2014 Olympic Figure Skating Preview and Medal Predictions

The Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, where the 2014 Olympic figure skating events will be held.  Flickr photo by Atos International

The Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, where the 2014 Olympic figure skating events will be held. Flickr photo by Atos International

I have now published an analysis of where I was right and where I was wrong, as well as a few general comments about the competitions. You can read the new post here.

Last fall, I posted an article looking at the potential medalists in the ladies’ figure skating competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  It was rather a diversion from the usual topics I cover on this site, but given my better-than-average understanding of the sport, I decided it was worth a try, if only so I could have a little bit of fun.  Who would have thought that the article would become the most read in the history of this site?  Not me!  It was a welcome surprise, much like seeing one of the U.S. pairs teams skate a clean program. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

In part because of the obvious level of interest, I am making a return to the subject with just over two weeks before the start of the Olympics on February 6.  There has been almost a full season of competitions since my original article, so there are plenty of updates to share.  This time, I will be covering all five figure skating disciplines: men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs, ice dancing, and the first-ever team competition at the Olympics.  Without further ado, let’s get a move on!

Men

Predictions for the men's event (L-R): Patrick Chan - gold, Yuzuru Hanyu - silver, and Tatsuki Machida - bronze.  Photos by Wikipedia users (L-R) David W. Carmichael, Luu, and Luu again.

Predictions for the men’s event (L-R): Patrick Chan – gold, Yuzuru Hanyu – silver, and Tatsuki Machida – bronze. Photos by Wikipedia users (L-R) David W. Carmichael, Luu, and Luu again

Patrick Chan of Canada has probably been the favorite for the gold medal since he won his first world championship in 2011, or maybe even when he won the silver medal at the 2009 world championship.  It is hard to argue against the logic: Chan has won the last three world championships in a row, and earlier this season at the Trophée Eric Bompard, he put up the highest free skating score and highest combined total of any male skater under the current scoring system.  His combination of superior artistry and athleticism is particularly impressive, as many skaters have trouble excelling at both aspects of the sport.

Yet, while I am going to predict a gold medal for Chan, I am doing so with serious reservations.  Only one of his three world championships was actually won with a clean performance. Indeed, despite his impressive record, Chan has shown some inconsistency over the years.  This was true even at this month’s Canadian national championships, where he made some major mistakes in both the short program and long/free program.

Even if Patrick Chan does have a few bobbles in Sochi, he has historically been so far ahead of the rest of the field on the overall quality of his skating that I did not see anyone who could pose a serious, consistent challenge.  The first time that I really thought Chan might not win gold was at the prestigious Grand Prix Final this past December.  He had a couple mistakes in his short program, but rebounded with a terrific free skate.  Even so, he lost to Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

Given Chan’s mistakes in the short program, the second-place finish was not what surprised me.  Rather, it was the fact that Hanyu actually beat Chan in the free skate as well, even though Hanyu had fallen on his opening jump and Chan had skated cleanly.

What this event led me to realize was that Yuzuru Hanyu’s long program is technically more difficult than Patrick Chan’s, at least in terms of the elements they have performed so far this year.  The two men’s scores this season have been quite similar.  Thus, if they both perform cleanly in Sochi (or if they both make a similar amount of mistakes), Hanyu might actually come out on top.  At only 19 years of age, this would be a remarkable feat for Hanyu, since male skaters typically peak a bit later.  I am still betting on Chan to win the gold, but Hanyu should be nipping at his heels in second place.

Japanese star Daisuke Takahashi at the 2012 Grand Prix Final. Photo by Wikipedia user Luu

Japanese star Daisuke Takahashi at the 2012 Grand Prix Final. Photo by Wikipedia user Luu

That leaves us with the question of who will win the bronze medal.  While Chan and Hanyu seem to be practically guaranteed to medal, there are several contenders for that third spot.  Who will join them on the podium?  In my estimation, it could be either Daisuke Takahashi (the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist), Tatsuki Machida (the Japanese national silver medalist this year), Javier Fernández (who just won the European championship for the second year in a row), or Jeremy Abbott (who won his fourth U.S. national title a couple weeks ago).

