Friday, February 21, 2014

Why Yuna Kim should have won the Sochi Olympics

In my ladies preview a couple of days ago I wrote that I expected the Russian ladies to be overscored in this event, as it had been a trend of these Olympics. I had also written that as much as Sotnikova or Lipnitskaya could skate well, if Yuna Kim brought her A game, no one would have been able to beat her. Well, judges never cease to amaze me. Yuna skated two perfect programs, with just a little, very little, bubble on a triple lutz, yet she was put in second place. Kim's silver medal has been considered a scandal by many people, including athletes, former athletes, coaches, fans, broadcasters from every country (except Russia). When I personally saw her scores coming out, I started yelling at the television as many of you. But then I cooled down and took a look at the protocols with a much more composed attitude. I haven't changed my opinion: Yuna deserved the gold.

When the speaker announced Adelina's score I thought: "They scored her high enough to challenge Kim". And I was right. 149 is the best score of this quadriennal and Yuna had to do anything perfectly to replicate that and take the gold. That was absolutely in her possibilities, if she did something similar to her free skate performance at Worlds last year. As I said hundreds of times now, she was perfect, yet she received 4 points less than last year even if she skated an almost identical program. How this could be possible? How come in a system where scores inflate every year she could earn six points less than Sotnikova? The answer is very simple and very evident for everyone: GOEs and components.

There are so many things I could say about how hilariously components were given: Sotnikova tied with Kim and above Kostner, a clean Asada surpassed by a struggling Lipnitskaya is something beyond my worst nightmares. A lot of people have been said that, at the end of the day, the components scores are determined by the subjective opinion of the judges. There might be something true in that, but let's not forgive that the ISU gives a detailed explanation about what skaters are required to do to achieve that "artistic perfection".
Yuna and Carolina (and Mao for sure, but I guess that skating in the second group did affect her marks) should get higher components than Adelina not because of their reputation but because their choreography and interpretation has nothing to do with Sotnikova's. Adelina has great skating skills and maybe more transitions than the others (even though they are not original nor very high quality moves compared to Kim's), but in the voices Performance, Choreography and Interpretation her scores are just unjustifiable. If you watch these three programs back to back you will definetely see that especially Kim's free, but also Kostner's, has a more sophisticated concept, is better portrayed on the ice, phrases the music perfectly.
Yuna's Adios Nonino is an incredibly complex program that gives you femininity, sensuality, fierce, melancholy, sadness and lightness in four minutes. A landslide from Sotnikova.

Furthermore, Adelina has earned an enormous technical score. That has to be said that she skated incredibly well and that was not easy for her, considering the pressure she was facing. However, she received more than deserved compared to others. The GOE on any of her elements were super high as never before. Is not that her elements were not worthy of those points, but it is difficult to understand why Yuna consistently received lower GOEs for perfectly executed jumps and spins. As I wrote before, Yuna practically skated a replica of last year's free skate at worlds technique wise, but lost over four points in the GOEs of the elements with no reason at all.

Obviously, this result damages the image of the sport especially because the controversy happened during the Olympics. Honestly, I have no idea about what will happen in the future to the athletes. For sure Adelina won't ever be invited to a Korean show and The 2018 Olympics might be difficult for her. The competition and how it was judge will damage Adelina as well in the long term: on one side the shadows and the doubts about these Olympics will always be around her, and on the other side she won't probably get this kind of result in the future and her improvement on the quality of her skating and on her artistry, just because you can't get more than 10 in the pcs.

I want to conclude that I really admire Adelina Sotnikova because she skated with an incredible competitive strenght, believing in her skating and confident as a veteran. She is a pure talent, a complete skater who will become one of the best ever once she will get maturity. A lot of things have been said about her and I honestly despise everyone who has had an offensive attitude towards her. After all it has been an amazing competition with several great skates and this is how I will remember these Olympic games. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olympic preview: Ladies (and thoughts on ongoing components scores...)

