After the second of three days of competition, U.S. ice skaters are on track to reach the medal podium in team skating at the Beijing Winter Olympics. While gold may be a challenge, silver is within reach.
Team USA led the field after an impressive first day of competition on Friday, with personal best scores from all the skaters who competed—Nathan Chen in the men’s event, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue in ice dance, and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in pairs. The U.S. now sits in second behind the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) after solid but imperfect performances in the women’s short program and men’s free program on day two.
The event Sunday started with the last of the short programs, which serve as the qualifier in the team event.
For the U.S., Karen Chen, who skated second to last, fell on her triple loop jump, which led to an automatic one-point deduction, and the second jump of her triple-triple jump combination was ruled under-rotated, which shaved more points off her score. “There were some positive takeaways for sure, and then some things that were silly mistakes that I haven’t been making in practice,” she said afterward. “My practices have been feeling really solid but today, once I realized I’m competing, it felt a little bit different.” Chen, the 2017 national champion and the current U.S. national silver medalist, competed in the 2018 Olympics, however, she did not skate in the team event and finished 11th in the individual competition.
ROC’s Kamila Valieva was the final skater to take to the ice, and the skater who has been, and will continue to be the talk of the skating events in Beijing. The 15-year old Russian national champion lived up to all of the expectations building around her record-setting season. She executed a perfectly balanced short program, which highlighted her elegant and balletic lines as well as her technical prowess with a textbook triple Axel, a triple flip and a triple Lutz-triple toe loop jump combination. Her score of 90.18 did not break her previous record, 90.45, which she set in January at the European Championships, but it was more than enough to win the women’s short program, earning the ROC 10 points in the team competition. Valieva appeared emotional while taking her bows, and said that she was skating for her grandmother, who recently passed away. “I think that feeling got to me,” she said.
Chen finished fifth and earned the U.S. six points, while Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi placed second, and Canada’s new national champion Madeline Schizas placed third.
That meant that ROC, the U.S., Japan, Canada and China moved on to the finals, which began just hours later with the men’s free skate program.
The U.S. selected Vincent Zhou, while the ROC chose national and European champion Mark Kondratiuk, and Japan went with 18-year old Yuma Kagiyama, competing at this first Olympics.
Kondratiuk was the first among the trio to skate, and downgraded a few jumps but landed three quadruple jumps, one in a combination.
Kagiyama answered with four cleanly landed quads of his own, scoring 208.94, the first to break 200 during the event. The youngest member of the Japanese men’s squad, Kagiyama is coached by his father and impressed not just with his technical skills, but also with the way he executed them, garnering the highest score of the event for program components, which evaluates skaters for the quality of their elements.
Zhou, the last to skate, was the only competitor planning five quadruple jumps; he popped out of one, and lost more points after his quad Salchow and the quad toe loop were under rotated. Zhou’s score of 171.44 put him in third, behind Kagiyama and Kondratiuk.
That puts ROC in first, the U.S. in second and Japan third going into the last day of competition which begins at 9:15 a.m. Monday Beijing time/8:15 p.m. Sunday ET. The women, pairs and ice dance teams will compete with their free programs.
Those events are the ROC’s strongest, and the U.S. needs clean programs to hold its position behind the Russians. Only one American woman, Alysa Liu, includes a triple axel in her free program, but Liu hasn’t landed it consistently this season and was forced to withdraw from the U.S. nationals in January after testing positive for COVID-19, so hasn’t had the skating experience that might help going into an Olympic event. And Japan also has a strong women’s squad and a potential spoiler with its pairs team of Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara. Teams can substitute two skaters in the finals; Zhou was one, as a substitute for Chen on the U.S. team, which means the Americans have one more substitution available to them before the third and final day of competition.
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