This is a tough call to make.  Tatsuki Machida has been the most consistent this year on the international stage, winning both of the Grand Prix events to which he was assigned and giving another great performance at the Japanese national championships.  His toughest competition in the medal race could come from his own Japanese teammate, Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 world champion and 2010 Olympic bronze medalist.  When he is at his best, Takahashi is really better than Machida.  However, this has been a tough year for Daisuke.  His first competition, Skate America, was less than stellar, and despite making the Grand Prix Final, he had to drop out due to injury.  Worst of all, he performed poorly at the national championship and had to receive his spot on Japan’s Olympic squad on the basis of his past body of work (much like U.S. skater Ashley Wagner).

Then we have two wild cards.  Javier Fernández, Spain’s only internationally successful figure skater since…ever, has had flashes of brilliance over the past few years, notably winning the past two European championships and taking the bronze medal at last year’s world championship.  However, he had a rough 2013-14 season until this month, when he successfully defended his European title.  He relies mostly on his jumping capabilities to score points.

Jeremy Abbott, on the other hand, is known as more of an artist, though he has pulled off some impressive jumps at various points in his career.  Jeremy’s problem is that he has not been able to translate his success at the U.S. championships into international success: the highest he has placed at the world championships was fifth back in 2010, and he finished a disappointing ninth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

I could see either of these men having a breakout performance in Sochi.  They will have their work cut out for them to pass two of the three Japanese men and make it on the medal stand.  Takahashi and Abbott have experience on their side, and Fernández has the potential for explosive jumps.  Still, I am going to go with Tatsuki Machida for the bronze medal, because he has been having the most success this season.

Evgeni Plushenko at the 2012 European figure skating championships. Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael

Evgeni Plushenko at the 2012 European figure skating championships. Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael

Oh, wait!  There is a wrench being thrown into this predictions game.  It has now been confirmed that Russia is going to give its lone men’s singles spot to three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko.  Ever since the last Olympics, when Plushenko placed a close second to American Evan Lysacek (and was none too pleased with the result), I have assumed that the über-confident, always colorful Plushenko could not possibly pass up a chance to skate at the Olympics on his home soil.  Then again, he is 31, which is practically ancient for a figure skater still trying to pull off a quadruple toe loop.

Plushenko has competed very little since the Vancouver Olympics, and at the Russian national championships last month he frankly looked rusty.  He ended up losing to 18-year-old Maxim Kovtun after some mistakes in the free skate, and perhaps as a result of that wound to his pride, he told reporters afterwards that he would remove himself from consideration for Russia’s spot in the individual competition at the Olympics, hoping instead to take part in the team competition.  However, a bit of research quickly indicated that the same person must skate at both events, since Russia is only allowed to send one man.  Perhaps this is why Plushenko changed his tune and, after a successful test skate before Russian skating officials, was selected for the Olympic team after all.

How will Plushenko do at the Olympics?  It would be impossible to make a prediction with a high degree of confidence, because he has simply been away too much, either by choice or due to injury.  If the Plushenko from Russian nationals is the one that shows up, I think he’ll be hard pressed to win a medal.  If he skates the way he did at, say, the 2010 Olympics, he should win a medal but can probably be beat for gold.  If he skates the way he did when he won the Olympics in 2006, Patrick Chan should be nervous.  My guess is that it will be either the first or the second scenario in that list.  I will timidly predict Plushenko to be one of the chief contenders for the bronze medal.

Ladies

Predictions for the ladies' event (L-R): Yuna Kim - gold, Mao Asada - silver, and Julia Lipnitskaia - bronze. Photos by (L-R) Flickr user { QUEEN YUNA }, and Wikipedia users Luu and David W. Carmichael.

