The 15-year-old Russian landed seven clear triples as well as two double axels, one of them dramatically late in the program, skating to lively music from the ballet "Don Quixote." The program scored 157.97 points, more than three points ahead of second-placed Medvedeva.
Zagitova augmented several of her jumps by raising one of two hands above her head, her elbow-length crimson gloves drawing attention to the move. "I'm happy I performed two clean skates. Of course I'm happy I became the European champion and I want to keep going," she said.
Medvedeva, who had won gold in every appearance since late 2015, landed some of her jumps with less assurance than her compatriot, though her "Anna Karenina" theme outpointed Zagitova on program components.
Medvedeva missed the Grand Prix Final and the Russian nationals this season to recover from a foot stress fracture, and said "there were some moments during the skate when the two-month break had an impact."
"I woke up this morning with the thought that I'll just do everything that's in my power at the moment. I'll live in the moment," she said. Carolina Kostner of Italy, the Sochi Olympics bronze medalist, struggled through an error-filled free skate that included falling on her opening triple lutz, but took bronze on the back of her strong short program.
The 30-year-old Italian veteran wore a pistachio-green catsuit that she said was inspired by the renowned Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. "It was not at all my best performance and it's a pity because my body's ready and the practices were easy-going and mostly flawless and then you get into the competition and it just slips away," she said.
Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won their fourth consecutive European figure skating championship, extending the two world records they already held. The French duo's free dance to sections from Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" reflected the music's mood changes. They were fluid in the first movement and animated in the stormy third. Papadakis and Cizeron scored a record 121.817 points for the free dance and 203.16 total.
"I think we're very happy with our scores and we had a great feeling on the ice today," Cizeron said. "(We'll) just keep working as usual and really just keep working with our team." "The Olympic Games will come up very soon now and we're really excited."
Silver and bronze went to Russian couples Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev and Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin, respectively, reversing their positions from the results after the short dance. Bobrova and Soloviev's free skate was a touching tale of love sought, found and lost, ending with him trying to embrace her but missing as she stares in apparent dismay. The program featured a straight-line lift in which he kneeled on one leg and she balanced upside down on the outstretched thigh
"Yes, we achieved a personal best, but we still want the mark to be higher," Bobrova said. He added: "Now it is important that we relax a bit and then on January 27th we will fly to Japan and wait for our invitation" to the Pyeongchang Olympics, where Russians are to compete under a neutral flag.
James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed.