The Winter Olympic Games are less popular than its Summer counterpart. Figure skating, however, remains one of the popular sports to tune into in an Olympic year. This season has brought seemingly more drama than normal, which is saying something for a sport so often defined by the dramatic.
The team event will kick off the figure skating events. In summary, in order to qualify for the team event, a country needs to qualify one athlete or team in at least three of the four disciplines: men’s, women’s, pairs skating and ice dance. The countries that have qualified for this year’s event include Canada, the United States, China, Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Japan, ROC, and Ukraine.
The team event is broken into the qualification phase and a finals phase. In the qualification phase, a representative from each of the four disciplines presents their short program to earn points for their country. The skater in first place earns 10 points, second nine points, third eight points and so on. In the finals phase, the top five countries from the qualification phase have their representatives present their free programs. The team representing Russia, or ROC as they can’t officially compete under their country’s flag, is heavily favored to win the team event.
Yuzuru Hanyu, representing Japan, is going to be looking to defend his Olympic title. If he wins the gold medal, it will be his third Olympic championship. The last men’s singles skater to win three consecutive Olympics was Gillis Grafström of Sweden who won gold at the 1920, 1924, and 1928 Olympic Games. Nathan Chen, representing the United States, will be looking to redeem his 2018 Olympic performance, where he finished just out of the medal positions.
Both Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen are in remarkably similar positions coming into these Games as they were in 2018. Hanyu is coming off of an injury, and sat out the entirety of this season’s Grand Prix. Chen experienced difficulty with his short program earlier in the season which resulted in an uncharacteristic bronze medal at Skate America, having been undefeated in every major competition since 2018 before that. Chen has the greater overall difficulty; however, Hanyu is considered by some to be more of the overall package. If Hanyu does successfully land his quadruple axel jump in competition, it will be difficult for Chen to beat him.
The ice dance event should be a coronation of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron representing France. Their only realistic competition will come from Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov representing Russia. These two are the reigning World Championships, and beat Papadakis and Cizeron at the 2020 European Figure Skating Championships.
Perhaps the more interesting battle will be for the bronze medal. Two teams representing the United States, and one representing Canada, are the most likely to claim this spot. Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the reigning U.S. National Champions, and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue finished just behind them. Reigning Canadian National Champions Piper Gilles and Paul Porier are the third team in contention for a bronze medal.
The women’s event is going to be a battle of the Russians. After the chaos that was this season’s Russian National Championships, three women representing Russia are set to try to sweep the podium.
The current favorite to win gold is Kamila Valieva. Her training mate Alexandra Trusova is the closest to her technically, with both including multiple quadruple jumps in their programs. Trusova is coming off of an injury and had to withdraw from the 2021 NHK Trophy, her second Grand Prix assignment of the season. Anna Shcherbakova, who also trains with Valieva and Trusova, is the reigning world champion yet considered the dark horse of the three. She will round out the Russian contingent to the competition. Among other things, Shcherbakova has to get her trademark consistency working for her again heading into the Olympics.
The pairs event could very well see the team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong representing China win the gold medal on home ice. Among their only realistic competition is the team of Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov. Mishina and Galliamov currently hold all three world records for points in the pairs discipline and are the reigning World Champions.
The other two teams representing Russia, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, and Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii are in contention for the bronze medal. One other notable athlete to watch for in the pairs event will be Timothy LeDuc, who will be the first openly non-binary athlete to compete at an Olympic Games. With their partner Ashley Cain-Gribble, they are the reigning U.S. National Champions.
Although there are always favorites and coronations, anything can still happen. We are set to see some of the best of the best of figure skating showcased at these Olympic Games. One noticeable absence will be Mikhail Kolyada, the reigning Russian National Champion in the Men’s discipline, due to COVID-19. The pandemic has already caused a lot of chaos for athletes this Olympic season, with renewed virus spread and national championships held with limited health and safety protocols in place. Hopefully, the athletes and their teams will be able to remain healthy for the duration of the Games and perform at their absolute best.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.
The Figure Skating events at the Beijing Olympic Games will run from Feb.3-19 2022.