Predictions for the ladies’ event (L-R): Yuna Kim – gold, Mao Asada – silver, and Julia Lipnitskaia – bronze. Photos by (L-R) Flickr user { QUEEN YUNA }, and Wikipedia users Luu and David W. Carmichael

How long has it been since the same two ladies went 1-2 at consecutive Olympics?  Well, let’s just say that you could not have watched it on television, though you might have been able to catch it on the radio.  It occurred at the 1928 and 1932 Olympics when Norway’s Sonja Henie took gold and Austria’s Fritzi Burger took silver.  Only one of my four grandparents was alive for it, though two were also in utero.  Yet, if my predictions hold, we will see a repeat of this historic occurrence in 2014, with Yuna Kim of South Korea bagging a second gold and Japan’s Mao Asada playing second fiddle once again.

Kim spent the first part of this season sidelined by an injury, so we have only been able to see her skate in two competitions: the relatively minor international competition Golden Skate Zagreb, and the thoroughly uncompetitive (from Kim’s point of view) Korean national championship.  In her first outing, the reigning world champion and Olympic gold medalist was a bit shaky.  By the second one, she looked more like her old self, though still in need of some polishing.  This was essentially the same scenario as last year, when she finally upped her game at the world championships and trounced the field.  My sense is that, given what a tremendous competitor she is, we may not see Kim break the world records she set in 2010, but we will see her back at the top of the podium.  When she lands all of her jumps, there is still no one who can pass her.

However, should Kim falter, there are plenty of ladies who would love to fill the gap.  Chief among them is Mao Asada, who was forced to settle for silver in 2010.  She looked great on the Grand Prix circuit this year, but the Japanese national championship was an unfortunate step backwards.  She made a few mistakes in the free program and only finished third.  Should the same thing happen in Sochi, she may be off the medal stand entirely.

Mao Asada performs at 2013 Skate America. Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael

Mao Asada performs at 2013 Skate America. Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael

For Asada, everything depends on the triple axel jump.  She is the only top woman performing them right now, and she has landed many throughout the course of her career, including three at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  This season, she has gotten full credit for the jump a few times, but on other attempts has ended up under-rotating or two-footing it, even falling down at least once.  If she does not complete the full rotation, the judges can deduct the majority of the points she earns.

Most discouraging for Asada, even when she landed all three triple axels cleanly in Vancouver, she still could not rack up enough points to beat Yuna Kim.  This is because Kim’s jumps are bigger, she has greater speed and fluidity, and she performs a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination that actually earns more points than a triple axel.  I think that Mao Asada will win a medal, but I do not think that medal will be gold.  This would undoubtedly make her one of the best female skaters to never win Olympic gold, right up there with recent greats Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya.  It is a bit of a shame for her that she had to live during the reign of Queen Yuna.

The most consistent competitor this year has been Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia.  Only fifteen years old, she has really blossomed over the course of the season, placing first or second in every competition she has entered and putting up the highest free skate score of the season for any woman at the European championship.  She inevitably gets compared to her fellow countrywoman, Adelina Sotnikova, who is a couple years older and equally promising.

They have competed against each other three times this year.  At the Grand Prix Final, Sotnikova collapsed in the free program and ended off the medal stand entirely.  At Russian nationals, Sotnikova came out slightly ahead, and at the European championships, it was Lipnitskaia who came away with the victory.  Either of the ladies has a chance for a medal in Sochi, though it is uncertain whether they will each benefit or suffer from skating in their native country.  Sotnikova is perhaps a bit more artistic, but the gap between them is closing in that department.

Adelina Sotnikova at the 2012 World Junior Figure Skating Championship. Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael

Adelina Sotnikova at the 2012 World Junior Figure Skating Championship. Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael

The biggest difference between the two ladies, from what I can tell, is what happens when they suffer a mistake part way through the program.  Lipnitskaia seems to be able to rebound and finish off well, while Sotnikova can proceed to melt down as she did at this year’s Grand Prix Final.  For whatever reason, Lipnitskaia seems to be a bit mentally tougher, so I will favor her to win the bronze medal…at least.

