Julie Chu Carries U.S. Flag at Olympics Closing Ceremony

American ice hockey player Julie Chu was nominated and selected to represent Team U.S.A. as flag bearer for the Closing Ceremonies at the Sochi Olympic Games last night.

The four-time medallist –– she has two silvers and a bronze in addition to the silver medal she won with her team this year –– was “completely humbled and kind of in shock” when she discovered her team picked her to carry the flag, ending her fourth consecutive Winter Olympic Games.

Chu plays the forward position on the women’s team and helped land them in second place in the finals February 20, losing to Canada by a score of 3-2. Chu, who is Chinese-American, is the first Asian American woman to play for the US Olympic ice hockey team and is tied as the second-most decorated U.S. female in Olympic Winter Games history.

“I’m trying to finagle a hockey stick,” Chu joked when asked if she’d represent her sport by carrying the US flag in on a hockey stick. “I don’t know if they’ll let me.”

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Meet the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team’s “ShibSibs”

My brother and I are big fans of two individuals named Alex and Maia Shibutani. They’re Japanese American, exactly three years apart (ages 22 and 19, respectively) and they’re siblings. In all three instances, the Shibutanis and my brother and I are the same. The big difference between us? My brother and I are not figure skaters competing in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

The Michigan-based siblings have just finished their first Olympic experience by placing in the top 10 for ice dancing, despite a wardrobe malfunction during their Michael Jackson medley routine in which Maia’s tights caught onto Alex’s costume during a difficult lift.

But the brother-sister team couldn’t be happier. “Everything went the way it should,” said Alex in an interview with the Greenwich-Post. “We’ve been taking everything in since we’ve gotten here so to finally have our Olympic moment it totally blew our expectations.”

Ice skating isn’t the only thing they’re good at. Alex and Maia, also known as the “ShibSibs” on their personal YouTube account, are also funny, light-hearted social media personas. Their YouTube account, which since its founding in 2012 has already gained 9,000 subscribers and over 1 million views, is compiled of silly vlogs and bloopers captured amidst the seriousness of their training.

“[Alex] is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met,” said Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion and NBC Olympic figure skating commentator. “He has a [really] dry sense of humor.”

The duo has promised to upload more behind-the-scenes at Sochi vlogs when they return to the states to begin training for their last competition of the season at the World Championships in Saitama, Japan.

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The Queen’s Reign Ends: Yuna Kim Settles for Silver

Story by Olivia Ouyang. 

Yuna Kim, or the Queen as she is fondly known in the skating world, delivered the program everyone expected of her. Unfortunately, perfection was not enough for the gold medal. The 2010 Olympic Champion and 2013 World Champion led by a small margin after the short program but ultimately settled for silver, 5.48 points off of gold.

It was Adelina Sotnikova who usurped the Queen, claiming for Russia their first gold medal in women’s figure skating. The nineteen-year-old, who won her first Russian national title at the age of twelve, was a bit of a dark horse coming into the competition. In the build up to the Games, Sotnikova had been in the shadow of her younger teammate, Yulia Lipnitskaya, who helped Russia win the team figure skating gold. However, Lipnitskaya faltered in both the short and long program and settled for fifth.

Capturing Italy’s first Olympic figure skating medal was Carolina Kostner, the 27-year-old veteran. In her third and final Olympics, Kostner finally suppressed her nerves and skated a clean short and long program. After disappointing finishes in Torino and Vancouver, an Olympic bronze medal is an appropriate way to cap the career of one of the most beautiful skaters of all time.

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One of the best and most emotional programs of the night came from Japan’s Mao Asada, who was thought to be a gold medal contender coming into the competition. However, after a disastrous short program, Asada sat in sixteenth place. Heartbroken after her skate, Asada came into the long program with something to prove. With steely determination, Asada skated a clean program and broke into tears at the end. She ultimately moved up ten spots and finished in sixth place. Although she was unable to capture another medal, Asada could not have asked for a better skate with which to end her career.

The Americans threw down respectable programs and all three finished in the top ten. Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, and Polina Edmunds placed fourth, seventh, and ninth respectively.

Since the start of the Games, the ladies’ figure skating competition has been posed as a battle between the girls and the women. The free skate event tonight demonstrated the qualities of both youth and experience. In four years, the Olympics will be in South Korea. At that time, Kim will be 27, the same age as Kostner is now. If the Queen is able to keep up her level of skating, there is a good chance she will be able to reclaim her throne in front of a home crowd.

 

The Rise of the Asian Male Figure Skater

Story by Olivia Ouyang.

On a night when mistakes abounded, history was made. The men’s free skate competition was far from memorable, with falls occurring left and right. However, it was an evening for the books. For the first time in the history of Olympic figure skating, an Asian male won the event. Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu skated far below his abilities, falling twice during his program. However, he was able to edge out the competition and solidify the rise of the Asian male skater.

The Japan Figure Skating Championships is considered one of the hardest competitions simply because of the depth of the country’s field. Its two other representatives, Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi, finished fifth and sixth respectively. Takahashi, who made history in 2010 by becoming the first Asian man to win the World Championships, did not even make the podium at Japanese nationals. However, given his experience, which includes a bronze medal at the prior Olympics, Takahashi was given a spot on the team.

