Written by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato
The 2014 Winter Olympic Games were held in Sochi, Russia, from February 6 to 23. The figure skating events were held in the marvelous Iceberg Arena and were exciting and dramatic at the same time. I was not in Sochi and therefore could not really experience the live atmosphere in the arena, but from what I could see and hear, the public was very supportive, enthusiastic and knowledgeable as well.
The pair skating event was very exciting.
It was a great day for Russia when Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won their second gold medal of the Games and the 13th gold medal for Russian or Soviet pairs since 1964. Only in Vancouver in 2010 did Russian pairs miss the gold medal. Their teammates, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, took the silver medal, moving up from third in the short program, while Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany placed fourth in the Free Skate to finish third overall.
Both the short and the free skating of Tatiana and Maxim were fantastic. The best programs I have seen in recent years. Skating to Jesus Christ Superstar, they executed all their elements in perfect unison and each of them was impeccable and of the highest technical quality. Their triple twists were impressive, and their throw triple jumps breathtaking. Each element was skated at incredible speed and perfectly in time with the music. Really a piece of art. In the Program Components, they received fourteen marks of 10, of which three were in Performance/Execution, four in Choreography/Composition and seven in Interpretation, for a total of 77.83. The crowd simply went crazy!
Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov won the silver medal. Skating in a charming and elegant way to The Addams Family, they performed a flawless, sparkling program with excellent jumps, lifts and throws, including an excellent throw triple Salchow at the end of their program. Ksenia's miming throughout the program, especially while performing the choreo sequence, was a spectacle in itself and was much appreciated by the public.
Last to skate were Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.
Skating to the Nutcracker, they started their program with an excellent throw triple flip, but on the subsequent element, a triple toe loop, Robin fell. At this point, they surely realized that they could only compete for the silver medal. All the other elements were executed well except for the closing throw triple Axel, where Aliona fell down. They probably decided to take the risk hoping to get it through, although it never happened before. In my opinion, it was a strategic error. Had they executed a clean throw double Axel or triple Salchow, they would probably have won the silver medal. So sad for such a great and marvellous couple!
The men's event was the most dramatic Olympic final I can remember.
The first shock was right at the beginning of the short program when the legendary Evgeny Plushenko, who won gold in Torino in 2006, silver in Salt Lake City in 2002, and silver in Vancouver 2010, decided to withdraw after a bad fall during the six-minute warmup. After consulting with his coach, Alexei Mishin, and announcing his decision to the Referee of the event, Mrs. Mona Jonsson, the "Czar" skated to the center of the rink for the last time to soak in the crowd's ovation and emotional farewell. All the best to you, Evgeny. You have been a great and unforgettable champion.
After the short program, the fight for the gold medal was basically a two-man competition between Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan, and Patrick Chan, Canada. For the bronze medal, the way was wide open, since there were six competitors within a range of 1.32 points.
But it turned out to be the most distressing Olympic final I can remember. There was no joy on the ice during the long program. All the skaters looked tense, fighting to stand up.
Yuzuru Hanyu won the gold medal and became the first Japanese man to win the title and is the youngest champion since Dick Button in 1948. Skating to "Romeo and Juliet" by Nino Rota, Hanyu landed a quadruple toe loop and seven triples, including two Axels, but fell on a quadruple Salchow and a triple flip.
Giving an even more flawed performance, Patrick Chan, three-time world champion, skating to the "Four Seasons" and "Concerto Grosso", placed second. He executed a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and four more triple jumps, but he made errors on his second quad toe loop and the triple Axel.
Denis Ten, from Kazakhstan, moved up from 9th place in the short program to win the bronze medal, making him the first skater from Kazakhstan to win an Olympic figure skating medal. He performed an almost flawless program,with a quadruple toe loop and seven clean triple jumps.
Javier Fernandez, Spain, 2014 European champion, who stood in third place after the short program, started his free with a quad toe loop followed by a quad Salchow-double toe loop combination. He landed his triple Axel on his toe, but the rest of the program was clean. He slipped to fourth because his last triple Salchow was considered an invalid element. Question: does such a rule make sense?
The men's event has always been my favorite, the one that I considered the most exciting and gave me the deepest emotions. I cannot even think of an Olympic gold medalist falling twice in his program nor I can refrain from remembering the beauty and the perfection of former great Olympic champions from John Curry to Robin Cousins, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Viktor Petrenko, Alexei Urmanov, Ilia Kulik, Alexei Yagudin, Evgeni Plushenko and Evan Lysacek. So far the winner has always been the skater who performed the best, not the skater who made the fewest mistakes! And we are talking of fantastic and very talented skaters.
This is not the way to win in a beautiful sport as ours. Many times I have wondered where skating was going. If the goal of the IJS was to break all records for falls, the ISU achieved it!
Thank God, the ice dancing event that followed was simply fantastic. All couples skated very well, from the first to the last. Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA) placed first both in the short and the free dance, winning the first Olympic ice dance gold medal for the USA. The 2010 Olympic champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, got the silver medal and Russia's Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov the bronze. Skating to "Sheherazade", Davis and White performed one of the most beautiful programs I can remember. They were just magic. Their skating on deep edges was so smooth that they seemed to float over the ice. They had great power and speed, and they executed original and innovative lifts with the same grace as ballet dancers. It felt like they were just enjoying skating with one another.