What about the Americans?  Well, after a controversial decision by the selection committee, we are sending national champion Gracie Gold, national silver-medalist Polina Edmunds, and national fourth-place finisher Ashley Wagner.  Despite a disappointing performance at the 2014 U.S. national championship, Wagner was still selected because she has performed better on the international stage over the past two years than any of the other American ladies.

This was in line with the selection criteria outlined before Nationals, but many fans are still crying foul that third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu did not get that third Olympic spot instead.  I have no intention of spending this whole article discussing that controversy, so I am simply going to state that it exists and move on to what chance the three women who did get selected have of winning a medal in Sochi.

When it comes to 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, who will be competing at the senior level for the first time in international competition, I think the answer is unequivocally “no”.  Despite a couple of good performances at Nationals, she does not yet have the complete package needed to keep up with the very best in the world.  This will be a beneficial learning experience, and I predict great things for her in the future.  Four years from now, she could be a serious contender.

Ashley Wagner is a hard one to figure out.  Her recent mistakes seem to have been caused as much by nerves as anything else.  At the Olympics, there may actually be less pressure on her, since not many people believe she can win a medal.  I think Wagner will feel a need to skate well in order to prove that she deserved to go, but hopefully she will be able to be free enough to skate the way that she has on the Grand Prix circuit over the past two years, which was good enough to put her on the medal stand in every event she entered.

Ashley just announced that she is dumping the long program she has been performing all season and going back to the one she used last year.  Bravo!  I know it is a risky move to pull at this late date, but she really needs to get what happened at the national championships out of her mind.  Skating is a sport that takes place so much between the ears, and if this is what it takes to make her feel comfortable, I say, “Go for it!”  If she can pull off two clean performances in Sochi, which is a big “if”, I think she has an outside chance at a medal.

It is most easy to feel enthusiastic about American Gracie Gold, and not just because of that headline ready surname.  At the national championships this month, she was phenomenal.  There was one bad landing in the second half of her long program, but that was it.  Her jumps were bigger than anyone but Yuna Kim, and she showed a greater flair for artistry than she has on previous occasions.

Gracie Gold at the 2012 Rostelecom Cup in Russia. Photo by Wikipedia user Luu

Gracie Gold at the 2012 Rostelecom Cup in Russia. Photo by Wikipedia user Luu

One good competition is not a guarantee of Olympic greatness, to be sure, but her decision to switch to legendary coach Frank Carroll last fall seems to be paying dividends.  Last year, she skated a stellar long program at Nationals and proceeded to perform quite well at her remaining competitions.  If there is one of the American ladies who has the goods to pleasantly surprise us all, I think it is Gracie Gold.  Go Gracie go!

That leaves us with a few other ladies worth mentioning.  Carolina Kostner is the 2012 world champion (albeit in a year in which Yuna Kim did not compete and Mao Asada was having difficulties) and a five-time European champion.  She has underperformed in her two previous Olympic appearances, but I cannot rule her out.  If some of the younger ladies make mistakes, Kostner’s experience could guide her to a medal, but this year has been a bit bumpy for her.

Japan’s Akiko Suzuki is a skater that is easy to love, with her smooth style and infectious smile.  She is also a matriarch of sorts for this sport: 28 is exceptionally old for a female singles skater.  Alongside a lineup of bubbly teenagers, you cannot help but say of Suzuki, “There is a real lady.”  She skated what was likely the best competition of her life at last month’s Japanese national championships, winning the first national title of her long career.  She gives hope to any of us who find ourselves closer to 30 (or 40, or 50, or 60) than we are to 20.  Two clean performances could put her in contention for a career capping Olympic medal.

I do not anticipate that any other woman has a serious chance to finish in the top three at the Olympics.  This is a strong field, probably better overall than the one at the 2010 Olympics.  It will take an impressive performance to win one of those shiny accessories – even Yuna Kim will have to skate really well to defend her title.  This should be an exciting one to watch!

