Nathan Chen skating triumphantly in the International Skating Union's Grand Prix. Photo by the International Skating Union © December 2017 and used by SCENES Media thanks to their permission.

Let the Skating Begin: Your Guide to the Top Olympic Contenders and Potential Surprises

Do you watch the Winter Olympics primarily for the beauty of figure skating but not keep track of the competitions leading up to this spectacular world event? If your answer is yes, we’re here to help.

Do you watch the Winter Olympics primarily for the beauty of figure skating but not keep track of the competitions leading up to this spectacular world event? With the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics underway, here’s an overview and some idea of what to expect. Expectations are for individual events only.

Pairs
Medal Favorites: Aliona Savchenko won bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics with her former partner, and now she’s hungry for gold. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, skating for Germany, have an impressive repertoire of elements and tricks ready to unleash, but they could be stopped by China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the reigning world champions. Even after Sui had surgery on both feet a couple of years ago, this pair has dominated showing great strength on both the technical and the artistic sides.

Also in the mix are Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, designated Olympic Athletes from Russia or OAR, which stands for Olympic Athlete from Russia. (Since the country was penalized for doping, Russia’s  athletes are competing under the Olympic flag instead of their country’s flag.) They skate with amazing technical prowess, and even though they use a bad pop medley for their long program, that shouldn’t hurt their artistic marks.

The Russians are likely to win a medal, yet Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are a technically strong team who could get in their way.

In the Running: If you saw that “Sounds of Silence” program by France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès that went viral, you know how powerful, elegant, and smooth they are, so they will challenge for a medal.

Dark Horse: China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao have a chance. However, the major discrepancy in their ages makes them something of an odd couple. He won Olympic silver back in 2006 with a different partner and they’ve had some good results since the Chinese federation paired them together in 2016.

Expectations
Sui/Han, China
Savchenko/Massot, Germany
Tarasova/Morozov, OAR

Dance
Medal Favorites: The two top teams in the world have been nipping at each others’ heels for two seasons and it’s been all the easier to keep tabs on each other because they share a coaching team. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, 2010 Olympic champions, came out of retirement last season and immediately re-established their dominance.  Training mates Gabriella Papadakis and Guillame Cizeron of France pulled slightly ahead this season, but the two are still so close that it’s anybody’s guess who will win.

While Virtue and Moir bring unparalleled sharpness and precision to their “Moulin Rouge” free dance, Papadakis and Cizeron skate to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” with ethereal grace and lyricism.

Meanwhile, the delightful U.S. brother-sister team Maia and Alex Shibutani have long been expected to contend for the bronze medal.

In the Running: The Shibutanis have another American team breathing down their necks. In fact, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue won the National championship in January when the Shibutanis had a slight stumble. While the Shibutanis’ long and stellar record means they’re still favored to win a medal, the pressure is on for a flawless performance.

Furthermore, Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates might be ready to pounce if someone slips.

Dark Horses: It’s unlikely that any other team can break through the bottleneck at the top, but expect strong performances from these athletes:
> Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy
> Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia
> Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada

Though they’re not quite at the top in terms of technical ability, all these teams bring something special to the arena.

Expectations
Papadakis/Cizeron, France
Virtue/Moir, Canada
Shibutani/Shibutani, USA

Men
Medal Favorites: Be prepared for a messy and exciting competition, as the top contenders will be throwing down quadruple jump after quadruple jump. American phenomenon Nathan Chen won five medals in his long program at U.S. Nationals, and he won the International Skating Union’s Grand Prix of Figure Skating. His technical mastery and steady improvements make him a heavy favorite for the podium, as long as the pressure doesn’t get to him as it did at last year’s World Championships, where he placed sixth. And last night, Chen fell.

Japan’s Shoma Uno is another favorite with an arsenal of quads, good artistry, and consistency. China’s Jin Boyang isn’t quite as strong on the artistic side, but he makes up for it with technical wizardry. Meanwhile, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan is something of a wild card. Early this season, many thought he could defend the Olympic title he won in Sochi—until he fell during a warm-up and landed hard on his ankle. He hasn’t competed for months, and while Coach Brian Orser reports that he’s “training well,” no one quite knows what to expect from him on Olympic ice.

In the Running: Javier Fernández of Spain has struggled with consistency, but if he’s on, he’s among the best in the world, and his long program to “Man of La Mancha” plays to his considerable artistic strengths.

Dark Horses: Mikhail Kolyada, OAR, is a stunning but inconsistent skater. His quad Lutz is a thing of beauty and scores very high when he can land it. Patrick Chan of Canada has some of the best skating skills in the world, but his jumps have been letting him down in recent seasons. American Adam Rippon has decided to take out his quads and aim for clean performances, which could hamper him unless others make mistakes and he proves his potential for the absolute best triple jumps.

Expectations
Shoma Uno, Japan
Nathan Chen, USA
Jin Boyang, China

Ladies
Medal Favorites: Like the top two dance teams, the top two ladies in the world train together, in their native Russia. Evgenia Medvedeva was undefeated from December 2015 until January 2017, when her young training mate Alina Zagitova, just out of the junior ranks this year, beat her at the European Championships. Both women do the hardest triple jump combinations and are master “backloaders” who put as many jumps as possible in the second half of their programs, which earns 10 percent bonuses in their scores. During Zagitova’s long program to the ballet music of “Don Quixote” (complete with red tutu), she backloads every jump. No one else does that, not even the men. These formidable competitors are almost guaranteed to go one-two, but even they have their small weaknesses: Medvedeva has been a touch shaky since recovering from a broken bone in her foot and Zagitova tends to make mistakes in her short program. Nevertheless, both will be fighting as hard as they can for that gold medal and it should be thrilling to watch.

In the Running: The bronze medal competition is wide open. Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada is a highly promising contender with big jumps and beautiful programs if she can just keep her nerves under control. Satoko Miyahara of Japan, by contrast, is a small jumper, often docked for not fully rotating, but she skates so exquisitely that she’s a crowd favorite and shouldn’t be disregarded. Italy’s Carolina Kostner is another favorite of spectators and judges, and she won bronze in Sochi. Her technical skills have been regressing this season, but she is much admired for presentation. Maria Sotskova of Russia is a steady competitor, though less showy than her teammates. Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto is relatively new to the senior ranks. Against some very tough competition, she rocketed to the top in her country with a speed that startled everyone. Finally, Gabrielle Daleman of Canada won a surprise bronze medal at World Championships last year behind Medvedeva and Osmond, so she is a powerful skater who could surprise everyone again if she puts together two good programs.

Dark Horses: Karen Chen of the United States has been flying under the radar, but she came in fourth at World Championships last season. Though she had a rough season, she’s shown a tendency to turn in her best performances at the biggest contests, and it’s possible she could do it again. New U.S. champion Bradie Tennell has shown impressive technical skills and rock-solid consistency all season. Her artistic abilities aren’t quite up to the level of the more experienced ladies yet, but she skates her long “Cinderella” program with a lightness and freshness that place her in good stead.

Expectations
Alina Zagitova, OAR
Evgenia Medvedeva, OAR
Kaetlyn Osmond, Canada

Let the skating begin! Click here for the full PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics schedule.

Written By
Gina Dalfonzo is a writer living in Virginia.
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