Olympics 2022: Pairs Preview & Predictions

The past week’s events in figure skating have almost rendered predictions pointless. Because who could have predicted that the biggest Olympic women’s favorite in recent memory would have a positive drug test days before her individual event? Or that she would be allowed to compete, despite this? Or that we would witness today’s bizarre spectacle, which saw her in tears after losing the free skate to two of her teammates?

The controversy over Valieva cast a cloud over the whole figure skating competition. When you consider that Valieva’s positive test followed widespread Russian doping at the Sochi Games eight years ago–and knowing that the Russian state plays an outsized role in Russian sport and values Olympic medals as nationalist totems–it’s hard not to wonder if the doping may extend beyond her.

The Valieva saga has also simply been sad to watch, particularly today. The crowning of the Olympic women’s champion is traditionally the climax of every four-year cycle of figure skating. But, the day that everyone anticipated ended instead with skaters sobbing and shouting on worldwide streaming. Not to mention the fact that the Valieva case raised serious questions about abusive coaching practices and a problematic judging system.

With all this, pairs predictions feel like a minor concern. But, I had started writing them before the Valieva saga began, so I decided to continue.

While working on these predictions, I kept thinking back to the last Olympic pairs event in 2018. Pyeongchang was such an epic competition in pairs skating. Arguably, one of the best in Olympic history. The elements were big, and the personalities were even bigger, with stars like Savchenko, Sui, Duhamel, and more. 

After 2018, the rules and format changes to pairs skating (de-emphasis of quads, shorter free skates) felt like they made the sport fundamentally smaller and less exciting. And the new, younger stars of pairs skating–while bright–just didn’t, for me, fill the big shoes left by the pairs of Pyeongchang. 

The Beijing pairs event will mostly lack the quad elements of Pyeongchang, and will arguably lack some of the star power. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing; it’s time for the sport to renew itself and look for a brighter future.

But, before we fully enter a new era, a few older teams–Sui/Han of China and Tarasova/Morozov of Russia–are here, possibly for the last time, to remind us of the elegance and passion of the sport’s past. The race for gold will come down to these veteran teams vying with the much younger, more athletic Mishina/Galliamov, current World champions. 

Sui/Han and Tarasova/Morozov both have special and distinctive qualities and skills that have made them successful teams for the past 8 years. Mishina/Galliamov, meanwhile, are the most technically proficient pair, and will lead the sport into the next quad. (How fitting, then, that they skate to a piece called “Time, Forward!”)

Who will win in Beijing? And how will the other pairs fare? Here are my predictions.

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