Edit (02/03/14): When I wrote this article, I did not consider the chances of Japan’s current national silver medalist, Kanako Murakami.  I did include her as a medal contender in my ladies-only preview last fall, but she had a really rough season up until the Japanese national championships.  Thus, I thought that this was probably not going to be her year: with such strong competition, it would be hard for her to break through to the top three.  I suppose Ms. Murakami wanted to make me eat my words (or lack of words), because she proceeded to go out and win last month’s Four Continents Championship with an impressive free skate score of 130+ points.  While I do discount the win a bit (the big-name contenders mostly stayed home), that score is nonethless impressive.  I would still consider Kanako a dark horse for a medal, but if she skates as well as she has over the past few weeks, who knows?  She is a very likeable skater and I wish her well.  Sorry for leaving you out, Kanako!

Pairs

Pairs medalist predictions (L-R): Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov - gold, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy - silver, and Pang Quing and Tong Jian - bronze. Photos all by Wikipedia user Luu.

Predictions for the pairs event (L-R): Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov – gold, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy – silver, and Pang Quing and Tong Jian – bronze. Photos all by Wikipedia user Luu

In the pairs competition, the gold medal favorites have to be Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia.  They are the reigning world champions and three-time European champions.  This year, they have been setting new personal and world records in nearly all of their events.  The quality of each of their elements is impressive, and they have a long tradition of great Russian pair skating on which to draw.

Everything was going smoothly for Volosozhar and Trankov this year, and they looked set to cruise to a gold medal in Sochi.  Then the unexpected happened: First, they skated a poor long program (by their standards) at the Grand Prix Final and were forced to settle for silver.  Next, they had another bad performance in the long program at the European championships, and while they did hang on for gold there due to the strength of their short program, this turn of events adds a bit of doubt to the equation.

The team that stands to benefit most from any mistakes is the German pair of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.  Their career record is actually more impressive than the Russians, who did not even pair up until after the 2010 Olympics.  Savchenko and Szolkowy are four-time world champions, four-time European champions, and 2010 Olympic bronze medalists.  They too have every quality you could want in a pairs team, and they have the pedigree that you would expect from Olympic champions.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy with their coach, former Olympic bronze medalist Ingo Steur (far left). Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy with their coach, former Olympic bronze medalist Ingo Steuer (far left). Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael

The fast rise of the Russians is threatening to eclipse them, and Savchenko’s battles with illness over the years sprung up once again at this year’s European championships, where they were forced to withdraw just before the long program.  Given the mistakes made by Volosozhar and Trankov, the Germans might have won if they had competed.  My sense is that with the advantage of home ice, the Russians will be able to secure the gold, and Savchenko and Szolkowy will have to settle for silver.  However, I am not as confident in that prediction as I would have been a couple of months earlier.

Once again in this discipline, there appear to be multiple contenders for the bronze medal.  Chief among them are China’s Pang Quing and Tong Jian, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists and two-time world champions.  They rose to the occasion in Vancouver and very nearly edged out fellow countrymen and sentimental favorites Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo for the gold medal.  While the Chinese have not achieved the same superior results as the Russians and Germans over the past few years, they have the potential for a breakout performance at the Olympics once again.

If they skate as they have previously this season, which has been good but not spectacular, I think they will probably take home the bronze medal.  Whatever happens for them, I hope that after the Olympics are done there will be wedding bells.  They were engaged back in 2011, but seem to be waiting until their competitive careers wind down before taking the plunge.  What better way to go out than with another Olympic medal?

Next, we have a quartet of Russians and another quartet of Canadians.  Russia has Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov as well as Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov.  These two teams finished second and third, respectively, at the European championship this month, and in the absence of Volosozhar and Trankov (who decided to skip the competition with their Olympic spot assured), they also went 1-2 at the Russian national championship.  I admittedly have very little to say about either of these pairs except that they could both sneak in for the bronze medal under the right circumstances.  I would also not be too shocked if neither of them ended up in the top four, as the two Canadian teams are very strong.

