Zagitova's Programs are Back-Loaded, So What
(23 February) Once the schedule started to zero in on the
Ladies' event this week, much has been made about Zagitova's
two back-loaded programs by the mainstream sports media.
The inference has been this is intrinsically a major sin,
and some sort of scandal when a skater executes such a
Let's be real now. It's allowed by the rules,
and if you can do it, it's foolish to give away any
second-half bonus points by putting jumps in the first half.
It's IJS. It's all about maximizing points. And
Zagitova, and ther Russians are not alone in this.
Skaters from other countries also lay out their programs
this way. We could name some coaches in Southern
California (but won't) who set programs this way.
Some argue this is intrinsically bad choreography.
But skaters who perform these programs don't get marked down
in the composition component for doing it. The judges
sdon't penalize it, so again there is nor reason
Medvedeva at Technical Disadvantage to Overtake Zagitova
(22 February) Rivals for the Gold, Evgenia Medvedeva and
Alina Zagitovaare are poised to be the first Russian athlete
at these Games to win a Gold Medal. These two skaters
last competed against each other at the European
Championships in Moscow in January, where Zagitova outscored
Medvedeva in both the short and the long.
In the Short Program both skaters have very similar
programs, except that Medvedeva executed a lower base value
group of jumps. This spotted her rival 1.87 points in
the technical score. In the components Medvedeva was
able to make up only 0.80 points of that.
In the Free Skate, Medvedeva leaves even more base points
on the table, spotting Zagitova 3.25 points of base value.
The jump content of the two skaters, listed in order of
value of the eleven jumps in a program is this:
As in the short, Zagitova has a second triple Lutz vs. a
second triple toe loop for Medvedeva, and in addition a
double loop vs. a second double toe loop. In addition,
Zagitova puts all her jumps in the second half for the
bonus, while Medvedeva has two jumps in the first half,
giving away the bonus on those two jumps.
For GoE points, Zagatova outscored Medvedeva at Europeans
in both the short and the long, and here in Gangneung in the
short. On the other side of the scoring, Medvedeva
outscored Zagitova in components in the same segments.
If both ladies skate their best, Zagitova has the clear
technical advantage and could well outscore Medvedeva by up
to 5 to 10 technical points in the free. Given that
both skaters are already scoring in the mid 9s, there are
not enough additional component points available to
Medvedeva to make up the technical deficit in that case,
even if she scores perfect 10s in the components.
Medvedeva's Gold medal hopes hang on her skating better
than her best in the free, and Zagitova cracking in the
free. Zagitova's personality, as we have thus far
observed it, suggest her cracking is not a likely scenario.
Zagitova and Medvedeva Battle for Gold, Osmund in
Position for Bronze in Ladies Championship.
(22 February) The current stars of the Russian women's
skating program placed first and second in the Ladies Short
Program at the Gangneung Ice Arena on Wednesday. Alina
Zagitova took the lead over her countrywoman and training
mate Evgenia Medvedeva by 1.31 points. Skating before
Zagitova, Medvedeva skated a record highest score, only to
have the record broken by Zagitova three performances later.
"I was very focused in all practice," said Zagitova.
"When I made mistakes I ws corrected and tried to fix them.
With the work and the help of the coaches I was able to do a
clean short program." She added, about the possibility
of winning the Gold, "The most important thing is to show
your best, to give 100% so that the coaches, the judge, the
audience and yourself are pleased."
Both ladies skated back loaded programs (all jumps in the
second half), but Medvedeva spotted her opponent 1.87 in
base value by executing jumps of lesser value than Zagitova
- in order of difficulty, triple flip, triple loop, triple
toe loop and double Axel vs. triple Lutz, triple flip,
triple loop and double Axel. Both ladies executed the
same value content for their spins and step sequence, all of
which achieved level 4.
In GoE points (the points resulting from the judges
GoEs), Zagitova outscored Medvedeva by 12.20 to 8.22 points.
The presentation and artistic content of Medvedeva was
slightly favored by the judges with 38.42 point to 37.62
points. Both ladies presented strong secure programs,
though Medvedeva's routine was somewhat superior in the
connecting content of the elements.
Both skaters are trained by Eteri Tutberidze in Moscow,
and their programs are virtually identical in content and
layout. Both skaters begin with a flying camel spin
and then the step sequence to kill time until the second
half. Then both execute the jump combination, the solo
jump and the double Axel in succession. Finally
Medvedeva ends with the combination spin and layback spin,
while for Zagitova it's the layback spin and then the
combination spin. The two patterns of ice converge are
similar and the elements are placed in more or less the same
areas of the ice. The two routines are about as cookie
cutter as they come.
