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Opining on Sochi: Making sense of Fernandez's salchows and Brown's axels

Photos from the men's free skate at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia
Photos from the men's free skate at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I've gotten tons of questions about what happened with the scoring for both Javier Fernandez and Jason Brown. It's not so much complicated as it is tedious. And that's why I am dedicating an entire post to how close Fernandez was to winning the bronze and Brown was to being a place higher.

Javier Fernandez (ESP) at the 2014 Winter Olympics
Javier Fernandez (ESP) at the 2014 Winter Olympics
Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Play-by-play/videos: Men's free

Fernandez's heartbreak
There's a lot in the media about what happened with Fernandez. The one thing that I will debunk right here and now is the assertion that he did too many triple salchows. That's not the case. The actual problem was that he ended up with too many combinations. Here's the breakdown.

In the free skate, a skater is allowed to repeat, at most, two triple or quadruple jumps. And when you repeat it, it has to be in combination or sequence - and even if it isn't (for example, the skater falls on both jumps), one of them is automatically counted as a combination or sequence. What did Fernandez in wasn't so much a lack of thinking - I'm pretty sure he was thinking about the rules based on what he did - but a jumbling of a couple of rules. This is what happened in the order that it happened:

  1. He tripled his second quad salchow. He had already done the first one in combination with the understanding that his second one would be a solo quad salchow.
  2. Knowing that he did that, and that he has two more triple salchows planned in the free skate, he turned a planned triple flip-half loop-triple salchow into a triple flip-half loop-double salchow. I'm sure that, in his mind, he needed to double a salchow to avoid doing three of them, which would invalidate the third one.
  3. Then he did the ending triple salchow as planned.

What went wrong there? Well, because he turned his solo quad salchow into a solo triple salchow, the second solo triple salchow that he did had to be in combination or sequence, whether he wanted it to be or not. But by the time he got to that second solo triple salchow, he had already done three combinations, so the automatic combination that the second solo triple salchow had to be in meant that he "did" four combinations. And when you do that, your fourth combination is automatically invalidated.

In the end, Fernandez lost the bronze by 1.18. His optimal route would have been to have stuck with the triple salchow that was in combination with the flip and then doubled the last solo salchow, which, had he landed it, would've given him enough points to be on the podium. Even if he had done all three triple salchows and gotten the last one invalidated, he would have had enough points. One last scenario is that if he had done a triple toe (which he had not done in his program) instead of a salchow to end his program, he would've gotten enough points.

That's a heartbreak of a technicality, and one that was not as straight-forward as some pundits might think it is. Denis Ten certainly got a little help in that department for his bronze.

Enough salchows for you?

Brown's overcooked axel
You usually don't see invalidated elements in competitions, and when you do, you don't see more than one. But there were actually three in this men's free skate. The second one was in Brown's free skate.

Toward the end of his program, he overcooked the entrance to his double axel and aborted it, only to do it again. That would be fine if it was just a setup for the jump (it actually happened to Jeremy Abbott at Nationals on his triple loop), but he actually went through the takeoff motion for the axel and got off the ice, prompting the panel to count that as a jumping pass with no value.

The result was that by the time he did his second triple lutz, which was his seventh planned jumping pass, it was being counted as his eighth (and last) jumping pass. And when he did his triple loop, his original eighth pass, it was counted as his ninth pass. So he exceeded his maximum number of jumping passes and got that loop invalidated.

That triple loop cost him about six points, which was the difference between eighth and ninth.

Rakimgaliev's save didn't save
Lower in the rankings and earlier in the flights, Abzal Rakimgaliev also had a jumping pass invalidated. And that was because he had an iffy landing on his second triple axel and improvised it into a half-loop pass, which made it a three-jump combination. He had already done another three-jump combination before that. Because you are only allowed one three-jump combo, he had that entire triple axel pass invalidated. That's a ten-point killer right there.

Abbott's brush with IJS
I'll have more to say about Jeremy Abbott in the next post, but it's important to note that, had he not gotten the "program interruption" one-point deduction in the short program, he would have finished tenth and not 12th. That's what he gets for not stopping his program and being the only skater in I've ever seen go from a fall as severe as that back to skating his program without going over to the referee.

Technicalities.