Olympics 2018: Pairs Preview & Predictions

Last week, I had my Olympic pairs predictions all ready to go up on my web site. Then, the Olympic team event started, and everything changed!

The pairs discipline in the team event was exciting and unpredictable. It gave us a preview of about half the pairs who will compete in the individual pairs event in Pyeongchang. The pairs’ performances in the team event didn’t really go according to plan. Some highly ranked pairs made costly mistakes, while others turned in unexpectedly strong, season’s-best performances.

The team event was a good reminder of how unpredictable the Olympics can be. There’s something about the Olympics that brings out extremes. Some athletes are inspired to produce their best skating; others struggle with nerves. It’s what make the Olympics so exciting! But it also makes predictions difficult. I’ve now updated my predictions a bit, based on what happened in the team event. But, who can predict things like Mirai Nagasu landing 8 triples in the skate of her life, or Marchei/Hotarek suddenly topping their personal-best LP score by 6 points?

Before I get into my predictions, I do want to take a moment to say how much I miss all the good pairs skaters who didn’t make it to these Games. Foremost is reigning Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov. Last month, news came that Stolbova/Klimov were not invited to the Games by the IOC, for unspecified reasons. All I can say is that, as a pairs skating fan, I will really miss seeing Stolbova/Klimov. Without them, the competition is not as rich.

But, even without Stolbova/Klimov, there’s still an amazing level of talent among the pairs in Pyeongchang. So here are my predictions. As usual, these predictions are primarily based on evaluation of results from this season, plus the team event results.

One thing to note. When I refer in this article to a certain pair ranking 10th in average total score, or 2nd in season’s-best score, I mean 10th or 2nd among pairs in this 22-pair Olympic field (not in the total field of all senior international pairs).

The Top 2 Spots

I still believe the battle for Olympic gold is between Sui/Han and Savchenko/Massot. These two teams have been dominant this season, both in the numbers and in the overall quality of their skating. Theoretically, Tarasova/Morozov and Duhamel/Radford could also factor into the mix for gold. However, I think it’s likely that the Germans and Chinese will take the top 2 spots.

Skate America Figure Skating
Has Aliona’s moment finally come? (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

GOLD Savchenko/Massot I feel like Aliona Savchenko has a date with destiny in Pyeongchang. Now in her fifth Olympics, with her third partner, surely the time has come to finally claim gold. A 5-time World champion, 2-time Olympic medalist, and owner of 5 other World medals, Savchenko is among the all-time greats of the sport. And current partner Bruno Massot has (literally) lifted her to new heights. Savchenko/Massot have everything that’s needed to succeed in Korea. Their programs are the best and most creative. They have the highest triple twist; they have the best spins and lifts. And their jumps are amazing too (when they hit). I believe everything is in Savchenko/Massot’s hands. If they hit their elements, they win. That’s what happened at the Grand Prix Final. Their best has been better than anyone else’s this season. But, the Germans will need to execute. In the team event short program, they once again faltered on their throw jump, with Aliona falling. Much of Savcheno/Massot’s momentum dissipated in that split-second moment. Then news came this morning that Aliona has a cold, plus lingering foot pain. I’m still betting that Aliona Savchenko will push all these problems aside when the moment comes to take the ice for the individual event. Two clean programs will give Savchenko/Massot the gold; nothing less will suffice.

Sui-Han-spin
World champions Sui/Han look for Olympic gold

SILVER Sui/Han Reigning World champions Sui/Han are magical skaters as well. And they are much more consistent than the Germans. Although Savchenko/Massot top the season’s-best lists in total score and free skate score, Sui/Han’s average total score is higher, because they are more consistent in hitting their elements. If you look at average scores for GOE, TES, and PCS, Sui/Han lead in all 3 categories. What does this mean? Savchenko/Massot have the advantage– but absolutely no room for error. If they make mistakes, Sui/Han will be there. No question.

The Battle for Bronze

Below the top 2 teams, there’s an intense battle for bronze, led by Tarasova/Morozov and Duhamel/Radford. And not only are these teams a threat for bronze, they could very well claim Olympic gold or silver if the 2 favorites stumble.