Canadian pair Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford at the World Figure Skating Championships in 2011. Photo by Wikipedia user Luu

Canadian pair Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford at the World Figure Skating Championships in 2011. Photo by Wikipedia user Luu

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford come into these Olympics with a slight edge over their Canadian teammates Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch.  Duhamel and Radford are the three-time reigning Canadian champions and placed third at last year’s world championships.  They appear to have fallen behind Pang and Tong this year on the international stage, but if they manage to peak at the Olympics, they could be in the medal hunt.

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch aren’t too shabby themselves.  They were fourth at Worlds last year and have finished just behind Duhamel and Radford in the silver medal position at the last two Canadian championships.  I would classify them as more of a dark horse pair in this competition.  A top-five finish would probably be their goal, but who knows?  A medal might not be beyond their grasp if some of the top pairs have problems.

To sum up, the showdown between the top Russian team of Volosozhar and Trankov and the German team of Savchenko and Szolkowy will be the main draw in this competition, but don’t rule out a return to greatness for Pang and Tong, an inspired performance by one of the other Russian pairs competing on home soil, or a serious fight from the Canadians.

The one thing I think I can say for sure is that the two American pairs – Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir and Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay – should be pleased if they end up in the top ten.  Then again, if Castelli and Shnapir manage to shock us all and land the throw quad salchow jump that they attempted at this year’s U.S. national championship, I might be forced to eat my words…but probably not.

Ice Dancing

Predictions for the ice dancing event (L-R): Meryl Davis and Charlie White - gold, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir - silver, and Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev - bronze. Photos all by Wikipedia user Luu.

Predictions for the ice dancing event (L-R): Meryl Davis and Charlie White – gold, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – silver, and Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev – bronze. Photos all by Wikipedia user Luu

Americans, by the end of February you are going to be sick of seeing Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s faces, at least if you spend time watching NBC.  This is because they are the only American skaters who seem to be assured of a medal – even better, they are the favorites to win the gold medal in ice dancing.  What’s more, they are young, attractive, and have some name recognition after winning the silver medal at the previous Olympics in Vancouver.  NBC has already made them two of the faces of these games, so you should expect to see them in commercial after commercial, not to mention appearing on every media outlet in the country if they do manage to win gold.

Well, if we have to be stuck watching a couple of people for a month, Davis and White are a pretty good pair on which to fixate one’s eyes.  Over the past few years, they have managed to move up another level from where they were in 2010, and are now defeating Canadian training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (the 2010 Olympic gold medalists) regularly, though by small enough margins that the competition will still be interesting.

When you watch Meryl and Charlie, you will stop worrying about the sphinx-worthy list of rules and regulations governing ice dancing, and instead you will be swept away by the power of their performance.  So far this year, they have come about as close to perfection as could be expected of any two human beings: at the Grand Prix Final, they set a world record in the short dance, free dance, and combined total score.

The medal winners in ice dancing at the 2013 world championship.  Will they all end up in the same spot at the Olympics?  Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael

The medal winners in ice dancing at the 2013 world championship. Will they all end up in the same spot at the Olympics? Photo by Wikipedia user David W. Carmichael

If anyone has a chance to crash their party, it is Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.  In 2010, they became the first North American team to ever win the Olympic gold medal in ice dancing.  They are still just as good as they were then – the only difference is that their rivals, Davis and White, have improved a bit.  The Canadian team also put up their best scores ever at this year’s Grand Prix Final, but even that was not enough to win the competition.

My guess is that the 1-2 finishers at the last Olympics games will reverse themselves in Sochi, with the Americans placing first and the Canadians second.  It is somewhat unusual that we have so many medalists from the previous Olympics returning to compete in this one, so it is a real treat to see such great rematches.

