And so the inaugural Team Event in Olympic figure skating concluded yesterday with the home team, Russia, taking the gold with ease. Team Canada took silver and Team USA took bronze, also with ease (as if there was ever any doubt - oh, right, the doubters). In a lot of ways, the Team Event served as a preview of what's to come in the individual events. But as we dissect the past few days of competition, what have we learned about what to expect in the next two weeks?
It's all about numbers
As I've written before, it was always going to be Russia, Canada, and the United States for the podium. My predictions didn't give Evgeni Plushenko the benefit of the doubt, and he certainly made his case and skated superbly to earn his fourth Olympic medal, and second gold. We'll take a closer look at Plushenko in a bit.
In the end, Team Japan knew that chances were slim at best for them to get on the podium, especially after Mao Asada took third in the short (and, arguably, could have actually been fourth). And with their substitutions for Yuzuru Hanyu and Asada, Team Japan actually slipped to fifth behind a strong Team Italy. The focus is certain now on the individual event.
Speaking of numbers
One of the most anticlimactic things about the Team Event is the fact that the scoring is, in fact, a bit wonky. Skaters are judged with "segment scores," which are the 68.42s and 156.32s that you keep seeing. But the overall standings are based on placement scores (10 for first, 9 for second, and so forth). There's an inherent disconnect in margins of victory (for example, Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov's 10.69 margin of victory in the short was not reflected in the one incremental point they got over Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, who were second).
But one can argue that using the placement point system allows the four disciplines to be more equalized. Because of the technical score differences between disciplines, a large margin of victory in, say, the men's event could be the equivalent to a medium margin of victory in, say, ice dance.
So let's say we stick with the placement scores (and we are ok with it). The other wonky element is the lack of mobility in the free skate. In the short program, with ten entrants, if you finish last, you get one point for your team. If you qualify for the free skate, if you finish last, you get six points for your team. Without doing too much analysis, simply changing the scoring in the free skate from 10-9-8-7-6 to 10-8-6-4-2 would make it a whole lot more interesting. As it was, the medals were all but decided at the end of the short programs.
What about Plushenko?
The rumblings were around. Now that Plushenko has earned gold for himself and Team Russia in the Team Event, would he skate the individual event? There were certainly signs pointing to a potential withdrawal due to injury. While Plushenko was adamant that he will take his break today and then get back to practicing for the individual event, he was also very clear in telling everyone that his back was bothering him late in his free skate.
But the deadline for him to withdrawal and for Russia to make the replacement was earlier today in Sochi. And Plushenko is on the roster. What are his chances for gold? Slim, especially based on his free skate score yesterday. Podium? A possibility, especially if he pulls out all the stops in the free skate and puts in two quads, which he didn't do in the Team Event.
Lipnitskaia vs. Gold
One very intriguing outcome of the Team Event was the springboard that Julia Lipnitskaia jumped on. And that springboard was almost all in the astronomical program component scores that she got.
One thing is for sure, when it comes to PCS, you can't really judge the marks that the judges give unless you compare them relative to those of other skaters. In the short program, Lipnitskaia was just behind both Carolina Kostner and Mao Asada in PCS but 2 1/2 points over Ashley Wagner. I contend that while Kostner and Asada were correct, Lipnitskaia and Wagner should have been a lot closer.
In the free skate, the two skaters of apt comparison were Gracie Gold and Akiko Suzuki. With Suzuki not skating terribly well, it is tough to draw that kind of PCS comparison. But Gold skated just as well as Lipnitskaia did, but was below Lipnitskaia by eight points in PCS. While I can see Lipnitskaia besting Gold in interpretation and perhaps transitions, I don't see it anywhere else. They are similarly strong in skating skills, they both executed their programs incredibly well, and the choreography of their free skates were similarly sophisticated. I would have had them a lot closer, perhaps with Lipnitskaia being 2-3 points ahead, but not eight.
The rise of Lipnitskaia really happened at Europeans, where she got similarly high PCSs. If you look back even one month before at Grand Prix Final, Lipnitskaia skated fairly well but her free skate PCS was over nine points lower than what she got in the Team Event yesterday. While she has improved a great deal in the past season, is she at Asada levels in components? I can't say that she is.