Tarasova-Morozov-candyman
Tarasova/Morozov:  Their stock just went way up 

BRONZE Tarasova/Morozov The Russian team are reigning World bronze medalists. On paper, they seem like a sure bet for bronze. If you look at high scores, average scores, any scores, Tarasova/Morozov are pretty much 3rd in every category this season. Plus, the judges love this team, and, I think, want to see them on the Olympic podium. After lackluster showings at the Grand Prix Final, Russian Nationals, and Europeans, I thought the moment might be right for another team to sneak past Tarasova/Morozov and onto the podium. But then Tarasova/Morozov came out and skated the best short program of their lives in the team event. They could not have looked any stronger or better in that program. And their scores were equally amazing. Almost every single GOE mark was +2/+3 (there was just one lonely +1). Almost every single PCS mark was 9.0 or above (only one lonely 8.75). With those marks, the judges made clear that Tarasova/Morozov will be on the podium if they deliver. And although their much-derided “Candyman” LP won’t help them, it may not hurt nearly as much as it should.

Duhamel-Radford-choreo-lift.jpg
Duhamel/Radford: Great results in the team event  (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

4th Duhamel/RadfordThe Canadians also looked great in the team event, with Meagan landing the throw quad Salchow again in the LP. Duhamel/Radford haven’t skated their best this season, but they’ve still been very good. And it looks like they may be peaking at the right time. Among teams competing in Korea, Duhamel/Radford are 4th in total season’s-best score and 4th in total average score. They have the highest average base value of any team, andI think their decision to return to their “Hometown Glory” LP was a good one and will bolster their PCS scores (currently 4th overall). If Duhamel/Radford put out season’s-best performances in Korea and hit their SBS 3Lz, they may well leave with a medal.

Close to the Top

The following teams have all performed very well at certain points this season. While I don’t see them among the medal favorites, all might have an outside chance at a bronze medal if they perform their absolute best.

James-Cipres-face.jpg
James/Cipres:  Hitting some bumps in last few performances

5th James/Cipres The French team have been building momentum for over a year. They have an X factor, a charisma, that none of the other teams in this group can match. Audiences love them; they’ve gone viral on the Internet; and it’s not just about attitude and sexy programs. James/Cipres back up their appeal with solid technical content; and their scores have been pretty consistent. That said, James/Cipres’s most recent performances at Europeans and in the team event have been somewhat disappointing. They haven’t looked as sharp and confident and together as they did last fall. They’ve still been getting most of the elements done, but something feels off. A return to their popular “Sound of Silence” LP may boost them. But James/Cipres would need 2 personal-best performances to medal in Korea, and, based on current trend, I don’t know if it’s going to happen.

6th Yu/Zhang Last year, Yu/Zhang surprised by finishing a strong 4th at Worlds. And they could pull off another high placement in Korea. Yu/Zhang’s technical elements are strong enough to keep them in the game for a possible medal. However, their average PCS scores are the weakest among the top 6 teams, and their programs aren’t going to help them over the top. That means if everyone skates relatively clean, Yu/Zhang will likely finish 6th.

Marchei-Hotarek.jpg

7th Marchei/Hotarek The Italians just had the best long program of their career in the team event! They looked so confident and strong that I’m moving them up a spot in my predictions. Marchei/Hotarek’s scores have shown solid improvement through the season, and they are pretty consistent technically, especially with their base value. The judges also appreciate this team’s interpretive ability, artistry, and energy. It’s the second Olympics for both partners; I think that experience is really helping them at this Games.

8th Zabijako/Enbert The Russians had strong momentum coming into this event. They just won a bronze medal at Europeans—and arguably could have placed higher. Although fans tend to be lukewarm about this team, the judges really like their elegance, skating skills, and consistency. They rank 7th in most categories this season—in season’s-best total and SP scores, and in average total, TES, and PCS scores.