It is worth noting that all three medalists are of Asian descent. Silver medalist Patrick Chan is of Chinese descent; both his parents immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in the early part of their lives. Chan created a stir a few years ago when he told Reuters that he wished he could skate for China because the country appreciates their figure skaters whereas Canadians only value hockey. The statement was later retracted. The three-time World Champion was a contender for the gold medal, trailing Hanyu by less than four points. After Hanyu’s errors, the door was open for Chan to step in and clench the gold. However, the veteran skater made numerous errors and was unable to close the gap.

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After the short program, only 3.5 points separated third and eleventh place, leaving the bronze medal was up for grabs. It was Denis Ten, the 2013 World silver medalist, who rose to the occasion. Representing Kazakhstan, Ten is of Korean descent. His great-great-grandfather was Min Keung Ho, a Korean general in the war against Japan for independence in the early 20th century. Ten rose from ninth the third place with one of the best programs of the night.

Michael Christian Martinez, the first figure skater and only athlete from the Philippines at these Games placed a respectable nineteenth place. Read more on his story here.

The ladies’ competition gets underway today. Unlike the men, Asian women have dominated the past two Olympics, beginning with Shizuka Arakawa’s victory at the 2006 Torino Olympics. Reigning Olympic champion Yuna Kim of Korea is competing here in Sochi to defend her title. Also in the mix is Mao Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist who is looking to improve on her prior finish and get gold.

Fall In Love With Japan’s Women’s Hockey Team

Any fan of Japan’s women’s hockey team will admit that they don’t exactly expect the girls to take Olympic gold anytime soon– but the team is loved anyway.

Although the team places second in every Asian Winter Games since 1996, they are ranked 10th in the world and generally struggle with international competition. In fact, Japan’s spot at the Sochi Games is the first time in the country’s history that it qualified into the Olympics in women’s hockey.

Despite this, Japan’s women’s hockey team is consistently a fan favorite. They’ve been described as “the smiley-est group ever known.” This is perfect seeing as the team’s nickname is “Smile Japan.”

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The girls are known for their positive energy and love of celebration. Because of this, they have gained a handful of fans despite their scores at Sochi.

“We hoped to get a better result, but we are still positive,” one of the players said when Japan lost 4-0 to Germany. “We wanted to make our fans smile for us. Despite this, we hope we can still make them smile.”

This doesn’t seem like a very difficult task for the girls at all. Upon arriving at Sochi, the team was given some practice time. How did they utilize it? Certainly not by running drills or practicing every second they were given. Instead, they took pictures, played around in the ice and relished every moment of being on Olympic ice.

Check out the super cute pictures below.

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Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey Women Yoko Kondo, Aina Takeuchi

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The Sacrifice of Skating: Martinez makes Olympic debut for the Philippines

Story by Olivia Ouyang.

After one of the strangest men’s short programs in the history of the Olympics, Michael Christian Martinez, finds himself in 19th place, thus fulfilling his goal to qualify for the men’s free skate. Martinez is the only athlete from the Philippines to compete at these Games as well as the first figure skater to represent a Southeast Asian country in the event. Only seventeen years of age, Martinez is the youngest men’s competitor. However, he is also one of the most hardworking.

Born in Paranaque City, Martinez skated for the first time at the age of eight when he went to a shopping mall in Manila. He essentially taught himself how to skate through watching videos and mastered his first few triple jumps all on his own. In 2010, he started making trips to Los Angeles to train with esteemed coaches John Nicks and Ilia Kulik. A month before this Olympics, he headed to Moscow to train with Viktor Kudriyavstev. In Sochi, Martinez was the very first skater to step foot in the practice rink.

Despite his visible potential, Martinez has questioned whether he should continue skating. Last year, his family’s farm in Luzon was devastated by the typhoons that hit the region. Had he not qualified for the Olympics at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy, Martinez would have quit skating. Now, he is hoping to garner enough support to continue to train for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. In order to raise funds for this Olympics, Martinez’s family mortgaged their home. His friends and skating club have also been supportive, helping to pay for his training trips to Los Angeles. Because of the lack of facilities (Martinez still practices on public sessions) and coaching expertise in the Philippines, these trips are necessary for Martinez’s development as a skater. With a good showing in Sochi, he is hoping to garner more support from the government.

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Martinez started off his Olympic debut strong. Choreographed by Phillip Mills, Martinez’s short program to Romeo and Juliet exemplified his potential to be a threat in the sport. He skated an almost clean program, just botching his triple-triple jump combination. However, he has a knack for spins and a natural musicality that cannot be taught. Before Martinez finished his short program, the crowd was already cheering.

Having skated in the first warm-up group, Martinez had a long wait to find out whether or not he had made it to the long program. That wait was filled with a number of high, low, and strange moments. Four-time Olympic medalist and gold medal contender Yevgeny Plushenko from Russia withdrew after aggravating an injury in warm-up. U.S. Champion Jeremy Abbott came down hard on a quad toe attempt, slamming into the boards and requiring a substantial amount of time to recover. On the other hand, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan became the first skater to ever break the 100-point mark in the short program, garnering a 101.45 for his clean skate.

The men’s free skate promises to be an exciting event. While the battle for gold will most likely be between Hanyu and Patrick Chan of Canada, only 3.5 points separates third and eleventh place currently. In that mix are Jason Brown from the U.S., Han Yan from China, Denis Ten from Kazakhstan, and two Japanese skaters, Daisuke Takahashi and Tatsuki Machida.

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.

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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.

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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.