In the ladies event in Sochi, the competition will be incredibly unpredictable.
Three former world champions will fight for a medal: Yuna Kim, Mao Asada and Carolina Kostner.
Before going into details about each of these skaters, I would like to spend some words on the Russian skaters and how the “home advantage” is working for them. There have been a lot of criticism about the scores given to the Russians which seem to have been “raising to the occasion” to assure as many medals as possible to the host country. I have to say that I have never been keen on thinking that figure skating was all about politics and corruption and I am sure that this is not what is happening in Sochi right now, but some of the scores given in this week show at least a tendency to be quite generous towards those Russian athletes who might approach to the podium. That is what happened to Stolbova/Klimov, who got a components score of 71 against a 62 given just a year ago to the same program, or to Ilinykh/Katsalapov who bettered their free dance score of over 7 points in a week, a unprecedented improvement in ice dance. That has to be said that both these teams probably skated the programs of their lives and haven’t earned a medal undeservingly, yet their scores were so high that it would have been impossible for anyone else to challenge them.
Considering all these aspects, it would be foolish not to expect the young Russian girls to receive incredible scores. Both Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova have great results in their records and both of them might represent a gold medal threat. The two are very different one from the other: Lipnitskaya is less experienced and mature, yet very consistent on any technical element, Sotnikova has a more refined skating, brilliant transitions and skating skills, but she is more emotional and less solid on jumps. In my opinion, which is not guided by personal taste but by what ISU has always researched and declared to want from a skater, these two skaters’ components shouldn’t be ANY close to Kim’s or Asada’s. As much as the Russians have improved during this year, there shouldn’t be any doubt that both Kim and Asada are incomparable in terms of skating skills, interpretation, phrasing of the music, projection of the program and complexity of the choreography.
However, Lipnitskaya, who usually has a lower pcs than Sotnikova, received in the team event a pcs very similar to Asada’s in the short (Asada fell in that program, though) and was scored a 69 in that department in the free skate, just a couple of points less than the Worlds 2013 free skate performance by Yuna Kim.
To sum up, considering that Lipnitskaya, Sotnikova, Kim and Asada have more or less the same potential on the technical score, medals will come down to who performs the best, regardless of the artistry of the skater. If they all perform at their best, which might be difficult for Asada due to her extremely risky technical content, Kim and Asada should be in the top two. It has been reported that Mao is consistently landing her triple axel in practice, but any little mistake will be very costly and therefore out of the four named before, she is the most likely to finish off the podium. The same could be said by Sotnikova, who is not known for being incredibly consistent. She has an enormous potential though, and if she nails the short program she will receive way more than 70 points.
There are so many others who could fight for a medal, but none of them is as competitive as these four. Carolina Kostner equals or tops the others for maturity and artistry, but she doesn’t have all the technical difficulties; others like Gracie Gold, Kanako Murakami, Akiko Suzuki miss something to be on the podium as well.

Gold: Yuna Kim
Silver: Julia Lipnitskaya
Bronze: Adelina Sotnikova

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Olympic preview: Men

Short program: 13th February h 19.00
Free skate: 14th February h 19.00

In the Men event the medal contention is extremely open and a there is a wide bunch of competitors who could fight for the gold medal.
Patrick Chan is surely one of the favourites for the Olympic title. The three times world champion has had a very consistent season showing incredibly strong performances as he did at the Trophee Eris Bompard. He is an incredibly complete athlete with a supreme skating quality. If he skates at his best, no one would be al├Čble to take his gold medal away. However this season's experience has proved that he doesn't have much room for mistakes as in the past, but any insecurity could be a dangerous advantage to others.
The Canadian champion has indeed a strong competition ahead: Yuzuru Hanyu on top is a gold medal thread. Yuzuru Hanyu is the male skater who has improved the most in the last couple of years: after winning the bronze medal at the 2012 World Championships, he started to collect success after success. He has an incredible capability of getting a lot of points with jumps. He is the only one who has equalled and bettered Chan's scores. He has a very strong short program and a challenging free skate with two quads and two triple axels in the second half of the program. He has never been able to nail his quad salchow in this season, but his technical scores have always been very high for a solid quad toe and the two amazing triple axels. If he gets the salchow done, he won't have competition on the technical mark.

