Sui & Han Take the Lead in the Pairs Short
Sui & Han take a narrow lead over Tarasova & Morozov when they both skate perfect programs; Duhamel & Radford holding third with Savchenko & Massot and five more teams crowded in just behind them.
With the team event out of the way, the individual skating events kicked off at the Olympics today with the pairs short program. It’s been sixteen years since this competition saw a judging scandal that resulted in the entire scoring system being changed. The next two Olympics each saw a heavy favored team take an undisputed win. In 2014, Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov faced off against Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy. Some worried the judges would unfairly favor the former, but ultimately they didn’t have to, when Volosozhar & Trankov skated clean, and Savchenko & Szolkowy struggled enough to finish third.
This time, however, there were multiple teams with a chance, and no runaway favorite. Reigning World Champions Wenjing Sui & Cong Han came in the frontrunners. But Aliona Savchenko came back with new partner Bruno Massot, and they had beaten Sui & Han at the Grand Prix Final two months back. (Though she’s not in the best condition right now.) Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov, a pair on the rise, looked to continue the Russian tradition, officially or not, of winning Olympic pairs that since 1964 has been disrupted only in 2010. (Though they had to share gold in 2002, due to aforementioned scandal.) Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford, a pair with two World titles to their names, also remained in the mix. And there were still other teams with at least a shot at a medal.
Of the four top pairs, two of them were perfect and two were merely good, and divided themselves accordingly. Of the rest of the field, most skated well enough to call it one of the best nights in Olympic pairs skating.
Sui & Han and Tarasova & Morozov Take the Lead Over Duhamel & Radford and Savchenko & Massot
Of the very two top pairs coming in, it was Sui & Han who delivered everything. Indeed, their short program was less anything else than an experience. Technically, they nailed everything, including a throw triple flip, their hardest element. Add to that beautiful skating, and artistry and emotion, mostly the best of the night, and they beat their personal best by over a point and took the lead. Their own Chinese judge even gave them straight +3s on their elements and three perfects tens on their presentation, and they got three more tens from two other judges.
Perhaps they should’ve even led by more over Tarasova & Morozov than they did. But the Russians too had a stunning short, as flawless as the one they’d managed in the Team event. Technically their program was slightly easier than the Chinese pair’s, but they did have a split triple twist they got the highest possible marks on. And they didn’t even have a home judge to help them, although another one gave them the straight +3s and two tens anyway.
Savchenko & Massot also maxed out their twist, as well as their playful step sequence, in a program where everyone was having so much fun at least five TV commentators didn’t immediately realize it when he doubled their side by side triple salchows. And while she stood up on the throw flip this time, it wasn’t pretty. The mistakes took their toll, leaving them in fourth, a fraction of a point behind Duhamel & Radford. The Canadians went for the side by side lutzes, the throw triple lutz, and the emotion, and almost delivered on each. But the jumps were all glitchy, and the feeling didn’t quite take the way it did for the other three teams.
Five More Teams Within Three Points of Third
Sui & Han weren’t the only perfectly skating Chinese team. Xioayu Yu & Hao Zhang similarly did their short program as well as they possibly could’ve. They were going with the relatively easier technical content and didn’t have as strong presentation, but still nearly came within a point of Savchenko & Massot for fifth. But they haven’t quite got a quarter of a point on Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres. They actually properly pulled off the technical difficulty the Germans had been going for, though their elements did have quite the elegance of Yu & Zhang’s.
And only about a point behind those two teams came three more who also skated extremely well. In seventh, Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek pulled off equally difficult jumps, though their twist was a little rougher. Their fun short program contrasted well with the drama of their fellow Italians Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise, who were exactly half a point behind them, and like them landed good salchows, through their throw wasn’t as hard or as strong. In between them, in eighth, Natalja Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert were another Russian team who couldn’t have skated better, doing an easier program with more great beauty, if maybe not quite as much feeling.
These are not teams that will catch either Duhamel & Radford or Savchenko & Massot for the bronze if those two teams skate well. But when they’ve got less than three points on any of them right now, they have any real trouble, and a skate as good as the ones the teams chasing them did tonight could easily deliver a surprise medalist.
North Koreans Deliver and Three More Teams Falter
The surprise of the segment, however, was the North Koreans. Tae-Ok Ryom & Ju Sik Kim showed they need not just be here to spread good will. They were another team who nailed their short program, buoyed by the energy of a crowd ultimately very happy to have them there. They scored significantly higher than they have before, and their eleventh place is definitely above expectations. They were only just edged out for the top ten by Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov. The Russian team that got in when the International Olympic Committee denied Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov, they made the most of it, hitting their salchows and throw flip to skate a clean program, and weren’t too far behind the top nine.
Below those contented teams, however, came three much more disappointed ones. Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau landed their salchows, but a rough throw flip and some weakness on their other elements left them down in twelfth. Their fellow Canadians, Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro, would’ve been much better overall in their easier program, except he doubled their side by side triple toe loops, dropping them to thirteenth. And in fourteenth, Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim were rough on their jumps, and even their twist, which is usually their highlight.
At least they all made the free skate. One other high-profile team wasn’t so lucky.
Peng & Jin Fail to Make the Free
Cheng Peng & Yang Jin, a team that’s made the Grand Prix Final in the past, came in looking for at least a strong top ten finish. But then she underrotated and fell on their toes. That was bad enough, but matters got worse when they found themselves in seventeenth, when only the top sixteen make the free skate. They’d missed by less than half a point. It seemed no team that fell could make it tonight; only two other teams did.
This was a phenomenon already observed at the World Championships last year, that with so few free skate berths, the competition for them has gotten cutthroat. Peng & Jin were also one of three teams to break sixty and find it wasn’t enough, and the other two teams skated excellently. It only serves as further indication that the International Skating Union needs to change the rules at their Congress this summer to allow more pairs in. Maybe allow more pairs into the Olympics as well. The two extra added to the roster definitely didn’t make the night too much longer.
View full results here. Those sixteen pairs that did make it in will be back tomorrow for the free skate.