Some additional thoughts on the Pairs competition, which concluded last night.
In Defense of American Pairs
Well, apparently this was the worst combined placement (13th place and 10th place) for American pairs teams at the Olympics. I think people are confusing this fact with the idea that the American pairs had some sort of disastrous perormance. First of all, we have to realize that the competition was extremely steep - with three major Chinese contenders (as recently as ten years ago this would have been unheard of), two major Russian contenders, both Canadian teams getting very high scores, and the German world champions, among others. The American pairs in Vancouver were by no means a disaster. Denney and Barrett did not live up to what we know they can do (which is...skate clean under pressure), but they only had a few errors and I still would have placed them a couple of spots better. Even without errors, I think they would have finished no better than ninth. And that's being generous. They just don't have what it takes to score exceptionally well against the major teams right now. And Evora and Ladwig did better than they ever have before. If you still want to complain about Evora and Ladwig placing better than Rena Inoue and John Baldwin did at the U.S. Nationals (when Evora and Ladwig slightly edged the clean performance by Inoue and Baldwin despite making errors), then that's fine, although it makes less sense now since Evora and Ladwig did better than the national champions, Denney and Barrett. But Evora and Ladwig finished in 10th place in their first major world competition here and hit personal bests in both programs. I can't ask for much more than that. I don't mind people blaming US Figure Skating or the selection committee, but I can't blame skaters who garnered their personal bests at the biggest competition in the world. I hope our team will be able to do enough to maintain two pairs slots at the world championships, but all they can do is skate their best. It really is up to US. Figure Skating and the Olympic selection committee to make sure that the best skaters are chosen.
Additionally, even if Inoue and Baldwin hit clean side by side triples (rare for them) and landed their throw triple axel, I doubt they would have finished better than seventh here. The best shot we have for a world medal in coming years is if Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker get their act together and actually can figure out how to perform a clean free skate, because they are much better received internationally than Denney and Barrett are. And hopefully Denney and Barrett will grow as skaters over the next few years and really start to rack up the grade of execution, difficulty levels, and program components that they are lacking right now.
Another bright spot is the fact that one of Evora and Ladwig's free skate lifts was the highest-scoring element in the entire pairs competition, according to Figure Skaters Online. Not too shabby for one half of the "worst" American pairs Olympic team of all time.
"A Sport of Inches": Michael Weiss
Former U.S. National champion and Olympian Michael Weiss points out that if Shen and Zhao had not completed two-and-a-half turns in the lift that they botched, they would not likely have been able to hold onto the gold medal. They seemed almost out of control even in the rotations, thank goodness they were able to get it around just enough! That was literally the gasp heard round the (figure skating) world when she slipped out of the lift.
I wonder if Russia's Kavaguti and Smirnov will carry on? I also wonder how much of the blame of Russia losing its stranglehold on Olympic pairs gold medals Yuko Kavaguti is shouldering personally. That creepy scene with the glaring Tamara Moskvina last night after the end of the competition shows the calculating coach will not soon let this one go. Not every story can have a happy gold-medal ending.
Another major heartbreaker for me was Germany's Savchenko and Szolkowy just not being able to perform the way we know they can last night. That program truly is beautiful, and I wish they could have shown the world what they can do. Still, they came away with a bronze medal, and they are lucky to have it.