Monday, February 15, 2010

EKATERINA GORDEEVA, COME ON BACK: In preparation for tonight's Olympic pairs figure skating long program, ALOTT5MA Award-Winning Correspondent Gretchen reviews last night's short program:
Last night, the short program in pairs figure skating demonstrated just how good the best figure skaters in the world really are -- and how far the rest of the field has to go. Chinese pairs Shen and Zhao set the bar with the very first program of the night. While I wasn't particularly moved by the performance (and affirmatively hated the arrangement of "Who Wants To Live Forever"), their extraordinary execution, including perfect unison on jumps and turns, crisp throws, and clean lifts, made everyone else look a little shabby for the rest of the night. The other highlight was Savchenko and Szolkowy. I love their skating and their theatricality -- on a night where everyone was telling love stories, it was great to see a pair embrace unusual costuming and emotions. By contrast, both American pairs were enthusiastic, energetic, and charming -- but not in the same league as the gold medal contenders. (Both American pairs, however, chose great music -- especially Evora and Ludwig, with themes from the score of Love Actually.)

Going into tonight's finals, the real question is whether the judges will be able to stomach a podium without a gold for a Russian team. Kavaguti (the Japanese woman who gave up her Japanese citizenship to become a Russian pairs skater) and Smirnov are probably the best-placed of the Russians to pull off a medal. Their highest score for the free program in international competition was a 139.23, at the European championships, which (though probably inflated) is consistent with the Shen/Zhao all-time high of 138.89. (By contrast, the highest score Canadian skaters Dube and Davison have ever pulled off was a 124.12.) Kavaguti and Smirnov are also coached by the legendary Tamara Moskvina, whom the judges adore (or fear). But none of the Russians are really dominant favorites -- and Chinese skaters Zhang and Zhang or Pang and Tong could make a run at the podium. And if the judges continue to prop up the Canadians, as they did with Dube and Davison's component scores, it's possible that we'd see a non-Russian gold medalist for the first time in twelve years.
Feel free to live-blog in the comments during tonight's competition.

added: Related -- Sarah Stodola on why Russian male figure skaters are such heartthrobs compared to their American counterparts.


  1. I always look forward to this Gretchen so thanks. An even BIGGER thanks because I could not place the theme from Love Actually and it was driving me crazy!

  2. isaac_spaceman6:14 PM

    First of all, I love Gretchen's recaps.  They make me feel like I understand the sport a lot more than I do.  Second, I went into last night armed with several years of watching SYTCD, which I thought would make me more amenable to the sport in general.  

    But the costumes.  And the 80s hair (men and women).  And the fiddling with teddy bears while waiting for results.  Why must this sport insist upon being indistinguishable from a parody of itself? 

    Or:  Why doesn't Apolo Ono skate while dressed as a sad clown or sequined barbarian? 

  3. I spent a lot of time last night trying to figure out which of the four classic clown types that pair was until someone explained that they were operating outside the Auguste/whiteface/et al paradigm.

  4. janet7:23 PM

    If I'm wrong about this hopefully someone will correct me, but I think the teddy bear thing came from fans wanting to throw tokens of appreciation to the skaters. Since flowers (the obvious choice) would break apart and leave debris on the ice, fans took to throwing stuffed animals instead. When you see flowers thrown now, they're hermetically sealed so no particles can escape.

    But I agree the practice doesn't contribute much class to the sport.

  5. isaac_spaceman7:55 PM

    Why should strangers throw anything at all at the athletes? 

  6. isaac_spaceman7:57 PM

    Incidentally, I'm fairly certain I misspelled Ono's name, but I have a vague recollection that he does not spell it the usual way and I refuse to look it up. 

  7. janet8:01 PM

    Audiences throw flowers to ballet dancers. I'm not sure about what's traditional in the theatre or opera.

  8. Jenn.8:28 PM

    I enjoyed last night, and I do think that I've learned some things from here, so thank you for the preview for tonight, as always.  I also enjoyed seeing the commentators be so flummoxed when a couple of teams (one Russian, one Canadian) got some seriously inflated scores.

  9. isaac_spaceman8:55 PM

    Yeah, I have no problem with people throwing flowers onstage at the end of a ballet performance (or, for that matter, on the ice after somebody wins the competition).  Throwing stuffed animals at athletes in the middle of the short program seems a whole lot more juvenile, or creepier, than that. 

  10. Jessica9:29 PM

    He spells it Ohno. Ono and Ohno are both acceptable romanizations of his name though. Ohno, however, retains the information that in Japanese his name has a long vowel. However, the city Osaka also has a long vowel, but is never written Ohsaka. (/end useless information)

  11. Jessica9:31 PM

    Yeah I was upset at those scores. With the Russian score, I just assumed the typical Russia-bias, but what of the Canadian score? That just made no sense from a bias perspective, unless they are still running scared from 2002 with the whole Sale/Pelltier thing and don't want to SEEM biased against Canada. But that said, the best Canadian skate didn't get the best Canadian score, which is just messed up. And how the Russians with their fall and then the terrible unsynchronicity of their remaining program got a better score than the American team I don't know.

  12. janet9:45 PM

    I'm really tired of hearing about the how the two skaters from different pairs are living together and had to postpone their Valentine's dinner. You'd think they were the first two Olympic athletes to live together.

  13. Mr. Cosmo10:50 PM

    Do harp and violin players get massive royalty checks every four years after the pairs competition?  Good lord, try a piano or something.

  14. gretchen11:00 AM

    Dube and Davison have performed better in international competition for the past few years and were the bronze medalists at Worlds a few years ago, which is, I think, why they got the benefit of the home team bump instead of Langlois and Hay.

  15. gretchen11:03 AM

    I actually read an article several years ago talking about how piano-only music is viewed as too difficult for most skaters to handle.  The more orchestral arrangements are easier to skate to because they carry so much more of the emotion for the skater.  Apparently, it's quite challenging to sustain intensity for 4 and a half minutes accompanied only by a piano.  (I think Michelle Kwan has pulled it off, and probably there are others as well.) 

    I agree that some variation in the music would be much appreciated.  I should count the number of programs set to Scheherezade this Olympics!

  16. Marsha2:31 PM

    Am I the last to know that Ilia Kulik married Ekaterina Gordeeva after her husband died?

  17. Genevieve4:05 PM

    No, apparently I am.