First Day of Skating in PyeongChang Marred by Men and Court Ruling
Shoma Uno wins one of the worst men’s segments yet; Tarasova & Mozorov win the team pairs short after the Court of Arbitration for Sport holds up the ban of two would-be teammates.
At 10am local time in PyeongChang Korea, young home skating star Jun-Hwan Cha took the ice and led off the Olympic skating competitions, first to skate in the Team Men’s short. It’s the second Olympics to be led off by a Team event, and there’s still the problem that three of the countries involved are so strong it’s very hard for any of the other seven to beat them. Last time, Russia dominated, Canada tried to keep up but couldn’t, and the U.S. took an easy bronze. Now, of course, the Olympic Athletes from Russia have been deprived of their flag, and also their second best pairs and ice dance teams. When the day started, gold was considered to be between them and Canada.
Some of the other countries have strengths in more than one discipline, but haven’t managed to get all that strength to the event. France, for instance, lost their strongest skaters, ice dance team Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron, who decided to focus on the individual ice dance event. Top Japanese star Yuzuru Hanyu is out too, with speculation abounding about the current state of his ankle, and if he’s really having to save himself for the men’s individual. China’s big skaters also bailed. That further decreased the chance of a podium different from the one we had last time.
With the opening ceremony only hours away, the schedule was light, with the men and pairs skating their shorts program in the morning. NBC has such clout with the Olympics they got all the skating events scheduled early in the day, so they can show them live in U.S. east coast prime time. Skaters can get up to ten points for their team, according to their placements in relation to each other. The top five countries will qualify for the free skate.
But that wasn’t even all that was going on today. When Cha took the ice, it was also with the verdicts of the Court of Arbitration for Sport an hour away from declaring whether Ksenia Stolbova and Ivan Bukin, along with partners Fedor Klimov and Alexandra Stepanova, should be allowed into the Olympics after all.
By the time the men’s short was wrapping up, speculation was going on like crazy about ice quality, nerves, the skaters being up too early, or really anything that could explain why it was one of the worst men’s events yet in a season full of terrible men’s events. Only four men skated decently.
The only one of the big four names to do so was Shoma Uno. He didn’t start well, stumbling on his opening quadruple flip jump. But he managed to do a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination as he held on to everything else. The judges were actually a little nice to him as he scored over a hundred, but it wasn’t like he didn’t deserve a huge lead by then anyway. Japan will have to overcome weak pairs and dance teams to contend for a medal, but Uno had done his part so far.
The man who probably had the best day of the ten was Alexei Bychenko. Tonight he’ll carry the Israeli flag in the opening ceremony, and this morning in Korea he skated an easy, bouncy short program completely with a clean quad toe. He could only manage so much, and was a distant second, but it was still a great moment for him. And while Israel never had any chance at medaling, they now suddenly had a chance of qualifying for the free skate.
Behind him, Patrick Chan and Nathan Chen were extremely lucky to get third and fourth respectively. Both met with complete disaster on two of their jumping passes, and Patrick Chan managing only a triple-double combination was also a strike against him. Chen, who is currently not trying his usual quad lutz, went for a quad flip combination instead, was extremely shaky on the quad, and forced out a double. The highest presentation scores of the night after Uno’s preserved them both.
Matteo Rizzo and Jun-Hwan Cha were the other two men to skate well. Cha, in fact, nailed his program, giving the whole affair a promising beginning before it all went wrong. Rizzo did not nail his opening triple axel, but stood up on it, and was better after that. Neither man tried any quads, or had the highest presentation scores, and they were fifth and sixth respectively. Rizzo’s fifth is a stroke of luck for Italy, who are good enough in their other three disciplines a medal doesn’t seem entirely impossible for them.
The Olympic Athletes from Russia certainly didn’t get off to the right start for one. In a night of disastrous skates, Mikhail Kolyada’s might have been the most costly. He went down on both his quads before popping his axel, sending him tumbling down to eighth. He even went below Han Yan when the Chinese skater also went wrong on triple axel and quad, but he at least landed a very shaky combination. Only Germany’s Paul Fentz and France’s Chafik Besseghier skated badly enough to come in below him.
Kolyada was so upset after his skate he didn’t even talk to the media. But at that point, it might have also been the reason everyone from Russia newly had to be upset: the ruling from CAS had just come down.
Court of Arbitration for Sport Rejects All Appeals
Last week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport shocked the athletic world by overturning most of the sanctions dealt by the Oswald Commission to various Russian athletes in December, saying there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict them. This was generally considered a bad decision, one that likely allowed a number of dopers to get away with it. And this was when a number of other Russian athletes were being denied entry into the Olympics, apparently because the IOC wasn’t convinced they were clean, but they had no official allegations or reasons why given to them.