The battle for third place could be equally interesting.  I expect to see a trio of European teams battle it out: Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (Russia), Anna Cappellini (not the pasta) and Luca Lanotte (Italy), and Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat of France.  At last year’s world championships, the bronze medal went to Russian champions Bobrova and Soloviev, and with the extra boost of performing in their own country, I expect that they will be able to repeat that feat in Sochi.

However, they will face stern competition from Cappellini and Lanotte, who won this year’s European championship (though both Bobrova/Soloviev and Péchalat/Bourzat skipped the event).  The French team of Péchalat and Bourzat will also be tough to beat, having won bronze at the 2012 world championship and two European titles of their own.

The second best Russian team, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, placed second at the European championship this year and could be in the mix, but I think they will be hard pressed to pass the three teams I just mentioned, particularly their own teammates.  Also intriguing is the possibility that one of the others American teams – Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani – could pull off a surprise top-three finish.  I would not put it past them: the Shibutanis made it onto the podium at the 2011 world championships, and the team of Chock and Bates looked quite strong at U.S. Nationals this month.  Still, it would definitely be a surprise if either of them was able to break through.

Team Competition

Predictions for the team event (L-R): Russia - gold, Canada - silver, United States - bronze

Predictions for the team event (L-R): Russia – gold, Canada – silver, United States – bronze

This category is the most difficult to predict because it is new to the Olympics this year.  I am not sure how the skaters who compete in both the team and individual events will be affected.  Will it wear them out, or will it give them useful experience?  My sense is that whoever wins the medals in the team competition (which takes place during the first week, before the individual events) will get a morale boost going forward.  Still, that does not get us any closer to figuring out who the medal winners will be.

Partially in anticipation of this new Olympic event, the International Skating Union and the Japanese Skating Federation started a new competition in 2009 called the World Team Trophy.  Like this year’s Olympic team event, skaters from each of the four disciplines competed for their countries, with the combined score determining which nations won the medals.  The World Team Trophy was held in 2009, 2012, and 2013.  In the inaugural event, the United States took the gold, Canada won the silver, and Japan won the bronze.  At the 2012 competition, it was Japan that emerged victorious, with the U.S. in second and Canada in third.  Last year, the Americans returned to the top spot on the podium, with Canada and Japan taking the silver and bronze, respectively.

Given these results, even if you knew nothing about skating, you could make a pretty good guess that the U.S., Japan, and Canada will be taking home the medals in Sochi.  However, it is important to note that the Olympic event will be structured somewhat differently.  Whereas each country entered two men and two women in the singles disciplines at the World Team Trophy, there will only be one skater/pair competing in each discipline at the Olympics.

Each country will be allowed to make a substitution of two team members/couples between the short and long/free programs, so a basic team consists of six “starters” and either two or four “alternates” (depending on which of the four events the country wishes to use their substitution for).  Ten countries have qualified for the team event in Sochi: Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States.

The countries I would rule out of medal contention right away are China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Ukraine.  This is not because I have anything against them personally, but they have one or more disciplines in which they are particularly weak, to the point that I do not think they can keep up with the other competitors.  That leaves Canada, Japan, Russia, and the United States as our medal contenders.

Medal winners at the 2012 World Team Trophy: Japan in first, the U.S. in second, and Canada in third. Wikipedia photo by David W. Carmichael

Medal winners at the 2012 World Team Trophy: Japan in first, the U.S. in second, and Canada in third. Wikipedia photo by David W. Carmichael

I conducted an experiment where I ranked the competitors from these four countries against each other in each of the four disciplines.  I then assigned one point for a win, two points for second place, etc.  If I really did not know which competitor would best the other in a particular category, I made due with awarding “half points”.  I then ranked the countries in order of who had the lowest total score.  I should emphasize that this is not the way that the medals will be decided at the Olympics, but it is a decent substitute.

This is the way the points ended up: Russia in first, Canada in second, the U.S. in third, and Japan in fourth.  Whether or not the standings actually end up this way depends on a number of factors, most especially the performance of Evgeni Plushenko, who is definitely a wild card at this point.

