Every year, football fans across the country have the opportunity to root for the team of their choice in their favorite sport’s biggest event – the Super Bowl. Figure skating fans only get this opportunity every four years, when the Winter Olympics roll around. While there are figure skating nationals every year, they do not get the same coverage or hype as the Olympics.
After watching Nationals this past January, I was anxious to see which skaters made the Olympic team. Unlike many sports, where there is a “winner-take-all” system, the judges who pick the Olympic figure skating team look at a skater’s body of work from the entire season, and how skaters have improved from previous seasons – which means the top three skaters or pairs in each event (men’s, ladies’, pairs, and ice dance) who place at nationals don’t automatically qualify to the Olympic team.
The day after Nationals, the judges selected a team of fifteen athletes: three ladies, two men, two pairs, and three pairs of ice dancers. While I think Gracie Gold, 18, and Ashley Wagner, 22, deserved their places on the ladies’ team, I was disappointed that Polina Edmunds, 15, was chosen over Mirai Nagasu, 20. Even though Edmunds placed second at nationals and Nagasu placed third, this was Edmunds first season competing at the senior level of skating. Her maturity, grace, and presence on the ice is not as developed as Nagasu. I could not be more thrilled about the men’s team, which consists of Jeremy Abbott, 28, and Jason Brown, 19. Brown is an impeccable skater and the youngest American man to go to the Olympics for figure skating since 1976. He also grew up near my hometown and went to the same summer camp as me. (No, we’ve never met.)
Olympic figure skating tried something new this year: a team competition. During the first week of the Olympics, the top ten countries for figure skating, including the United States, selected one man, one woman, one pair, and one pair of ice dancers to compete. Each skater or set of skaters did both their short programs and the points were added up. One advantage was that after the short programs, the teams were able to switch out the skaters, and assign someone new for the free skate. The United States did this for both of their singles skaters, switching out Abbott and Wagner for Brown and Gold, both of which were smart choices. In the end, Russia earned the gold for the team competition, thanks to Evgeni Plushenko’s incredible performance, after which an NBC reporter referred to him as “the greatest male skater ever.” The United States took the bronze for this event, and Canada took the silver. Gracie Gold skated her best performance thus far in her career, and ice dancing pair Meryl Davis and Charlie White set an Olympic record.
The warm up for the men’s short program took a wrong turn when Plushenko threw out his back on a triple axel and had to withdraw from the competition. This left Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, 19, in the lead, with the highest marks for a short program in history. While I had high hopes for Brown after the short program, thinking he could potentially take the bronze in free skate, he ended up in 9th place. Even with two falls, Hanyu stole the show and became the first Japanese man to win the gold for figure skating. Fortunately, Brown has four years ahead of him with great potential to medal in the 2018 Olympics.
While the ladies’ short program and free skate have not yet happened,* I suspect, in no particular order, that Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia, 15, Japan’s Mao Asada, 23, and Gold will be the three to medal. They all exhibited some of their best work during the team event, so I can only hope that Gold will take the gold.
*The ladies’ free skate aired last night.