Four years ago, the US figure skating team had its worst results at the Olympic Winter Games.
The 2022 team named after the US Championships ended on Sunday could do better than 2018 – although that may not be a substantial improvement, and the assessment of that will depend largely part of Nathan Chenmen’s singles performance.
For long-term comparison purposes, the team event is not a factor. It has only been on the Olympic program for the last two Winter Games, and no more than three of the 10 qualifying nations have been (and will be) strong medal contenders, with the United States among them.
Here are the figures for the four traditional disciplines in 2018:
* One medal, one bronze in ice dance. In the 12 Winter Games that began when ice dancing became a medal event in 1976 (and not counting the team event), the United States had never won as little as a single bronze and had only won a single medal twice (1994, women’s silver; 2014, ice dance gold).
* In women’s singles, the best place (ninth) and overall (9-10-11) of 2018 were the worst of the 17 Olympics where the United States has finished three times. The United States has now played three Olympics without a women’s medal, its longest drought ever.
* In men’s singles, the US failed to win a medal for the second time in a row. It wasn’t since before World War II that American men showed up empty-handed at three back-to-back Winter Games.
* In pairs, where the US qualified only one entry, their ranking (15th) was the lowest best pair in US history – by five spots.
Part of the decline in US results is due to Russia’s recent overwhelming dominance in female singles. Some in Japan are to become a constant power in female and male singles over the past 12 years. General interest in sport in these two countries has increased proportionately while declining in the United States.
And the hopes for 2022? Realistically, a medal in men’s and team singles and a chance to win one in ice dance.
Warning: the Covid pandemic, especially the Omicron variant, makes predictions more difficult than they always are for organized sport on a slippery surface.
A lot can happen before the skating begins in 23 days. Some athletes could miss the Games entirely due to a positive Covid test. Some might be forced out with a positive test in the middle of their two-phase event. Both situations occurred at the United States Championships.
And some athletes may travel to Beijing with reduced physical condition if either having tested positive with asymptomatic Covid or having to deal with symptoms causes them to miss training time.
With all of that in mind, here’s a look at America’s outlook for Beijing in the five events:
Most expect it to be a battle between Chen and the dreaded Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu, one of the few world superstars in the history of figure skating, along with Hanyu’s compatriots, Shoma uno and Yuma Kagiyama, in contention for bronze.
Chen’s flop in the short program at the 2018 Olympics saw Hanyu become the first repeat men’s champion since 1952. But Chen, fifth overall, easily won the free skate four years ago, and he beat Hanyu by 22 points or more in their only three meetings in individual events since – the 2019 and 2021 World Championships and the 2019 Grand Prix final.
Hanyu has missed much of this season with injuries, just as he did before the 2018 Olympics. In his first 2021-22 competition, the Japan Championships in December, he did a short program. brilliant and a strong, if less conspicuous, free skate started with a failed attempt to become the first to land a quadruple axel jump in competition.
Chen won three consecutive world titles and was undefeated for three seasons before placing third behind his compatriot Vincent zhou and Uno at Skate America in October. Chen also had an outstanding national championship short program with a less convincing freestyle.
Chen included two falls, one on a quad and another on footwork, and his lowest free skating component scores since his first of his six straight US titles in 2017. They would have been the lowest if two of the nine judges had not been forgotten (or ignored). International Skating Union guidelines for scoring PCS when two falls are involved.
Part of Chen’s possible strategy against Hanyu came to light during the national championships.
Chen increased the value of his jumping elements so that he could have an advantage in the maximum base value for both programs over Hanyu in his national competition. In the short program, Chen’s baseline was 49.87 versus Hanyu’s 45.80; in the free it was 101.24 to 92.90 (assuming a fully rotated quadruple axis for Hanyu).
The difference can quickly evaporate if Hanyu’s execution scores and component scores are significantly higher – or if mistakes cause Chen’s base value to drop.
“As the competition progresses, we are always trying to surpass ourselves,” Chen said on Sunday. “It’s kind of where I think.
“Clearly today the schedule wasn’t perfect so risk reward there’s still that game. As we get closer to the rest of the season decisions will be made. “
A simple numerical comparison reveals why American women would need one of the top three Russians to implode (and non-Russian mistakes) to get closer to the medals.
In international competition, the three Russians likely to go to Beijing (and sweep the podium) have the best scores of the season of 272.71, 236.78 and 232.37. The best American score, recently named 2022 Olympian Alysa liu, is 219.24.
This happened during Liu’s first major competition of the season. Her scores have fallen in three internationals since, and she had to withdraw from the nationals before the free skate after testing positive for Covid. She will have to demonstrate her physical form before going to Beijing.
Karen chen, who joins Liu and new national champion Mariah bell in the Olympic team, was fourth behind three Russians at the 2021 Worlds. But she finished more than 8 points from third, even though bronze medalist Aleksandra trusova was 10 points behind Chen after the short program.
On a media teleconference ahead of the national championships, Chen candidly admitted that women’s skating feels like a two-tier competition, with the Russian quad team at one tier and everyone trying to be the best in the game. rest.
“I’m going to be honest: yes, I had these thoughts,” she said. “I think any athlete in a similar position would have similar thoughts.
“I talk a lot about focusing on myself and doing everything to the best of my ability because it helps me stay motivated and avoid all the distractions. Maybe my best obviously doesn’t compare to the Russians, but I can only expect the best from myself. This is what I chose to think about.
A top-eight ranking for either entry in the United States would be a solid achievement in a discipline where the last American medal was a bronze in 1988. Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc and or Alexa knierim/Brandon frazier skating flawlessly, that could be the top six.
An event in which the United States had won only one bronze medal (1976) before 2006 became the flag bearer, with three different teams winning medals in four consecutive Winter Games: silver in 2006 and 2010, gold in 2014, bronze in 2018.
Because dance has no elements of jumping or throwing, when costly mistakes are most likely to occur, its results are most predictable based on past performance.
For 2022, that means French couple Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron and the Russians Viktoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov are likely to get gold and silver (the French are favored), with three couples vying for bronze: Madison hold/Evan bates and Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue from the United States and Piper gilles/Paul Poirier of Canada, with Canadians now apparently the best bet.
Hubbell, whose team has won medals at the last three world championships, insists the dice are not yet cast.
“Although from the outside it may look like there are two teams that finished on the podium, they still have to come out and do their best,” said Hubbell after his team finished second behind Chock and Bates Saturday at the national championships. “We look forward to the opportunity to continue the (American) legacy.”
Russia is expected to be a shattering winner, with the United States second and Japan likely to secure their first Olympic team skating medal.
Philip Hersh, who covered figure skating at the last 11 Olympic Winter Games, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.
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