The Mid-Tier Teams

After the top 8 teams comes a group of pairs who are all quite good, but not expected to contend for medals. There’s a lot of parity among these mid-tier teams. Most have beaten other teams in this group at various points; most have had a mix of good and disappointing performances. It’s really difficult to predict where they’ll place relative to each other, but I’ll take a stab at it.

Astakhova-Rogonov
Astakhova/Rogonov:  A rare chance for them to shine 

9th Astakhova/Rogonov This pair was a late addition to the OAR (Russian) team after Stolbova/Klimov were not invited to the Games. However, they are quite deserving in their own right. Astakhova/Rogonov had a very good fall season, winning 2 Grand Prix bronze medals and 2 silvers at Challenger Series events. They have good programs and have improved their technical consistency as well. They rank #9 on the season’s-best list among pairs in Korea and #10 in average total score. Astakhova/Rogonov rarely get opportunities to skate in late-season events, so I think they’re probably going to be really motivated to show everyone what they can do in Pyeongchang.

Knierims
Knierims:  Top 10 if they hit some side-by-sides?  (Jay Adeff/U.S. Figure Skating)

10th Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim Okay, I admit it, I’m penciling the Knierims into 10th place on a wish and a prayer—and on the basis of their season’s-best short program in the team event. Coming into the Olympics, the Knierims ranked 14th in highest total score and 14th in average total score among pairs in Korea. Chris Knierim has been struggling with a knee injury all season that seriously hampered the team’s side-by-side jumps and scoring potential. But then came that excellent short program in the team event. Finally, they hit the side-by-side jumps—and immediately, their season’s- best SP score jumped up 4 points. Now, granted, the Knierims weren’t as good in the team event LP. However, I was encouraged to see them go for 2 side-by-side triples, for the first time this season. The Knierims’ average scores tell the story of their strengths and weaknesses. They rank an impressive 6th in average GOE and 10th in average PCS among teams at the Olympics. Those numbers indicate the judges see them as a potential top 10 team. However, their average base value score ranked 21st in this 22-pair field–mostly because of the side-by-side jump problems. With their best skating, the Knierims can easily be in the top 10 here. They have probably the most potential to move up of all the mid-tier teams. It just will come down to execution on the jumps. I’m betting they’ll go for those jumps again in the individual event—and hopefully hit at least some of them.

11th Peng/Jin The #3 Chinese team has been up-and-down in their sophomore season. However, their season’s-best score is 10th among pairs in Korea, and they’re coming into the Olympics off strong performances at Chinese Nationals. Their Grand Prix events were disappointing, as have been their PCS scores this season. However, their average GOE score is high (8th in this field), which shows the judges respect the quality of their technical elements. The Chinese pairs as a group also tend to peak at the big events like Olympics and Worlds. That’s why I’m betting on Peng/Jin to finish relatively high. The key element for Peng/Jin will be the side-by-side jumps in the short program. They had issues with those at both Grand Prix events; they’ll need to do better here.

Della Monica-Guarise
Della Monica/Guarise:  Time to dig in and fight  (Wilma Alberti)

12th Della Monica/Guarise The Italians have had a good season. They won their first-ever Grand Prix medal and 2 silver medals in Challenger Series events. They stand 11th on the season’s-best total score list and are 8th in average total score in this field. Della Monica/Guarise have continued to improve in their artistry (#8 in PCS) and the quality of their non-jump elements, especially. They are earning the judges’ respect as an overall quality team. However, their performances at Europeans and in the team event were disappointing. Truth be told, Della Monica/Guarise have fallen into a pattern of skating well in the fall, then taking their foot off the gas after Italian Nationals. They generally don’t skate their best at late-season events like Europeans and Worlds. For now, I have them in 12th, because of their overall quality and programs. However, they need to skate well, or they could easily fall as low as 14th. Their side-by-side jumps will be important in the free skate; they need to rotate and not pop (as they often do).

13th Seguin/Bilodeau The Canadians got off to a slow start this fall in their return from injury. However, Seguin/Bilodeau skated very well at Canadian Nationals, so I think they’ll come into this event with momentum and confidence. I’ve penciled Seguin/Bilodeau into 13th because most of their numbers this season put them right around 12th/13th in this Olympic field. However, they are 11th in average PCS, and are also 11th on the season’s-best free skate list. So there’s definitely potential for them to place higher.

