by George S. Rossano
(17 January 2022) Now that the European Championships have ended, a clearer view of the contenting Men for the Olympic Winter Games presents itself. While the Four Continents Championships is about to begin, no contending men will be competing in that competition.
Based on results from the 2021 World Championships through the 2022 European Championships, we believe the top men in Beijing are most likely to be (in alphabetical order):
To compare the prospects of these skaters we show here their maximum, average and minimum scores starting with 2021 Worlds.
Figure 1. Maximum, average and minimum scores of top ten men for 2022 Olympics.
Before comparing the skaters, first notice the span of scores from maximum to minimum for the skaters. In most cases, the range is the results of random variations in performance from one competition to the next, and thus a measure of the consistency of the skaters, within the limits of potential variations in judging and calling standards from one competition to the next. In three cases, however, the span is more the result of statistically significant improvement trends since 2021 Worlds, those skaters being: Grassl, Uno and Vasiljevs.
Figure 1 would tend to say that Kagiyama is the most consistent of this group of skaters.
We have not included Zhou's short program score of 70.51 from 2021 Worlds in comparing scores, and are treating it as a one-competition outlier. Were it included, his average and minimum scores would be considerably lower than show in Figure 1.
To better visualize the matchups among the skaters, we next show just the maximum scores for the skaters.
Figure 2. Maximum scores of top ten men at 2022 Olympics.
By this measure Chan and Hanyu are the only serious challengers for the gold and silver medals, with four men in contention for the bronze medal: Brown, Kagiyama, Uno and Zhou.
We consider this comparison a bit misleading, however, as some skaters benefit from overly generous scores at their national championships. Thus we also compare the average scores of the skaters.
Figure 3. Average scores of top ten men at 2022 Olympics.
In this comparison Chen and Hanyu remain the contenders for gold and silver, while the contenders for bronze are Kagiyama and Zhou, and to a lesser extent Uno. Brown, in this comparison, looks on track for about an 8th place finish. Excluding his 2022 Nationals result, Brown has fairly consistently scored around 260 points from International judges since 2021 Worlds. In the hunt for the bronze, one should also keep in mind, Zhou has had inconsistent results in this time period and before, which works to the advantage of Kagiyama and Uno.
While we don't consider it even a remote possibility, if the skaters were to all perform at their worst in Beijing, the medals would go to Hanyu, Kagiyama and then Chen.
A Closer Look at the Chen-Hanyu Matchup
To further compare the Chen / Hanyu rivalry for the gold medal, we present the competition histories of these two skaters in the senior ranks.
In the following figure we show the senior competition scores for Nathan Chen.
Figure 4. Nathan Chen competition scores as a senior.
Chen's performance trend shows an increase from 2016-17 through 2019-20, followed by a small decline since then. Another way to view this, is positive development through mid-2019 followed by maintenance of his average skill/performance level of about 310 points, though the trend since mid-2019 is clearly down by a few points. This supports our subjective opinion this year, that Chen's positions are not quite as clean and controlled as they were in 2019 and earlier.
Next we show the senior competition scores for Yuzuru Hanyu.
Figure 5. Yuzuru Hanyu competition scores as a senior.
Hanyu's trend in development in seniors shows a steeper increase his first two seasons and then a small but continuous, nearly linear, increase since then that continues into this season.
Finally we overlay Figures 4 and 5 as follows.
Figure 6. Chen / Hanyu competition scores comparison as seniors.
For Chen's first two seasons as a senior his and Hanyu's scores nearly overlap. For the subsequent 18 months Chen's scores outpaced Hanyu's, but since mid-2020 they now again overlap Hanyu.
While Chen is still considered the favorite for the Olympic gold medal, Figure 6. says he shouldn't be considered that much of a favorite. The running averages since mid-2020 for the two skaters and the range of scores they historically have turned in say that these two skaters are neck and neck going into Beijing. That view, however, may be a bit too simplistic when one looks at the program content and strategies the two skaters have adopted this season.
Further, how Hanyu's quest for the quad Axel will impact the contest is a significant factor. If he attempts one, and it is downgraded and he falls, he spots Chen a likely 9 points that he will have to make up somewhere else - which is a difficult obstacle to overcome2.
More on all that in our next article on the Chen / Hanyu Olympic matchup.
1. It could be argued that Matteo Rizzo might belong on this list instead of Vasiljevs. However, Rizzo seems stuck at about his average score of 245 while Vasiljevs has shown significant improvement over this time period. Similarly we omit Kevin Aymoz with average score of 250 due to his inconsistency and lack of development this year.
2. Chen 3A in second half with +4 execution is 12.0 points. Hanyu 4A<< in first half with Fall and -5 execution is 3.0 points. For a Hanyu quad Axel to score equivalent to a typically well executed Chen triple Axel, Hanyu needs a jump rotated at the quarter or better and GoEs spanning -1 and 0, something, at this time, he seems unlikely to achieve.
Copyright 2022 by George S. Rossano