Vancouver 101: Skating

j0341446Figure skating as an Olympic sport precedes the introduction of the Winter Games. It first appeared in 1908 at the London Summer Games featuring events for singles and pairs. Ice Dancing did not come onto the Olympic program until 1976 at the Innsbruck Games, Austria.

A panel of nine International Skating Union (ISU) judges measure the quality of the performance. Before each event a private draw is done to determine which judges scores will form part of the overall score (to avoid bias scores only seven of the nine scores are

Singles: Skaters must perform a short (maximum 2 minutes 50 seconds) and a long (4.5 mins for men 4 mins for women) including required steps, jumps, spins and combinations. Free-skating (worth two-thirds of an athlete’s overall score) requires the skater to show creativity, individuality and technical difficulty.

Pairs: this discipline involves the same format as Singles only the male and female athlete must work in unison. The routine can be a maximum of 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Aside from performing required steps, jumps, spins and combinations, partners also incorporate lifts, throws and synchronized jumps.

Ice Dancing: made up of three performances – a compulsory dance (prescribed moves), an original and a free. There are a certain number of lifts, spins and sequences that must be included in the latter two performances.
In Ice Dance, unlike Pairs, partners remain in contact throughout most of the routine. It does not include overhead lifts and jumps. YouTube: Watch Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean win gold in Sarajevo, 1984.

Reigning Olympic Champions:
Men’s singles: Evgeni Plushenko (Rus)
Women’s singles: Shizuka Arakawa (Jap)
Pair skating: Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin (Rus)
Ice dancing: Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov (Rus)

Athletes to Watch in Vancouver:
The balance of power in figure skating has undergone a seismic shift over the last four years with skaters from Asia dominating the women’s competition. No U.S. woman has been on the world podium since 2006 and, for only the second time since 1924, the Americans will have just two women at the Olympics.

South Korea’s Kim Yu-na is the reigning world champion. Japan’s Mao Asada won the title the year before. Kim has won three of the last four Grand Prix finals. Asada took home the fourth title.

This rivalry has been going on since the figure skaters were juniors. Although Kim has dominated this season while Asada has struggled, there’s little doubt the two will be at the center of the spotlight at the Vancouver Olympics just as gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson brought their two-woman show to the Summer Games in Beijing.

Although Sasha Cohen, Irina Slutskaya and Sarah Hughes were all considered contenders for figure skating gold, you really have to go back to Tara Lipinksi and Michelle Kwan in ’98 for the last time there were two skaters clearly ahead of the pack.

Kim may seem like  the undisputed leader of the pack now. She has just two losses in two-plus seasons (the 2009 Grand Prix final and ’08 worlds), and opened this year by blowing away Asada – and everyone else – by 35 points at Trophee Eric Bompard.

Asada actually fell behind countrywoman Miki Ando, who was second to Kim at last month’s Grand Prix final, after a tough Grand Prix season. Asada didn’t even qualify for the Grand Prix final after finishing a distant fifth at the Rostelecom Cup. But Asada appears to have gotten her mojo back, winning the Japanese nationals in commanding fashion.

Unlike Asada and Kim, Liukin and Johnson were teammates. Though they trained at different gyms, they saw each other every month at national team training camps and they had first-hand looks at everything the other gymnast was doing.

The two combined to lead the U.S. women to the silver medal, then had to turn their attention to the individual competition. Not exactly easy when your main rival is also your friend – not to mention your roommate in the Olympic village.

But gymnastics and skating aren’t like skiing or swimming or track. There is no head-to-head competition, no clock to race. Asada and Kim will know the other is there – they’ll only be reminded a few thousand times – but  said there’s only one person each woman can worry about: herself.

As always, the figure skating competition should be one of the highlights of the Winter Games. Mark your calendars now.

Feb. 14: Figure Skating – Pairs Short Program
Feb. 15: Figure Skating – Pairs Free Skating
Feb. 16: Figure Skating – Men Short Program
Feb. 18: Figure Skating – Men Free Skating
Feb. 19: Figure Skating – Ice Dance – Compulsory Dance
Feb. 21: Figure Skating – Ice Dance – Original Dance
Feb. 22: Figure Skating – Ice Dance – Free Dance
Feb. 23: Figure Skating – Ladies Short Program
Feb. 25: Figure Skating – Ladies Free Skating
Feb. 27: Figure Skating – Exhibition Gala

Related Posts:

Figure Skating A-Z
Congrats to new grad Michelle Kwan
3A – Ladies Triple Axel
US Figure Skating Championships 2009