In their components marks, they received a total of 24 marks of 10.0, including six in Performance/Execution, nine in Composition/Choreography and nine in Interpretation/Timing. Even their costumes reflected their style and class. Beautiful and simple. Thanks Meryl and Charlie! You gave me a moment of intense joy and emotion that is so rare in skating nowadays.
Skating to music by Alexander Glazunov and Alexander Skriabin, Virtue and Moir performed an excellent program, skated perfectly to their music with fluidity and speed, flying across the ice in perfect unison on deep edges. They were very strong in the technical elements, with beautiful and innovative lifts. Another fantastic and unforgettable program which was rewarded by the judges with 15 10.0 marks in their Program Components.
Ilinykh and Katsalapov excelled in their dramatic interpretation of Swan Lake. The home fans started cheering when the first notes of their music played and they were roaring when it ended with Katsalapov collapsed on his knees and Ilinykh crying. Their interpretation of Swan Lake was just great and it reminded me of the same classic ballet I saw at La Scala one month ago. Every movement, every expression of their face, every breath was just what the music proclaimed. Another fantastic program. This young couple surely has a great future.
From a skating point of view, the ladies' final was a fantastic event. Most of the skaters performed excellent programs, which is not always the case in ladies' competitions. Too bad that it turned into a disgrace for the sport because of the questionable judging.
Adelina Sotnikova (RUS) won the gold medal, becoming the first Russian Olympic Champion in the ladies. figure skating event. Yuna Kim (KOR), the reigning Olympic Champion, took the silver medal, and Carolina Kostner (ITA) won the bronze, to give Italy its second Olympic figure skating medal after Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio, who won the bronze medal in ice dancing in 2002. Carolina has a fantastic record of five gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals at the European Championships, in addition to a 2012 gold medal, two silver and two bronze medals at the World Championships.
Skating to Saint-Saëns' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso", Sotnikova executed a strong program with very well executed triple jumps and jump combinations as well as good and fast spins. Her only mistake was a step out of the double loop on her three-jump combination. From a technical point of view, she was the best. But, in spite of the marks she received in the Program Components, her choreography was aimless and her skating lacked passion and did not transmit any emotion. She was just "executing" a program, as it is understandable for a girl of her age. She is 17.
Yuna Kim, as usual, was marvellous both in the short and the free.
Skating to "Adiós Nonino", Kim performed a good and flawless program with athleticism and grace. Her jumps are of the highest technical quality, properly started at full speed and landed without any visible effort. Her spins are done with great flexibility. Although she was not as brilliant, explosive and emotional as in 2010, very captivating is the way she glides on the ice, as light as a feather, the way she uses her arms, her head and her body to express every second of her music. Her class is beyond debate and she is still a marvel.
Both the programs from Carolina Kostner were just outstanding from the artistic point of view. Her short program, skated to the "Ave Maria" by Franz Schubert, was breathtaking and extremely emotional from the beginning to the end. A real jewel that will be remembered in the history of figure skating.
The same can be said for her interpretation of the "Bolero" by Maurice Ravel. Another masterpiece, emotional and skated with deep passion.
From the technical point of view, Carolina executed a flawless program with four triple jumps and three jump combinations, including a double Axel-triple toe loop. Carolina glides on the ice like a butterfly. She lives the music and she makes it alive. Each movement of her head and arms is intended to express that particular beat of the music. A true artist. She was awarded two 10.0 marks in Performance/Execution and four in Interpretation.
Nevertheless, Adelina was placed ahead of Carolina in the Program Components by 0.64 points and behind Yuna only by 0.90 points.
And here comes the problem. The podium is strongly contested all over the world and an official complaint was filed by the South Korean Olympic Committee to the IOC. In no way could Adelina Sotnikova be placed ahead of Yuna Kim and perhaps also Carolina Kostner.
There is no doubt that Adelina is a marvellous, very promising young girl, technically fantastic, but at a sidereal distance from Yuna and Carolina as far as the Program Components are concerned. While Adelina just "skated" her planned program, both Carolina and Yuna expressed in the best possible way the art and the beauty of figure skating.
No fair judge with a minimum of competence on how to evaluate the Program Components could have awarded to Adelina higher marks in choreography, performance/execution, and interpretation of the music.
Nevertheless, several judges did. Two placed Adelina ahead of Yuna in Performance/Execution, four in Choreography and three in Interpretation. And the same happened with Carolina, who got lower marks from two judges in Performance/Execution, from five judges in Choreography, and from two in Interpretation. Can anyone explain to us why four judges placed Adelina ahead in every single component score, some of them with a difference of more than one point?
In my opinion, the judging was disgraceful and again an embarrassment for the sport. A real mockery. After the scandal in Salt Lake City in 2002, the International Judging System was brought in and judging became secret and the judges. scores are anonymous and not identified by country. Still, we can easily envisage who they are just by looking at the composition of the panel of judges. All this proves that the IJS did not solve at all the problems in judging. On the contrary!
Will this new scandal produce a miracle? Will judging become open again as is wished by all the skating world, including great champions?
Now we can only hope that the ISU will not close its eyes and will open the famous safe where the real protocols are kept and will assess the proper sanctions.
Before closing this long article, I want to pay tribute to Mao Asada of Japan. She has proven to be a real champion, able to overcome her great sorrow after her appalling short program and come back and execute a fantastic free program, technically very strong, even with a successful triple Axel, and very emotional and captivating. Thank you, Mao, for all you did for our sport and for the joys you gave to all your millions of skating fans.