Describing her rivalry on the ice with Zagatova she said,
"Last time I hear so many news that Alina Zagitova and
Evgenia Medvedeva are opponents on the ice and off the ice.
We are humans, we communicate as usual, we are friends, we
are girls, young girls. We can talk about everything
to each other." But on the ice she said, "When we take
the ice this is sport and we must fight. In every
competition I feel like a little war. This is sport,
this is war. We must show our best, no matter if you
are nervous or not. When you take the ice you are
alone. Yes, your friend is competing here but you have to
Kaitlyn Osmund (CAN) gave a much stronger performance in
that in the Team event to place third in the short, with
78.87 points. Her routine to two Edith Piaf songs was
competitive with the Russians in components, averaging 9.26
vs. 9.41 and 9.61 for the Zagitova and Medvedeva. Her
elements were the same content as Zagitova, but with only
the double Axel in the second half, and the GoEs from he
judges were slightly lower. While she is numerically
in the race for the Gold or Silver, moving higher up on the
podium will likely require one of the two leading ladies to
falter in the Free Skate.
Osmund scored her season best, and commented, "It means
so much. I have been fighting to keep this program and
improving it at each event. I was a little upset after
the team event short program, but to come out here, not long
afterwards and do this program and do a personal best and
season's bet it's really important to me."
Satoko Miyahara (JPN), the 2015 World Silver medalist
sits in fourth place, 2.93 points behind Osmund. She
skated a clean program to "Memoirs of a Geisha," though her
opening triple Lutz - triple toe loop combination was not
particular strong and only received an average GoE of 1.
Her two other jump elements were scored somewhat higher, and
her spins and step sequence received mostly 2s and 3.
Her components averaged 8.92. She has the potential to
move up, though if both she and Osmund skate clean, Osmund
has stronger jumps and components, and thus the advantage.
"I wanted to be more expressive and more open," she said.
"And I hope I can do that in the free program."
The second Canadian competitor, 2017 World Bronze
medalist Gabrielle Daleman had a lackluster skate, with an
error on her opening jump combination (a step out of the
second of two triple toe loops with a hand down). Her
components (average (average 8.25) were not competitive for
a medal contender.
Mirai Nagasu (USA) scored the highest of the U.S. ladies.
She fell on her opening triple Axel attempt, which was fully
rotated. On triple loop she had a poor landing edge
that was scored negative. Her spins reached level 4,
but the steps level 3. The expression of her routine
to Chopin's Nocturne No. 20 was not embraced by the judges
and her components averaged only 7.67. Medvedeva used
the same music and received components of 9.61.
About the Axel she said, "I think I over-shot it. I
kind of landed it, then I kind of fell and ended taking the
fall. But it was a fight. I still did my
triple-triple and still managed to do my loop as well.
Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. Ladies Champion, stepped out of
triple Lutz and put a hand down, preventing completion of
the planned triple-triple jump combination. later in
the program she added a double toe loop to her triple loop
jump to get at leat a few points back. Skating her "On
Golden Pond" routine from last season, she moved in slow
motion over the ice with little attack, though with some
petty positions. Her components average 8.09.
She currently sits in tenth place.
The third U.S. lady, 2018 U.S. Ladies Champion Bradie
Tennell sits on 11th place. She fell on the triple toe
loop in her opening combination, and then went on to cleanly
complete the rest of the program. She achieved level 4 in
all the leveled elements, except her layback spin at level
3. Her program places the solo jump and the double
Axel in the second half. The speed and attack of her
skating did not look as strong as at U.S. Nationals.
her components averaged 7.38, the lowest of the three U.S.
For the combination, she explained, "You just have to get
u and keep going as if nothing happened. You know my
left arm just got away from me and I just kind of sat down."
Skill, French Costume Failure and National Bias Propel
Virtue & Moir to Third Olympic Gold
(21 February) French couple Gabriella Papdakis & Guillame
Cizeron, trailing by 1.74 points after the Short Dance,
fought back in the free, winning the segment, but not by
enough to overtake Canadians Virtue & Moir. The 0.79
margin of victory brought Virtue & Moir their third Olympic
Gold medal (in Team and Dance). Added to their
previous Silver medals, the five-time medalists became the
most decorated Olympic figure skaters. With three
Golds they join Gillis Grafstrom, Sonia Henie and Irina
Rodnina who all won three consecutive gold medals in their
Virtue & Moir skated their dramatic "Moulin Rouge"
routine with speed power and confidence while Papadikis &
Cizeron skated their lyrical "Moonlight Sonata" routine with
great presence and emotion. As expected, prior to the
Olympics, these two top couples were the only serious
contenders for the Gold, and are the two great Ice Dance
couples of our time.