Japan has a medal shot from its other two skaters Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi. Tatsuki Machida has been the surprise of the Japanese team of the season. Although he had showed his talent even before, Machida had an incredible improvement this year climbing the national ranking up to becoming the Japanese silver medalist behind Hanyu. He has both a pretty good solidity on jumps and other technical elements  and a good quality of skating (provided by the typical Japanese knee bend), often under rated. Considering the strong field, Tatsuki doesn't have an easy way to the podium, but if anyone collapses, he may very well sneak in.
Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, has had a tough fall season that culminated with the fourth place at Nationals. He has struggled with his jumps all season long and in this sense the Morozov coaching hasn't helped him at all. But whenever he nails them, he becomes one of the most competitive skater in the world. As it has been reported, Daisuke has been struggling in his recent practices in Sochi, so that it is difficult to consider him a medal thread, even though he has the potential to battle for the gold.

Javier Fernandez of Spain has been struggling in his grand prix series as well, but a brilliant outcome at European Nationals did put him back in the list of strong competitors going for an Olympic medal. He wasn't perfect in Budapest, anyway he proved to be solid on his most valuable jumps and if he fixes his pointed jumps, in which he usually struggles the most, his skating should be worth a top three finish.

Something needs to be said about Eugeni Plushenko. After all he has been through, just few imagined he could have been a top contender in Sochi. However, he proved in the team event to be physically and emotionally ready to challenge in his last Olympics. Despite the several surgeries and injuries of the last couple of years, he managed a super clean short program and a good free skate, where he wasn't perfect, especially in the second half, but nailed a quad and a couple of stunning triple axels in a somehow conservative program. He will need to give everything he has in the individual event if he wants to medal in such a tough competition. Probably, even considering that he shouldn't get the same components score as some others mostly due to a lack of transitions, he won't be able to get the gold here. Yet, his incredible experience might take him ahead of younger competitors.

Gold: Patrick Chan
Silver: Eugeni Plushenko
Bronze: Yuzuru Hanyu

Friday, February 7, 2014

Olympic preview: Pairs

Pairs short program: 11th Febraury, h 19.00 (GMT +4)
Pairs free skate: 12th Febraury, h 19.45

The Pairs' event will open the figure skating individual competition next Tuesday. The gold contetion will be between the world champions Volosozhar/Trankov and Savchenko/Szolkowy.
Both of the teams are looking forward to nothing less than a gold medal. On paper, Volosozhar/Trankov should win the competition. The home Olympic title seemed a lock for the Russian team until December, when they started to show some sign of weakness. They have reached incredibly high scores during the fall season (they own all the records) that made them look unbeatlable by anyone else in the circuit. However, they showed to feel the competition pressure when they skated just after Savchenko/Szolkowy in the Grand Prix final, where, taken by the nerves, they finished behind their German competitors, and during the European Championships free skate where they managed to get the gold (even because Savchenko/Szokowy had withrawn) but collected mistake after mistake.
As for Savchenko/Szolkowy, they will have their last chance to get that only medal that has eluded them. Compared to the Russian team, they can count on slightly lower GOEs and components, so that if both couples skate up to their best, Volosozhar/Trankov have an egde on them. The Germans have therefore tried to insert more difficult elements (the thorw triple axel on top of those) in their programs to close the gap with the Russians. The question is weather they will be able to nail a clean performance as well. At Grand Prix final they won with a relatively conservative program, but I am not sure that would be enough for the gold here.
To sum up, Russians and Germans have both a significant chance to be crowned Olympic champions and won't be room for mistakes for anyone. Savchenko/Szolkowy need to try all of their tricks, putting them in an enormous risk considering that they have never landed a clean throw triple axel, whereas Volosozhar/Trankov have already showed that they can nail an "Olympic gold medal perfomance", but they will face the incredible pressure of being the team specifically created for Olympic gold.

As far as the bronze medal is concerned, the couples fighting for it are: Pang/Tong and Duhamel/Radford. Pang/Tong of China, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists are undeniably the favourites for a medal. They might not be the strongest technique wise, but if they nail what they plan to do, their exquisite artistry and amazing throws and twist should put them in a good position for a medal contention.
Duhamel/Radford haven't had the most spectacular season of their life after they won the bronze at Worlds last year, but if they skate as cleanly as they did at the team event's short program, their dary technical content could be a threat for others.

Gold: Volosozhar/Trankov
Silver: Savchenko/Szolkowy
Bronze: Pang/Tong