Zagitova Narrowly Claims Ladies Gold
Identical segment scores leaves Zagitova the winner; Osmond claims bronze even as the Asians skate well; American struggles continue.
The figure skating competitions at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang concluded Friday morning with the ladies free, although the exhibition gala still remains. It was two days after Alina Zagitova had beaten Evgenia Medvedeva in the short program by over a point. She’d had time to further intimidate the field by landing a triple-triple-triple-triple-triple combination in practice. Her technical content made her definitely unbeatable by anyone other than Medvedeva. And it seemed even she who’s been the best ladies’ skater of recent years wouldn’t be able to do it, because the presentation scores weren’t accurately reflecting her artistic superiority to Zagitova. And that was before people started raising the question of whether Zagitova’s doing every single jump in the back half of her programs was something that should be as rewarded as it currently is.
Some also thought Kaetlyn Osmond ought to have scored a little closer to them. She nonetheless was holding down third place, having delivered one of her knockout shorts. She’s often struggled in the free skate, though, and she had three more skaters within six points of her. Satoko Miyahara, especially, was within three points, a gap she could easily make up, provided the technical panel didn’t call too many of her jumps underrotated. They hadn’t gone after very many skaters’ jumps at all in the short program.
In terms of skating, the Olympics ended well. It was one of the best skated ladies finals in history, despite a handful of bad skates. The final result, however, was truly painful. As well as rather crazy in one detail.
Top Two Get Same Free Skate Score, Zagitova Wins on Short
Zagitova didn’t even skate perfectly. Going into her intended triple lutz-triple loop, she skidded on the lutz and wasn’t able to do the loop. She then added the loop to her planned solo lutz and nailed most of the rest, though she had to hold on to her final axel too. It resulted in a score slightly lower than some of the ones she and Medvedeva have gotten in the past. But her presentation scores were still a little too high, as they had been in the short program.
While Zagitova did jumps, Medvedeva combined them with true art and expression, now even with more nuance and maturity than she’s had before. But many of those jumps, including her opening triple flip-triple toe, still weren’t done as well as she can do them. And even with the second triple-triple, the technical tariff difference remained more than the too small presentation score difference. Medvedeva actually did enough of her elements well enough to make up that difference exactly.
The result being: the two of them got the exact same free skate score. Which actually meant Medvedeva won the segment, since the tiebreaker in the free skate is the presentation mark. But Zagitova had the short program lead, and so she became the first Olympic Athlete from Russia to claim gold in Korea. On a different night, such a tie might have been the story. Now, it seems less important than the consequences it wrought, some of which remain to be seen.
Osmond Wins the Bronze Above Well-Skating Japanese Ladies
Kaetlyn Osmond was another skater who managed to get past a minor issue with a lutz. In her case, she’d already nailed her triple flip-triple toe, and it was just a stepout on a solo jump. The rest of her program was very well done, with expression much like Medvedeva’s, and ferocity maybe a little stronger. The argument remains that she should’ve been contending for the gold right up with the Russians. She at least got presentation scores higher than Zagitova, even getting a ten for performance, the only lady besides Medvedeva to get one. That was more than enough for bronze.
Although she might have to worry about the wrath of Satoko Miyahara’s fans. She had no mishaps at all, skating absolutely perfectly. The technical panel did review her triple lutz-triple toe, but they were still ratifying most jumps, and they ratified all of hers. Her skating was as beautiful as it always is, and her artistry was well on display as well. Perhaps her presentation scores, too, weren’t as high as they should’ve been. She and Osmond actually both got their highest scores ever, but hers was still only high enough for fourth.
Her countrywoman Kaori Sakamoto came close to also landing everything, until she twitched out of her final jump. But despite a triple flip-triple toe and a double axel-triple toe-double toe, her program was still weaker both technically and artistically than the top four. In fact, her low presentation scores left her sixth, below Carolina Kostner. The Italian held on to fifth by matching Osmond in presentation scores, which the sheer beauty of her program more or less justified. However, she did fail to do her triple-triple, and though she held on to the rest of her weaker jump content, it wasn’t done that well.
Sotskova Fights Back, Choi Holds Her Off
Of those who struggled in the short program, Maria Sotskova did the best job of coming back with a strong free. She had to hold on to a few jumps, including an opening triple lutz-triple toe, but she landed all of them except one salchow she doubled, and her free was one of the best-looking ones outside the top six. In a weaker night, it might have even gotten her back up to the top. As it was, it was the seventh-place free, and it got her eighth.
It nearly got her higher. Da-Bin Choi, eighth in both segments, ended up seventh by a little more than a point. She too couldn’t get the second triple onto her lutz to open her free. But in front of her home audience, she only got stronger and more graceful as she went on. Instead of improvising a triple-triple, she went a step further, and turned her three-jump into a triple lutz-triple toe-double toe! She even beat both Sakatmoto and Sotskova technically, as well as Kostner, though her presentation scores remained lower.
In fact, both home skaters did very well in the free. Hanul Kim even got tenth in the segment, which was far higher than was expected of her. She too landed her triple-triple and skated mostly clean, and she too beat Sotskova technically. Of course her presentation was much weaker, and she’d been all the way down in twenty-first after the short. She ultimately finished thirteenth.
Americans Still Among Those Struggling
Bradie Tennell did improve somewhat upon her short program performance. She landed her triple-triple this time, and showed a bit of the strong skating that got her where she is now. But she still stumbled on a pair of underrotated jumps, and could only get up to ninth. Karen Chen and Mirai Nagasu weren’t so lucky. Chen, struggling with more boot issues, had a fall, two underrotations, and failed to do her triple-triple, and even her clean jumps weren’t well done. Nagasu did her triple-triple, and her double axel-triple toe-double toe, but popped her triple axel attempt as well as her lutz, and was a sliver behind Chen in the segment. She stayed ahead of her overall, as they went 10-11. It’s one of the worst Olympic results the American ladies have ever had.
At least they didn’t skate as badly as Gabrielle Daleman. The reigning World bronze medalist had only one clean jump pass, and that was a double-double. Nineteenth in the segment, she dropped to fifteenth.
That allowed her training mate from Kazakhstan to rise up and claim the last spot in the top twelve, though she was thirteenth in the segment. Elizabet Tursynbaeva fell on one of her harder triples and underrotated the other, but was clean on all the easier jumps, including her triple salchow-triple toe.
View full results here.
All in all, there was more good than not in how the 2018 Olympics turned out skatingwise. But the ending has exposed a deep problem in how the sport is currently judged. The ISU Congress this summer may remedy some of the extra emphasis on technical content, but it may well make the problem worse if the judges never learn to judge the presentation elements right.