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Sui and Han Take Opening Lead in Pairs Event

by George Rossano

Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford (CAN)

Aljona Savchenko & Bruno Massot (GER)

Tae Ok Ryom & Ju Sik Kim (PRK)

Alexa Scimeca-Knierim & Chris Knierim (USA)

(14 February 2018)  Individual event competition began today at the Gangneung Ice Arena, with the Pairs Short Program.  Chinese team Wenjing Sui & Cong Han won the short program with a season's best 82.39 points, returning to competition after a leg injury forced the team to withdraw from the 2018 Four Continents Championships.

When asked about the details of the injury, neither skater was completely clear, but is appears from what was said that Han cut one of Sui's legs during training in early or mid-January, which then required at least five stiches to close (both five and twelve were mentioned).  The team withdrew from Four Continents and also chose not to participate in the Team Event to allow them more time to train at home before arriving in Korea.  Today, the team looked rock solid, and Sui did not appear to be favoring one leg or another.

For the short program they gave a strong clean performance, skating to the already oft used (so far at these Games) "Hallelujah."  All five leveled elements achieved level four, and all there elements were scored with GoEs of 2 and 3, except for two 1s in their closing death spiral.  Their components averaged 9.48, with six 10s in the artistic components (Performance, Composition and Interpretation).

"We were in good shape today," said Han. "I think we reached our potential in the short program and it feels very satisfying.  In a way all the ups and downs we've been through to get here matches the emotions of the choreography of our routine pretty well."  Regarding those ups and downs Sui said, "We missed the last Olympics and it was a hard journey to get here too.  I had surgery in the process, so I really think that everyone who is able to stand here is a hero." (Sui underwent surgery on both feet following the 2015/16 season. They withdrew from the 2016/17 Grand Prix series because the recovery from the surgery took several months.)

Not far behind Sui & Han in the scoring were Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov.  They were scored 0.71 points back, and only 0.19 in Program Component score.  All the leveled elements achieved level four, but while the Chinese team executed throw triple flip, the Russians, competing as OAR, executed throw triple loop.  All their GoEs were 2s and 3s, and they received two marks of 10 from the Italian judge Walter Toigo, who was found guilty of misconduct and of violation of the duties of judges and the ISU Code of Ethics in 2010, and suspended for two years.

"It was better than the team competition," Morozov said. "we felt as always and it was important to give 100%."  He elaborated, "We relaxed after the we did the hard elements and landed the throw.  But we stayed focused for each element and we held the concentration until the very end.  When we hit the final phase, we started to be happy."

Canadians Megan Duhamel & Eric Radford placed third, with 76.82 points, 5.09 points behind the Russians.  Their Program Component Score was about two points back from the top teams, with the marks averaging 8.89, and they also  lost considerable ground in the elements.  Their base value was higher than the leading two teams, despite not reaching level four in the twist, but on GoEs they were scored with more 1s and 2s than the others.  The most significant issue (which wasn't really that significant) was Duhamel being a little off balance on landing triple Lutz, and the element was scored negative.

Afterwards Radford said, "It felt really, really good.  It felt really in the moment and we maybe could have had a little bit cleaner elements, maybe some higher grades of execution on some things but we are rally, really happy."

The final contender for the gold in this event, Germany's Aljona Savchenko & Bruno Massot, placed fourth with 76.59 points.  On their side-by-side jump Massot doubled the jump and they got credit for only a double Salchow.  It was a critical error in an event where there was (and will be tomorrow) no margin for critical errors. Aljona also had to fight for the landing on throw triple flip, which cost them at least another point.  between the two errors the points lost were enough to have cost them at least two places, if not the lead. Their components were competitive with the leading teams, averaging 9.36.

Skating to "That Man," it was the most lively and entertaining of the event.  What they do better in this program than all the other teams is to interact and play of each other throughout the program.  All five leveled elements achieved level four.  Though still in the running, this team will have it's work cut out for them in the free skate.

The team was disappointed in their performance, with Aljona saying "We tried to do our best but mistake happened, but there is nothing we can do about it now.  We have to look forward to the long program.  There's one mistake so cannot be happy.  But it's like this in sport."

The U.S. team of Alexa Scimeca-Knierin & Chris Knierim placed 14th with 65.55 points, well below the hoped for top ten finish.  They currently sit 4.97 behind tenth place.  Their program had three element issues, the first a poor landing on the triple twist, an off balance landing edge from Chris on triple Salchow and a break at the waist and perhaps a hand touch on landing throw triple flip.  Their components averaged 7.84, the same as it did in the Team Event short AND long.

Regarding their performance Chris said, "It's been a lot of fun.  I think there is always pressure in competitions, but today there wasn't any pressure.  We did the hard stuff already and that was the tam event to make sure we did our job.  Now this is the cherry on top, especially on Valentine's Day, it's a special thing.  So we were just having fun and happy with how we skated."

Of local interest was the question whether the North Korean team would make the cut to the free skate (only 16 of 22 advance to the free skate).  Not only did they make the free skate, they gave a strong season's best performance and placed eleventh in the short program.  For their skate the official North Korean cheer squad was on hand waving flags and doing what a cheer squad does.  Cheer.  The South Korean pair team, however, did not make the cut, and placed last in the short.

Attendance for the event was sparse, by Olympic standards.  As was the case for the team event, the crowd arrived at the last minute, or a bit late.  At maximum attendance the arena was about half full, for an arena with 8200 spectator tickets available.  After the two Korean teams skated, the audience declined, and by the end of the event the arena was perhaps 1/3 full.  This behavior was also true for the three days of team competition.  In contrast the figure skating events in Sochi were a sellout for a 12,000 seat arena, for every session.  Tickets for the skating events here had an original list price of $130 to $700 per session.  Attendance for short track speed skating, held in the same arena, has thus far been about 90% of a full house.

Copyright 2018 by George S. Rossano