Story by Olivia Ouyang.
The first ever team figure skating event concluded yesterday with the men’s and ladies’ long program and free dance. Veteran Yevgeny Plushenko sealed Russia’s fate as the gold medalist after winning the men’s free skate. However, there were plenty of other highlights over the course of the three-day event that began on Thursday, the day before the opening ceremonies.
Unique to this competition is that skaters who would not normally be in the spotlight are able to compete alongside the world’s best. For example, Japan has some of the strongest singles skaters in the world. However, they have much weaker pairs and ice dancing teams. Because of the team structure of this competition, these Japanese skaters shared the ice with the best in the field. In addition, the five countries that qualified for the finals were allowed up to two substitutions for the long programs and free dance. Most countries took advantage of this rule and let some less experienced skaters compete.
While this was a nice way to kick off the Olympics, the real action starts on Tuesday when the individual events get underway. However, the team event gave audiences a nice preview of who to watch.
Men’s: Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan) won the men’s short program, edging out Plushenko by a little over six points. Patrick Chan of Canada also proved he is a medal contender by placing third in the short. Although Plushenko won the long program, Kevin Reynolds of Canada and Tatsuki Machida were right on his heels.
Ladies’: Yulia Lipnitskaya, the 15-year-old from Russia, proved that she is the girl to beat, dominating both the short and long programs. Veteran Carolina Kostner pulled together one of her best programs ever and placed second in the short. If she skates like that in the individual competition, she is definitely a medal contender. Mao Asada, one of the few women with a triple axel, fell on the element in the short program but still managed to cling to third. Ashley Wagner partially redeemed herself after a devastating performance at U.S. Nationals that sparked quite the controversy when she was selected for the Olympic team over bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu (for more on this story, click here). Lastly but certainly not least, Gracie Gold, the current U.S. National champion, came the closest to challenging Lipnitskaya, placing second in the free skate.
Pairs: As it has been for the past decade, the top three pair teams in the world are still the Russians, Canadians, and Chinese. All three countries have such a deep team that it will be interesting to see who ends up on top.
Ice Dancing: Meryl Davis and Charlie White demonstrated why they are the favorites to win the Olympics, scoring a season’s best during the free dance and winning both portions of the competition. Their closest rivals (both literally and figuratively) are Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir who represent Canada but happen to be their training mates. Marina Zoueva coaches both teams.