In the Short Program Papdakis & Cizeron suffered a
costume failure when Cizeron broke the strap on Papadakis's
dress that was holding it up. Throughout the full
program, the couple was distracted by the possibility of the
dress not staying in place and did not skate with their
usual fluid freedom of motion. They missed a level on
their Pattern Dance Type step sequence, and received two 1s
on their Straight Line lift. The skaters and their
coaches all indicated after the short they felt the costume
failure cost then several points. The level in the
step sequence alone was 1.5 points, and the lift GoEs could
have accounted for another half point. There wasn't
much room for added points in the components, and even
perfect 10s alone would not been enough to make up the 0.79
points the French needed in the event to win.
Whether or not the French couple would have skated better
and scored more points without the costume failure in the
short, is subjective, and something skating fans can argue
about for the rest of time. The effect of national
bias on the results, however, can be objectively tested.
For the Free Dance we entered the scores into the ISU
calculation program and tested different scenarios.
In the Free Dance the president of Skate Canada was again
on the panel, while France did not have their judge drawn.
So while the Canadian and French judges essential canceled
themselves out in the Short Dance, it was not so in the
free. The Canadian judge gave Virtue & Moir nearly
perfect scores, and gave Papadakis & Cizeron the lowest
scores of the panel in both GoEs and components.
For our tests we presume the French judge would
have played the same game as the Canadian (which was the
case in the short) and given marks the reverse of the
Canadian judge. On the panel judges 1, 2 and 4 scored
the Canadians higher, judge 3 tied them, and judges 5
through 9 scored the French higher.
If the Canadian judge does not score the event, using the
marks from the remaining eight judges, the French win the
If the French judge replaces the Canadian judge, the
French win the Gold.
If the French judge replaces judge 1, the French win the
If the French judge replaces judge 3, the French win the
If the French judge replaces judge 4, the French win the
This would not be the first Olympic event (in all sports)
that might have been decided by an equipment failure, and it
probably won't be the last. It's tragic for the French
couple, but it's a part of all sport.
It is even more tragic for the French couple,
however, that this Gold was also decided by the luck of the
draw of judges in the free dance and the rampant national
bias that taints figure skating judging.
Virtue & Moir Top Short Dance, Papadakis & Cizeron
Experience Costume Malfunction, Canadian and French Judges
Lend Their Skaters A Helping Hand
(19 February) Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (CAN)
skated an outstanding, nearly perfect program to take the
lead in the Short Dance. They skated with ease and
energy before a modest audience of about 4100, in a poorly
attended event. They scored their season best.
Their 83.67 points was a World and Olympic record.
Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron (FRA), placed
second, 1.74 points back in a program that did not show
their usual ease of motion and fluid skating.
Papadakis suffered a costume malfunction when Cizeron broke
the strap on her dress near the start of the program, and
the skaters ended up more focused on keeping her top covered
than presenting the program. Their skating was stiff
and cramped as a result. Towards the end of the
program a nip slip went out over the air in the live
Madison Hubbell & Zachery Donohue (USA) and Maia & Alex
Shibutani (USA) are in a virtual tie for third place,
separated by 0.02 points. The Shibsibs scored higher
in components, but gave ground on the elements, including
missing two of the key points in the Rhumba sequence.
They missed these elements in the Team event and you have to
wonder, with all the time since then, why they were not able
to find out exactly what the Technical Panel has an issue
with and fixed it. Hubbell & Donohue also skated their
Anna Cappallini & Luca Lanotte (ITA), the 2014 World
Champions, sit in fifth place, 1.16 points behind the
Shibutanis. 1.10 points farther back are Ekaterina
Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev (OAR). 0.02 point behind the
Russians lie Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA) who scores
their season best.
The panel included judges from Canada, France, Russia and
the U.S. The judges from Canada and France could not
resist the opportunity of lending their skaters a small
helping hand, and a back of the hand to their rivals.
Canadian and French Marks
Panel Ave GoE
Panel Ave Comp.
