Sunday, February 4, 2018

2018 Pyeongchang Olympics: Top Skaters to Watch

It's hard to believe that nearly four years have passed!  But they have and here we are yet again, just a couple of days away from the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics.  The women won't compete for gold until later in the month but I'll look at the top skaters we can expect to see battling for a spot on the podium.

Kaetlyn Osmond & Gabrielle Daleman

Kaetlyn Osmond: Kaetlyn has had a strong season so far but not as strong as it could have been.  She comes into Pyeongchang as the reigning World silver medalist and an excellent bet for the podium if she delivers...therein lies the problem.  Katelyn is one of the most talented skaters in the field: huge jumps, amazing speed, great spins, wonderful performance quality.  Her issue has always been controlling her nerves, staying focused and getting through her program without major errors.  When she does manage to skate cleanly she can pull down massive scores.  To land on the podium, she's going to need every single point she can get.  If she can dig deep and find those two clean performances, she will almost certainly stand on the Olympic podium.

Gabrielle Daleman:  This has been a rough season for Gabby.  She under-performed and placed a disappointing 6th at all three events she entered in the first half of the season.  Luckily she was able to turn everything around at Canadian nationals.  She went back to her "Rhapsody in Blue" free skate from last season and ended up delivering the best two performances she's had since Worlds last year where she won the bronze medal.  Gabby comes in as the newly crowned Canadian champion which will likely provide her with a new wave of confidence and determination.  She is not expected to contend for a medal but if she can deliver the way she did at nationals, Gabby could find herself as a surprise medalist at these Games.

Carolina Kostner

Carolina Kostner:  Carolina is the only returning medalist from the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.  By the time the individual competition begins, Carolina will be 31 years old which is ancient in the figure skating world.  Despite Carolina's advanced age, she is coming into these Games as a favorite for a spot on the podium if she can deliver.  She's increased her technical difficulty to better compete among the top names and she still commands some of the highest Program Component Scores (PCS) in the field.  This means if she can land her jumps, Carolina has an excellent chance of landing on the podium.  However, given the depth of the field and number of women competing for that bronze medal position, Carolina is going to need to be at her best if she wants to stand on the podium again.

Satoko Miyahara & Kaori Sakamoto

Satoko Miyahara:  Satoko has had a decent season so far.  After defending her national title for the 4th year in a row, Satoko competed at Four Continents Championships where she placed a surprising 3rd overall.  Her overall skating is beautiful: gorgeous choreography and presentation, great skating skills, wonderful spins.  Unfortunately, Satoko's weakness is in her technical content, specifically the jumps.  The lack of power and height in her jumps tends to hurt her score especially in a stacked field full of strong jumpers.  Additionally, she struggles with under-rotations which severely affect her score.  If she can rotate her jumps Satoko has a great shot at placing in the top 5.  If she doesn't, she could fall much lower in the standings.

Kaori Sakamoto:  Kaori has done very well in her first senior season.  After placing 5th at her first competition of the season, she earned a silver medal at Skate America, placed 2nd at Japanese nationals and was the surprise winner of Four Continents Championship.  While she lacks the refinement and finesse of some of the more established skaters, Kaori makes up for it with her amazing speed and explosive jumps.  She seems to have found her stride competitively and has been very consistent over her past few competitions.  Kaori is not expected to medal here but if she can deliver, she will put pressure on the top women to perform.

Russia (Olympic Athletes from Russia)
Alina Zagitova, Evgenia Medvedeva, Maria Sotskova

Evgenia Medvedeva:  Evgenia has ruled women's figure skating, going undefeated for two and half seasons.  Her difficult content, insane consistency and expressive skating lead her to back-to-back World titles.  Unfortunately, Evgenia suffered an injury earlier this season which kept her out of two major competitions and allowed other skaters to rise up.  She was handed her first loss recently at the European Championships where she finished 2nd to her training mate, Alina Zagitova.  Evgenia comes into Pyeongchang as a co-favorite for gold.  In seasons past she could afford not to be perfect due to the large advantage she had over the field.  With Alina now in the race, she will likely need to be 100% flawless if she hopes to take home the Olympic title.

Alina Zagitova:  In her first season on the senior level Alina has taken the skating world by storm.  Her manipulation of the scoring system and extremely difficult content have rapidly moved her up the ranks from newbie senior to the skater to beat.  Alina's strategy of placing all of her jumps in the bonus section of her program and her ability to execute the hardest combination in the competition (3Lz-3L) make her a very difficult skater to catch.  Her technical content is untouchable which means if she can skate cleanly in both programs, she has an excellent shot at beating Evgenia and taking the gold medal.  But, like Evgenia, she too has no room for error if she wants to come out on top.

Maria Sotskova:  Maria has been a steady competitor for the past few seasons.  Unlike her teammates who have been in the spotlight since arriving on the senior level, Maria has been more of an under-the-radar type of skater.  She has a light and pleasant style of skating that the judges respond to as well as strong jumps.  Maria is in the hunt for a medal in Pyeongchang but she will be up against tough competition.  In the second half of the season she sometimes struggles with maintaining her consistency.  If she hopes to find her way onto the podium, she will need to stay focused and deliver her programs cleanly.

United States
Mirai Nagasu, Bradie Tennell, Karen Chen

Bradie Tennell:  Bradie was largely unknown in the skating world the until a few months ago when she competed at Skate America and won a bronze medal.  She followed up her bronze medal there with a gold medal at the U.S. national championships and is now heading to the Olympics.  Bradie has amazingly solid jumps which is not something the American women are known for having.  Though she lacks polish and maturity, her jump content is capable of putting up strong technical scores in Pyeongchang.  The downside for Bradie is that she's relatively unknown internationally which could affect her Program Component Score (PCS) and prevent her from placing higher.  Still, clean skates should score well and possibly give her an outside shot at a medal.

Mirai Nagasu:  Mirai will be making her second appearance at an Olympic Games.  Her first was back in 2010 in Vancouver where she placed an impressive 4th overall.  Mirai had a decent season on the Grand Prix but really made her mark at U.S. nationals where she placed 2nd overall thanks in large part to her triple axel.  Mirai will be the only woman in Pyeongchang to attempt a triple axel.  If she lands it not only will she make history as the only American to land it at the Olympics, she can give herself a serious boost over some of her competitors.  She is not expected to medal but if Mirai can hit all of her jumps and the triple axels, she may have an outside shot at a medal.

Karen Chen:  Karen is not known for having the most consistently strong performances but she is often able to pull it together when it matters the most.  Her 4th place finish at Worlds last year was instrumental in getting the United States three spots in Pyeongchang this year.  Karen had a rough first half of the season as she struggled to find a set of programs she felt comfortable with.  After going back to last season's programs, she placed 3rd at nationals and earned a trip to Pyeongchang. When she skates well, Karen is amazing: great speed, amazing spins, big jumps.  However, she battles with nerves and under-rotations which can hurt her score.  If she can deliver, she has a strong chance of placing top 10.

The women's short program will take place on February 21st and the new Olympic champion will be crowned on February 23rd.  Before the individual event, some of the skaters will compete in the team event which begins on February 9th.  The women's portion of the event will take place on February 11th.

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