances and plays for figure skating practices and competitions. By the time she was 15, Sotnikova had won three Russian figure skating championships. She was destined to become the Sochi Games' signature star.
That all changed with the emergence of Julia Lipnitskaia. The 15-year-old sensation continued her meteroic rise by winning the European Championships in January and she immediately became the darling of these Winter Games after skating both the short and long programs of the team competition to help Russia win gold.
Being passed over for the team event did not sit well with Sotnikova. "I was upset and angry, in a good way, that I wasn't selected," she said.
Eleven days later, Sotnikova would escape Lipnitskaia's shadow with a performance of a lifetime, one that created her own legacy in Russian figure skating as the country's first-ever Olympic ladies' champion.
"I am so happy for Adelina," said Elena Buyanova, Sotnikova's coach. "The person truly overcame herself. There were letdowns, and I am happy that she pulled through and got up. This is the most important thing in an athlete, if the person overcomes herself. I know that there is a strong core in her."
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