Figure skating-Medvedeva on track to emulate Kwan

Pritha Sarkar

HELSINKI, March 29 (Reuters) - A nerveless and haunting short programme by Evgenia Medvedeva kept the Russian teenager on track to become the first skater since American Michelle Kwan in 2001 to win back-to-back women's titles at the world championships on Wednesday.

At 17, Medvedeva is one of the youngest competitors in the field but after arriving in Helsinki by stringing together nine successive wins, and with world record scores to boot, the Russian is already considered a goliath in the sport.

She preserved that reputation by soaring above her challengers with a score of 79.01, which was a fraction lower than the all-time best of 79.21 she earned at the Grand Prix Final in December.

Medvedeva's stirring performance to 'River Flows in You' allowed her to open up a 3.03 point lead over Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond in the final world championships before next year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

In contrast, the gap between Osmond's third-placed team mate Gabrielle Daleman and seventh-placed American Ashley Wagner was 3.14.

The leading trio were among seven skaters to score more than 69 points, which led Wagner to declare: "It's an awesome ladies night tonight. There is a historic number of scores over 69.

"I'm in a fighting position for a medal and to be one of the 69-pointers is something great."

With Anna Pogorilaya, Karen Chen and Maria Sotskova filling the slots from fourth to sixth, the battle for the minor medals will be an intense one when the women return for Friday's free skate.

However, it will be reigning champion Medvedeva who will be out to prove that she is no one-hit wonder.

In recent years many of her countrywomen have shone brightly on the global stage for one season before fading just as quickly into the background.

That list includes 2014 Olympic gold medallist Adelina Sotnikova and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.

Medvedeva, however, has bucked that trend by "having fun" during her performances.

"I don't feel any pressure ....because I am completely in tune with my mind before going out to skate," said Medvedeva, whose winning run started at the December 2015 Grand Prix Final.

She is also not one to follow the masses when it comes to her routines.

While her breathless rivals opted to get their difficult jumps out of the way within the opening minute of their short skates, a composed Medvedeva slowly built up the momentum before dazzling the judges with her effortless triple flip-triple toeloop combination that was followed by two further foot-perfect jumps.

Dismissing suggestions that her routine lacked balance, Medvedeva said: "I do the jumps in the second half because you get more points. I have no plans to change that.

"I'm now feeling confident going into Friday."

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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