Sochi recap: Figure skating, women’s short program

Defending champion Yuna Kim has the flawless jumps. Italy’s Carolina Kostner, shedding Olympic disappointments of the past, has the artistry. Adelina Sotnikova remains upright and is Russian. And that’s why the three of them will battle for gold in the free skate.

To be fair, Sotnikova skated very well. But she seemed a couple of points too high, and the USA’s Ashley Wagner once again seemed a couple of points too low. Maybe the judges don’t like Pink Floyd.

But the Americans didn’t fare badly at all. Gracie Gold could still medal, and Wagner and Polina Edmunds acquitted themselves quite well.

Date: 19-Feb

Sport: Figure skating

Event: Women’s short program

How U.S. fared: First up was 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, a Californian whose mother was born in Russia. Terry Gannon reminded everyone that she was born after Tara Lipinski won gold, and Lipinski reminded everyone that she was struggling in practice and in the warmup. (That sounds far more petty in print that it was on the broadcast.) Edmunds was solid on her triple-triple combo, though a replay showed she slightly underrotated the second, then easily hit the triple flip that Johnny Weir said was problematic in practice. She followed with a dazzling spin and a solid double axel.

Lipinski, Weir and Gannon were all impressed. The judges did ding her on the underrotated combo but not much else, and she got a season-best 61.04 points, first through the first 12 skaters.

Gracie Gold had pushed her way into talk of a potential medal in recent months. But her jumps weren’t quite there. Her double axel got a negative Grade of Execution, and her transition grade was only 7.71. Still, she earned a 68.63.

Ashley Wagner was in the last group, and she carried a look of confidence and determination, far from the scrunched-up look of disbelief of the popular meme from the team event. Her first triple-triple wasn’t perfect, but everything else seemed solid, especially the big jump she throws just as the full band comes in on Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The judges killed her on that first combo, though, and she got a 65.21.

Gold is fourth, within six points of the podium. Wagner is sixth, just 0.02 points ahead of Russian darling Julia Lipnitskaia. Edmunds is a solid seventh.

What happened: Defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea was dominant in 2010. She had competed in only five international events since then, winning the 2013 World Championship. That’s why she skated so early in the evening, well before the “favorites” as ordained by recent results. She seemed a little nervous when she started. Not when she hit her triple-triple, skating to a lush orchestral version of Send in the Clowns. Everything else was just as flawless and graceful.

Going into the final group of six, the leaders were Kim, Gold and Edmunds.

Up first: Newly minted Russian sweetheart Julia Lipnitskaya. Her opening was clever, tracing a finger on the ice when the music started, then reacting to a loud moment in the music. She ended the same way. In between, she had a few flawless jumps, some spins in which her legs seemed to bend at unnatural angles, and …

… a fall. An ugly fall, tumbling onto both knees. Tara Lipinski, in the middle of describing her outlandish spinning ability, was stunned. Her score: 65.23, third behind Kim and Gold.

Italy’s Carolina Kostner was overlooked a bit coming into the Olympics. She won the world title in 2012 and was second in 2013, but she failed to qualify for the Grand Prix final this season. And her Olympic track record was bad — ninth at home in Torino, a woeful 16th in Vancouver. But she was flawless here, getting solid Grades of Execution and terrific component scores. They apparently didn’t mark her down for her awful makeup, and so she moved into second at 74.92 points, just behind Kim.

The difference between Kostner and Wagner can be calculated quite easily. Kostner and Wagner attempted the same opening combination — a triple flip and triple toe loop. Kostner got a 9.40 base value with a 1.50 Grade of Execution for 10.90 points. Wagner’s base value was knocked down to 6.60 for the underrotation, and her Grade of Execution was -1.70, for a total of 4.90 points. That accounts for six points of the 8.91-point gap between them. Component scores, all affected by a mistake on the ice, accounted for the rest.

France’s Mae Berenice Meite was stuck in between the big names in the last group. The 19-year-old skated to the same music as the USA’s Jason Brown, the dreary Prince selection The Question of U. She finished no higher than fifth in Grand Prix events this year. She put two hands down on a jump but was otherwise solid. She scored 58.63, and we’ll see where she stands in four years.

Next up was Adelina Sotnikova, the 17-year-old Russian and Grand Prix finalist who was surely sick of being upstaged by Lipnitskaia. She hit everything, getting positive Grades of Execution on every element. And probably a few points for being Russian. She moved into second between Kim and Gold, all separated by 0.80 points.

Up last: Japan’s Mao Asada. Her season best is 73.18, just behind the three contenders in the 74-point range. Her career best is 75.84. The silver medalist in 2010, also a two-time world champion, attempts the most difficult jump in the women’s program, a triple axel. A few seconds into her program, she launched herself up, spun, landed … ye- … no. She almost had it, but she just couldn’t hold the landing. Her skating to a nice Chopin piece was pretty, but she had errors on all three of her jumps.

Asada wound up with only 23.88 points on the technical elements, sinking all the way to 16th. I’d hate to be the guy who did an interview on Fuji TV explaining why he picked Asada to beat Kim … oh, wait … I am that guy.

So it’s Kim, Sotnikova and Kostner clumped together, with Gold, Lipnitskaia and Wagner not too far behind.

Full results

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