Moore-Towers-Marinaro
Moore-Towers/Marinaro:  A gamble that paid off

13th Moore-Towers/Marinaro The #3 Canadians have shown a lot of improvement this year, but also inconsistency on the jumps. In terms of international scores, Moore-Towers/Marinaro are very close to Canadian teammates Seguin/Bilodeau. Their season’s-best total score is just a bit higher than S/B’s, and their average total score is one spot higher as well. Moore-Towers/Marinaro have a base-value advantage, while Seguin/Bilodeau have a slight lead in average GOE/PCS. I’ve put Seguin/Bilodeau ahead simply because of their momentum from Canadian Nationals. But the 2 teams could easily flip (and both could place higher, too, if things fall into place). A key element for Kirsten/Mike will be their SBS 2A/1Lp/3S combo. They need to go for full rotation on that combo to keep up their base-value advantage.

Ryom-Kim.jpg
Ryom/Kim:  Bigger than themselves (Getty Images)

15th Ryom/Kim The North Koreans just won their first international medal at Four Continents, which should give them confidence. In this field, their average total score ranks 15th and their season’s-best total score 16th. Ryom/Kim’s weak point is their base value, which is low (19th) due to not having a second SBS triple or 2A combination. However, their average GOE is a surprising 10th—indicating that what they do, they do well. With few opportunities available to compete internationally, I’m sure Ryom/Kim will be even more excited than most to be at the Olympics. This team radiates such joy and lightness in their skating; I have a feeling this will be even more the case in Pyeongchang. And they have momentum and interest on their side. They are, quite literally, the talk of the world right now, in their unique position of representing North Korea at this South Korean Olympics.

16th Alexandrovskaya/WindsorThe Australians continue to show so much promise, but also some inconsistency—which is completely unsurprising, given their youth and newness as a team. Their results this season suggest they will make the top 16 at the Olympics and advance to the free skate, as they did at Worlds last year. In this field, they rank 16th in average total score and 15th in highest score. Their strength is their GOE (11th); however, they are weaker in PCS (16th).

The Lower-Ranked Teams

Only the top 16 pairs in Pyeongchang will advance to the free skate. With such a strong field, some good-quality pairs will be left behind after the short program.

Ziegler-Kiefer
Ziegler/Kiefer aim for final 16

17th Ziegler/Kiefer The Austrians have said that their goal at the Olympics is making the free skate. And they’re so close. Currently, they are 17th on the season’s-best SP score list among teams in Korea. Their top short-program score is literally just 0.16 away from 16th place. It’s going to be all about the short program for this team.

18th Hocke/Blommaert Although the #2 Germans probably won’t make the free skate, their strong basic skills should place them relatively high in the lower group. They currently rank 18th/19th in most scoring categories.

19th Conners/Krasnopolski The Israelis will probably fall short of making the free skate. But at least they’ll get to compete in the team event beforehand!

20th Duskova/Bidar This will be Duskova/Bidar’s first competition since September, as they attempt to come back from Anna’s surgery. Last year, this team finished 14th at Worlds. However, with subpar performances in fall 2017, plus the surgery setback, I don’t expect to see them in the free skate here.

21st Suzuki/Kihara I think Suzuki/Kihara’s recent international experience at Four Continents, plus their lead in base value, will be enough to keep them ahead of Kim/Kam in this group.

22nd Kim/Kam The South Koreans are coming off an injury and don’t have the strongest technical skills. But I’m sure it will be a thrill for them to skate in front of their home crowd!

Wrap-up

So that’s it for my Olympic preview and predictions. We’ll get our first look at the full field of pairs tomorrow night in the short program. Good luck to all the pairs on Olympic ice!!

Note: If you’re enjoying the articles on The Divine Sport, please take a moment to like the  Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adivinesport/. You can also follow on Twitter to get updates of new posts: @ClaireCloutier.

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