Virtue & Moir
Papadakis & Cizeron
The Canadian and French judges were more subtle than the
Chinese judge in the Men's Free Skate, having had company on
the panel for the individual marks they gave, but the
pattern is unmistakable for the totality of the 40 marks
Notice that the panel as a whole saw the two couples
within 0.09 of each other for average GoE, and within 0.02
of each other for average PC, while the Canadian judge
scored differences of 0.80 and 0.50, and the French judge
scored a difference of 0.40 and 0.35. The two couples
were nearly equivalent for the panel as a whole but not for
the Canadian and French judges, who came to their own
Another way to look at this, the Canadian judge was a
high judge (*) for Virtue & Moir for every GoE and PC (total
of 10), and a low judge (*) for Papadakis & Cizeron for
every GoE and PC. The reverse was true for the French
Judge. Never did their marks fall in the middle for
Attendance in the Short Dance was the strangest yet of
the Games. The day started of with about 1/3 of a full
house (8200) and built to about 75% of a full house at the
end of the fourth warm-up group. But for the final
group, it is estimated about 1/3 of the audience left after
group 4, so that the last group skated before a half empty
(*) By high judge and low judge we
mean they were among the one or more judges that gave the
highest mark or lowest mark. More then one judge might
give the highest or lowest score for each element or PC.
Nathan Chen Arises from Abyss of the Short Program to
the Summit of the Free Skate
Epic Collapse in Short Program is Followed by Epic
(18 February) Like a legendary Phoenix, Nathan Chen arose
from the ashes of the Short Program to triumph in the Free
Skate. No, he did not win the gold, or even reach the
podium, but his free skate was a high water mark in the
history of Men's figure skating. He attempted six quad
jumps and landed five cleanly, while stepping out of one, a
quad flip, that he decided to add to his routine after the
debacle of the Short Program.
"I did the best I could in the free program to try and
catch up with the points," he said, "but it was not enough
to clinch a podium spot. I am proud of my long program
and I was able to win the long actually, it was a big
accomplishment for me. So onwards and upwards."
Chen was 17th in the short, but more importantly he was
22 points below third place and 29 points below the leader.
It was a huge deficit to have to overcome. With a
phenomenal technical Score of 127.64 he blew away the
competition in the Free Skate, and when his scores came up,
it was clear they would move him up in the standings
considerably, but with component scores only in the high
eights it was also clear he would still need some of the top
contenders to falter, particularly Boyang Jin and Shoma Uno,
in order to medal.
Throughout the event the judge spread their marks, going
down substantially for skaters who did not skate clean, and
up substantially for those that did. It was clear as
the event unfolded that if the top skaters performed well,
they would also get big scores, and ultimately both Yuzuru
Hanyu and Javier Fernandez both scored personal bests.
When the snow settled, Chen placed first in the Free
Skate and fifth overall. He ended up 0.42 points
behind Jin, so the several point he lost on the quad flip
cost him one place. His final score was 7.89 points
off the podium. Overlooked in all the discussion
of Chen's skating, and what jumps he might or might not have
landed to medal, however, is that he also trailed Hanyu by
nearly 17 points in program component points, only ten of
which would have been enough to have won the silver, were he
among the leaders in component skills.
Like Fernandez who had a great chance to medal in Sochi,
but barely fell short, and had to wait four years to stand
on the Olympic podium, so now will Chen. Onwards and
upwards to Beijing.
U.S. Medal Hopes Crushed in Nathan Chen Epic Collapse in
Men's Short Program
(16 February) Throughout the season, U.S. medal hopes for
the Olympic Men's event grew to the point that Nathan Chen
entered the game not only as a medal contender, but as a
contender for the Gold. Twice in 2017 Chen had beaten
Yuzuru Hanyu, and he had also bested Shoma Uno and outscored
In the Team event Men's Short Program, Chen did not skate
well, but neither did several of the other men and it was
tossed off to nerves early in the games. It has been
speculated there is some unknown issue that might be
affecting his skating, but if there is it appears to be a
state secret. In any case, hopes remained high going
into the Short Program today.
Chen was 26th to skate, second in the last warm-up group
following Yuzuru Hanyu. It was an epic collapse.
On opening quad toe loop - triple toe loop he fell on the
quad and omitted the triple. After two spins he
stepped out of quad toe loop, and that error prevented him
from completing a jump combination. The quad Lutz was
then designated +Combo and lost 20% of its base value.
On the subsequent triple Axel he stepped out of the landing.
Beyond the elements, the performance was flat with no
spark or presence. His components averaged 8.38, well
below what the judges would score some one they thought was
gold medal caliber. His GoEs for his successful
elements were also mostly 0s through 2s, with few 3s, again
well below what is needed for a medal wining result.
The writing is on the wall. His Olympic dream will
have to wait another four years. He is 20.8 points
below third place, and 29.41 behind the leader. Making
up enough points to medal would require a miraculous Free
Skate, and at least one of the leaders falling on their
sword. Chen would have to skate his personal best, and
at least one of the leaders would have to score more than 20
points below their personal bests.