Russians Back on Top; Chinese Off The Podium

Story by Olivia Ouyang. 

Four years ago, Russian figure skating was rattled when, for the first time since 1964, neither of its pair teams made the Olympic podium. Yesterday, Russia proved that they are still the best in the sport, clinching the gold and silver medal. Tatiana Voloshozar and Maxim Trankov were the favorites coming into the competition as the reigning, three-time European champions. Skating to Jesus Christ Superstar, their program was nearly perfect although Voloshozar touched her hand down on a throw triple loop. Voloshozar and Trankov’s main rivals were supposed to be the German pair of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. However, they succumbed to the pressure, each falling once. They ended up in third place and collected their second Olympic bronze medal. The mistakes of the Germans allowed room for Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov to move up into second place with a clean skate. Both Russian pairs now have two gold medals, having helped their country win the team figure skating event over the weekend.

Lunar-New-Year-TableGame-ENG

 

China off the podium

While Russia reasserted its dominance, China dropped off of the podium. At both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, two Chinese pair teams finished in the top three. So what happened in Sochi? Clearly, China is going through a changing of the guard. Finishing in fourth place were Qing Pang and Jiang Tong, who won the silver medal in Vancouver. While the 35-year-olds skated a beautiful program to I Dreamed A Dream from Les Misérables for their fourth and final Olympic appearance, it was clear that Pang and Tong were past their prime. Botching their first side-by-side jumps, the pair lacked their former dynamism. However, they finished the routine with smiles and looking satisfied. The pair has been engaged since 2011 but put off marriage in order to train for these Olympics. As one of the original pairs who helped put China on the figure skating map, the legacy of Pang and Tong will be remembered fondly for years to come.

China’s second pair team, consisting of Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, finished in eighth place. This team highlights the inevitable shift from the old and to the new generation of skaters in China. Zhang, age 29, won the silver medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics with former partner Dan Zhang, who retired from skating in 2012. Zhang was then partnered with Peng, a petite sixteen-year-old skater. An oddly-matched team, even their coach Hongbo Zhao, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist who now coaches for China, remarked, “In the future, I hope they can go out and not look like an older brother skating with a younger sister.” However, if Peng is an indication of what China has in store for the future, the rest of the world better watch out. Peng and Zhang made history yesterday by executing the first quadruple twist ever at the Olympics. With dedicated coaches like Zhao and Yao Bin, the man who single-handedly cultivated the Chinese pairs machine, it is only a matter of time before China finds its way to the top again.

 

Russia Wins The First Team Figure Skating Gold Medal, U.S. In Third

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.

Lunar-New-Year-TableGame-ENG

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.