So You Want to Be A Figure Skating Fan?

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Are you an every-four-years figure skating fan who’s just trying to catch up? Are you new to the sport entirely? Congratulations! Welcome! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a lutz from a twizzle. This sport always needs new fans, and the Olympics are a blast of a place to begin.

Here’s a primer on the disciplines and this quad’s big contenders to get you up to speed for Pyeongchang, including links to some of this season’s best programs.

Your first and most important thing to know: lyrics are allowed in figure skating music now. The 2014-15 season, post-Sochi Olympics, was the first to feature music with lyrics, and skaters adapted quickly to the change. While many “old school” individuals weren’t sure how this would pan out, programs like Yuzuru Hanyu’s “Let’s Go Crazy” short program or Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s Prince-medley short dance quickly proved that, when chosen carefully, this wider selection of music can only improve the experience for both fans and skaters.

An important note: the skaters listed below are by far not the only medal contenders. In fact, there are several competitors in each discipline outside these groups who could fight their way to the top with standout performances. It only takes one poorly-timed injury or one fall-causing divot in the ice for a “favorite” to fall from grace.

Sports are weird! Let’s do this thing.

Men’s Singles

Standout Medal Contenders

Yuzuru Hanyu
Nathan Chen
Shoma Uno
Javier Fernandez
Patrick Chan
Boyang Jin

Men’s singles skating is probably better known as The Quad Battle these days. If you want any hope making it to the Olympics—much less medaling—you’d better throw an impressive jump, and that jump had better have four complete, clean rotations. Actually, one isn’t enough anymore. Better make that two. Or three. Or four.

Fortunately, artistry is still valued. One only needs watch Adam Rippon, Patrick Chan, or indeed the reigning gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, to see that artistry, when done well, will get you everywhere. (Except to the top of the podium, unless you also have many quads. See: Yuzuru Hanyu, Shoma Uno, and Nathan Chen.)

Also, an important fact to keep in mind, though it seems counterintuitive: it’s better for a skater to complete all four rotations cleanly in the air and then fall than it is to underrotate a jump and land it okay-ish. Cheating your jump, or doing what’s called “popping” (only doing a single rotation), is often penalized far worse than a fall on a jump that’s cleanly rotated.

Ladies Singles

Standout Medal Contenders
Alina Zagitova
Evgenia Medvedeva
Gabrielle Daleman
Kaetlyn Osmond
Carolina Kostner

Everyone loves a tiny skating teenager, and it’s for this reason (and her first-place finish at the European Championships) I think Alina Zagitova is going to pass Evgenia Medvedeva for Olympic gold. But the field is deep, and there are some incredibly talented skaters out there. Rumor has it Gabrielle Daleman of Canada has tried training a quad toe, and while it’s unlikely we’ll see that in Pyeongchang, she brought the house down at the Canadian National Championships when she returned to her Rhapsody in Blue free skate. Her teammate Kaetlyn Osmond is just as impressive, and Carolina Kostner of Italy could be the dark horse to knock everyone but the Russians off the podium.

If you’re American, you might be asking, where is Bradie Tennell? Tennell is still young, and while her consistency is impressive, she’s still about 10 points behind the medal favorites. If you’re looking for a dark horse to disrupt the podium from the United States, Mirai Nagasu may be a safer bet—but only if she attempts her mythical triple axel and lands it cleanly, achieving a positive grade of execution.

Pairs

Standout Medal Contenders
Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford
Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov
Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot
Wenjing Sui/Cong Han
Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov

Take the jumps and spins from singles skating, have them done in perfect unison, and add throws and death-defying lifts (often done with one hand by the male member of the pair) and you’ve got pairs skating. It’s both terrifying and beautiful, and though you’ll probably hold your breath through the entirety of some programs, it’s worth it.

So who medals? I’m going to be straight with you—at this point, I have no idea. Savchenko and Massot, Duhamel and Radford, and Tarasova and Morozov seem like safe bets to take a podium spot, though Duhamel and Radford returning to their “Hometown Glory” free skate is an interesting wrench. Sui and Han are coming on strong. Stolbova and Klimov’s participation is currently in danger, as Stolbova was one of the Russian athletes recently flagged as ineligible to compete by the IOC. The situation is murky, but it seems the decision is not yet final, so we may still see the European Championship silver medalists in Pyeongchang.

Give their programs a watch and tell us what you think.

Ice Dance

Standout Medal Contenders
Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron
Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje

Ice dance is exactly what it sounds like—dancing on ice. In the short dance, this is typically a specific ballroom pattern each team must interpret. This year’s is Latin, with a required rhumba pattern. The free dance is a bit looser, with teams performing everything from tangos to musical theater-esque numbers to contemporary, avant garde programs that are less about a story than they are about the aesthetics.

Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, 2010 Olympic gold medalists and 2014 Olympic silver medalists, have been strong since their undefeated comeback season in 2016-17. Their biggest roadblock to another gold medal will be France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the 2017 Grand Prix Final gold medalists, 2015 and 2016 World Championships gold medalists, and Virtue and Moir’s training mates. Virtue and Moir are skating better than they ever have, but Papadakis and Cizeron have the judges’ hearts currently. It comes down to what you like better—an intense, engrossing performance of a story, or the unique beauty of two skaters essentially becoming one.

The battle for bronze is where it gets interesting. Any number of teams could take the third spot on the podium, including any one of the three American teams. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, fresh off their first US Nationals gold medal, will certainly be gunning for the podium, as will the fan-beloved “Shib Sibs”. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev have been consistently very good, though not great, for several seasons.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are an intriguing dark horse option, if they can get past their confidence-hampering twizzle sequence. It’s safe to say that if Virtue and Moir are the soul of Canadian ice dance, Weaver and Poje are its heart. Their free dance, a renewed version of a previous program set to Je Suis Malade, is nothing short of breathtaking when they’re at the top of their game.

Team Event

Top Medal Contenders
Canada
Russia
USA

What in blue blazes is a team event? I’m glad you asked.

Sochi marked the first appearance of the figure skating team event in the Olympics. 10 countries qualify for the team event, and over three days, the best skaters from each country fight to put up the best scores they can in the hopes of earning a medal. The team event happens before the individual competition, and scores from the team event have no bearing on the later events.

Teams can have up to two substitutions. Teams might have one male singles skater compete in the short program, while another does the free program, or may use two different ice dance teams for the short dance versus the free dance. It’s all about strategy and maximizing scores, because only the five highest-scoring teams in the short program move on to the free program portion of the event.

Figure skating is such an individual sport, typically, so the opportunity for athletes to come together as a team and cheer for each other is very cool. And boy, do they have fun with it. Expect to see lots of national swag, flags, and goofiness in the kiss and cry as other skaters from each country—sometimes even ones that aren’t competing in the team event—show up to support their teammates.

Will you be watching the Olympics? Who are your favorites? Share with us in the comments below!

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