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Meet Polina Edmunds, breakthrough Olympic figure skater

Jan 12, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT

Polina Edmunds Getty Images

She’s been called an iron butterfly, a breath of fresh air and even cocky.

She’s Polina Edmunds, 15 and the youngest U.S. Winter Olympian since Tara Lipinski in 1998 (though slopestyle skier Maggie Voisin may take that crown in the next week).

Few, if any, prognosticators pegged the wispy Californian as a contender to make the Olympic Team going into this weekend’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

But Edmunds opened eyes in her first senior event, finishing second in the short program Thursday and holding on for the silver medal in the free skate Saturday. She was named to the three-woman Olympic Team on Sunday.

We should have seen this coming.

U.S. women’s figure skating is not as deep as it was 10 or 15 years ago. U.S. champion Gracie Gold and two-time former U.S. champion Ashley Wagner have been seen as the only Sochi medal threats over the past year — and it’ll likely be bronze at best.

At some point, somebody had to rise from the junior ranks above a stagnant group behind Gold and Wagner. That time was the last few days, and that skater was the reigning U.S. junior champion, labeled “cocky” by the New York Daily News.

“I move like a ballerina,” Edmunds told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m a very soft skater. But I tend to combine it with speed and power.”

Edmunds shows international promise. She won junior Grand Prix events this season and was fourth at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, behind three Russians.

Edmunds, who started skating at around age 2, has roots in the 2014 Olympic host country. Her mother, Nina, grew up in Russia. Her father was a hockey player.

The New York Times profiled Edmunds four years ago at the 2010 U.S. Championships, where the Vancouver Olympic Team was named. There, Edmunds took sixth as the youngest of 12 skaters in the novice division — one step below juniors.

She was 4 feet, 11 inches, then and 70 pounds. Her current biography lists her at 5-4 with no weight given.

Venerable coach Frank Carroll devotes plenty of time to his star pupil, Gold, but has occasionally helped Edmunds, a San Jose high school sophomore, for the past six months.

“She is the future,” he told reporters after the short program in Boston on Thursday. “She’s like an iron butterfly.”

She’s been compared to Lipinski not just for her precociousness, but also for her toughness. Lipinski herself has called Edmunds feisty.

“My biggest dream would be to go to the Olympics and win,” Edmunds told The New York Times four years ago.

Can she? That’s quite unlikely in Sochi, where South Korea’s Yuna Kim and Japan’s Mao Asada are vying for gold.

But consider this: Edmunds was second at the U.S. Championships, her first senior event, despite falling in her free skate that included six landed triple jumps. This year might only be the beginning.

Ashley Wagner makes Olympic Team over Mirai Nagasu

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