In the real competition, it will not just be these four countries matched up against each other: other skaters will surely take some of the spots in between those from the top nations, and that could throw off my calculations entirely.  Still, I am going to stick with what my model predicted: gold for Russia, silver for Canada, and bronze for the United States.

If you actually love figure skating enough and possess enough endurance to have made it to the end of this article (or if you simply did not have anything better to do with your time), I thank you very much for reading.  I hope that you, like me, are looking forward to five exciting events in Sochi.  It should be a good time with lots of great memories!

As for those who say figure skating is not a sport, I suspect that they have never attempted to fly across the ice without falling down, perform complicated spins without getting dizzy, and complete three  full revolutions in the air before landing on one foot on top of a thin blade (on ice). Yes, I admit the sequins are distracting, but the sport of figure skating makes at least as much sense as the biathlon (cross country skiing mixed with firing a gun), curling (shuffleboard on ice with broom accessories), or hockey (flying across the ice while hitting a small rock with a stick, regularly falling over, slamming into the boards, and getting into fights).  That’s right: figure skating is not just for nerds.  With that, I end my piece.

A special thank you to Wikipedia users David W. Carmichael and Luu for making their photos available to the world through creative commons licensing.  Websites like mine rely on images that are made available to the public free of charge.  Thank you very much for your contributions!

Summary
Article Name
2014 Olympic Figure Skating Preview and Medal Predictions
Author
Description
Which figure skaters will take home Olympic medals in Sochi? Predictions and analysis for the men's, ladies, pairs, ice dance, and team events are provided.

6 thoughts on “2014 Olympic Figure Skating Preview and Medal Predictions

  1. This is quite detailed — I am going to read it at leisure and get back with comments. Looks like a painstaking analysis, which I applaud!

  2. I really loved your analysis and hope you are right in some cases. Jeremy Abbott medaling along with Daisuke and Yuzu would be amazing. I do not think Gracie or Ashley deserve a spot and I would rather see Suzuki on the podium winning bronze or silver with Mao winning gold. Your guesses for ID are my favorite – I hope that Davis and White win gold by a large margin and world records.

  3. Regarding Davis & White – I can’t get enough of them. She’s gorgeous and he’s HOT! lol! And they both are fantastic skaters and competitors. I hope they win the Gold by a landslide.

  4. Hi Amy! I have to say it’s quite refreshing to see an American post such a globally-inclusive and unbiased post employing such excellent, detailed analysis. I hope I don’t offend you by saying that your countrymen are often more ethnocentric in their views, leading to laughably unfounded predictions.

    • I am glad you enjoyed the article, Rebecca. All of us have a tendency to favor things and people that are familiar, as well as to feel a loyalty to the city, region, or country in which we grew up. Therefore, you are right that analysis of sports (as well as many other areas of life) can result in bias toward one’s own team, favorite player, etc. Whether this is more true in the United States than other parts of the world, I cannot say. I think it is correct to say that as one of the biggest countries in the world blessed with a wealth of resources, Americans feel that they ought to perform well in competitions such as the Olympics. This does make sense statistically speaking, but talent is never restricted to one country. One of the biggest factors affecting which countries have the best athletes in a particular sport is how much interest the citizens of that country have in the sport. For example, the U.S. invented and has a great love for basketball, so we usually win the gold medal there. However, football/soccer is an area in which we routinely fall behind much smaller countries, because we do not put the same effort into training up great players, with many athletes choosing to pursue other sports. Any developed country has the capacity to produce great ice skaters, because they will have the resources necessary for that training. What is necessary is the desire by young people to get involved in the sport. All this to say, I am glad that you feel I was able to remain unbiased, and I acknowledge that not all Americans are able to do this. However, based on what I have been hearing from Americans lately, I think many of them are actually quite pessimistic about our chances in Sochi and expect to see other countries, such as Russia and Japan, dominate the medals. I guess we will all see what happens starting next week. Thank you for reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>