Valieva won the world junior title at the same venue in March 2020, days before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports around the world, and said Thursday “it felt like I never left.”
Along with continuing her unbeaten record in international competition, Valieva is focusing on avoiding a virus infection before the Olympics next month.
“We’re trying to be in masks all the time and we’re trying not to go to places full of people,” she said. “Sometimes that happens, but even if it does happen, I try to keep myself safe as much as I can.”
Loena Hendrickx of Belgium took a surprise second place with 76.25 points to stop Russia from taking the top three spots, as it did in the men’s and pairs short programs on Wednesday. The free skate is Saturday.
Alexandrova Trusova is in third place with 75.13 points after recovering from a fall on her opening triple axel, and Anna Shcherbakova scored 69.05 for fourth after a costly fall on the first jump of what should have been a triple-triple combination.
Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov added the European gold medal to their world championship title with a commanding win in the pairs free skate, ahead of a highly anticipated Olympic showdown with China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.
Mishina and Galliamov had the lead from the short program and scored 157.46 points in a clean skate for a total of 239.82, finishing three points ahead of their teammates Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.
The winners at the last European championship in 2020, Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, completed the Russian sweep on 227.23. Underlining Russia’s domination of the pairs event, a 43-point gap separated them from fourth-placed Georgians Karina Safina and Luka Berulava.