Naturally, they all promptly sought appeals in CAS, hoping that a court that had just shielded probable dopers would help out athletes accused of nothing. Two figure skaters were among those who waited until this morning to find out if they would get invites to the Olympics after all, though Ksenia Stolbova & her partner Fedor Klimov said they weren’t coming to Korea anyway.
But CAS, possibly even intimated by the ferocity of the backlash against them, apparently decided this particular kind of punishment wasn’t their concern. Calling the the IOC’s declining invites to the appellants an “eligibility” decision, they then declared the IOC had not been proven to have judged them in an unfair manner, and so had been within their rights to refuse them entry into the Games.
Perhaps, from a legal standpoint, these were proper decisions, or there were at least grounds for making them. But that doesn’t make the practical results of them any less awful. The likely guilty have walked, while the more likely innocent must now pay the price for their sins. The Russians no doubt feel vindicated by the court’s first decision, and now have very real martyrs to feel fury over. The IOC comes out looking both tyrannical and helpless to prevent actual cheating. The damage to the Olympic movement in the long term can’t even be gauged yet.
Nor do we know what it will do to the athletes themselves in the long term. As far as we know, neither Ksenia Stolbova nor Ivan Bukin has even been told what they supposedly did wrong. Stolbova will probably spend what is left of her career dodging the rumored explanation, which could of course be true, but then one wonders why she hasn’t been charged. There are no rumored explanations for younger Bukin, who is left without an Olympics, or certainty that he will ever be allowed to attend one.
Team Pairs SP
It thus fell to the pairs to try to end the morning on a better note. They actually did so, with everyone skating pretty well, even though most of them made a mistake somewhere. Only three teams pulled off everything.
Those included two of the top teams. And one of them was Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov. The team of skaters from Russia needed them to deliver, and they did. Their short was the only one to be completely flawless. Their jump elements weren’t the night’s hardest, but they nailed all of them, and even maxed out the score for their split triple twist. It proved impossible for them to get the overall lead thanks to Kolyada’s low placement, but with thirteen points they tied for third.
Thanks to Chan’s lucking out, the lead instead went to Canada, when Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford were the other big team to skate clean and claimed second. Although they really had to hold onto their side by side triple lutzes to do it. Between that and a throw lutz, theirs was the hardest program of the night, though ultimately Tarasova & Morozov still beat them technically. Canada now has seventeen points, and a three-point lead.
Germany was never in the medal race, but Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot showed up to skate their short program anyway. They too maxed out their twist and nailed most of their program, including side by side salchows. But they went down on the throw flip, which left them a point behind the Canadians. With ten points, Germany is one of three teams a point away from qualifying for the free skate in fifth.
Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim arrived in Korea with him sporting seven stitches above his left eyebrow, from a practice accident involving a lift. Another lift proved their big problem here too. They soared through most of their program, including a throw flip and the salchows that had been their main worry. Then the lift exit went wrong, causing her to nearly fall, and they even finished behind their music. Still, three quarters of a perfect program allowed them to squeak out fourth, and thanks to Chen also lucking out, the U.S. currently sits in second with fourteen points.
Three more pairs came in very close behind them, tying two more countries with Germany. Chinese team Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang and French team Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres both doubled their side by sides and landed their throws, though James had to fight for the throw flip. Italians Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise rotated and landed their salchows, but she stepped out of their throw loop. But when Besseghier had come in last, France ended up tied for it.
It was Japan who tied the Olympic Athletes from Russia for third, when Miu Suzaki & Ryuichi Kihara were the third team to pull everything off, including side by side lutzes. They did not do all of those elements well, however; he had to fight for his lutz tooth and nail. It was Korea that tied France for last, when home team Kyueun Kim & Alex Kang Chan Kam came in tenth. They nearly went clean too, landing side by side salchows and suffering only a hand down on the throw. But they too didn’t do everything as well as the other teams, and their program was the weakest technically.
Paige Connors & Evgeni Krasnopolski unexpected took the ice under pressure. If Israel was to capitalize on Bychenko’s success and surprise for the free, they’d have to nail it. Like the Knierims, they nearly did, getting through easier triple toes and a harder throw lutz. But then she slipped in the step sequence and actually fell. It left them only ninth, and while Israel remains in fifth, the three much stronger countries breathing down their necks makes it unlikely they’ll stay there.
View all Olympic results here. Tomorrow the skaters have off, before the team event resumes Sunday morning.