Olympic pairs figure skating event is more than a numbers game
Technical mastery alone won't be enough to win gold
By Pj Kwong, CBC Sports
With, as I see it, four teams battling for three podium spots, predicting the Olympic pairs figure skating event requires looking beyond the numbers.
2002 Olympic gold medallist and CBC Sports commentator David Pelletier, who knows a thing or two about making it to the top podium spot in pairs, agrees.
"In order to win the Olympic title, the champion team will need to create a moment that is beyond the technical elements by blocking out all outside stimuli, focusing exclusively on one another and taking care first and foremost of the moments between the elements."
The two best teams this season have a lot in common — namely, speed, great results and technical prowess. Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot recently took the Grand Prix Final against their biggest rivals and the reigning world champions, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China.
Pelletier's comment about "focusing on one another" suits both these teams. The quality I see most in Savchenko and Massot, who are only in their third season together, is heart. They're looking to achieve the dream of winning Olympic gold that eluded Savchenko, a five-time Olympian, with her previous partners, including Robin Szolkowy.
In Sui and Han, I see tenacity. They've shown tremendous grit in battling back from injuries and disappointments. They converted their legendary junior status (they won three consecutive world junior titles between 2010 to 2012) to a senior world title last year. Sui and Han's patience is almost as remarkable as the pairs skills they possess.
Savchenko and Massot vs. Sui and Han is a matchup of equals. One mistake by either team in the short or the free could be enough to decide the gold medal. Anything less than a commanding lead for one of them after the short program will mean that the top of the podium is still up for grabs in the free skate. It will make for very exciting competition.
Duhamel, Radford in contention
The other two teams with a shot at the podium include two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and two-time European champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia.
VIDEO | 5 things about Duhamel and Radford
Watching Duhamel and Radford win their seventh national title recently in Vancouver, a record number for Canadian pairs, I saw a rejuvenated team. They went back to a previous program set to music by Adele, and the ease with which they presented their material was totally captivating. I'm counting on their individual abilities as single skaters — they showcase side-by-side triple Lutz jumps — in addition to their outstanding pairs elements and perfect material to put them in line for a medal.
VIDEO | Duhamel and Radford unite athleticism and artistry
The brilliant Russians are a match for any of the teams in terms of skill. But Tarasova and Morozov's free program this season, set to rock 'n' roll music, doesn't showcase the very thing that makes them special. This is a team whose classical style and lines are better suited to more classical music and themes. I appreciate any skater trying to express themselves by experimenting with new styles, but for Tarasova and Morozov this may turn out to be an unnecessarily risky choice — especially in an Olympic season.
Pj's gold-medal pick: Sui and Han (China)