The pairs figure skating competition at the PyeongChang Olympics gets underway Wednesday morning (8 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday) with the short program. Here are the answers to some questions you may have about the competition.
Q: Who are the favorites?
A: Aliona Savchenko of Germany has been tossed and thrown, dressed up as a clown and a cartoon character, all in the name of a gold medal in four previous Olympics – each Games a greater heartbreak than the one before.
In the past two Olympic cycles, Savchenko and every previous partner, Robin Szolkowy, came in as odds-on favorites to win. Both times, in 2010 and 2014, their momentum was disrupted by teams who upended their march to the gold medal, and they ended up disappointed with a bronze.
Szolkowy, satisfied with their twin bronzes and additional five world pairs championships, retired. Savchenko kept going. She found a new partner, a Frenchman named Bruno Massot, and enters fifth Olympics better than ever. Every resilient quest for that elusive Olympic gold medal starts Tuesday with the short program.
Q: Who is the German pair’s toughest competition?
A: The Germans are a must-see for a dramatic, technically proficient, long-standing pair from China. That pair, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, made their competitive debut in 2007. Savchenko and Massot have only competed together for three years and outskated the Chinese pair.
Now, they are twin headliners of what promises to be a beautiful battle for the gold.
Q: Who will be in medal contention?
A: The Olympic Athletes from Russia, Canada and France will be fighting to the medal stand.
Q: Is there an American entry to watch?
A: The American couple, husband and wife. Chris Knierim and Alexa Scimeca Knierim, lack the polish of the above mentioned elite teams and should be thrilled to end up in the top 10.
Q: So what is the short program?
A: The pairs competition is divided into two parts. In the first phase of the competition, the short program, every couple must complete seven minutes. This discipline is about strength and innovative lifts, maintaining speed for sequences of fancy footwork and a unified connection between the male and female that gives off impression that they are two skating as one. The Olympic motto is higher, faster, stronger – but with pairs, add the word “together.”
The free skate will take place Thursday morning (8:30 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday), and medals will be awarded after that.
Q: What should I expect to see during the short program?
A: Skating to a jazzy ditty by Dutch singer Caro Emerald, Massot and Savchenko will try to win this phase of competition with pizzazz and acrobatic dynamism. At 6-foot, Massot is a linebacker in the pairs world, a foot taller than his partner. His strength and size are leveraged to create dynamic, long-lasting lifts and throws Savchenko a considerable distance. And Savchenko has the incredible core strength to handle the velocity.
Their triple twist will be the move to watch. In the twist, Massot will lift up his head and toss it into the air, and Savchenko will rotate three times before he catches each of the hips and sets her down gently. Everything is required for this move, but Savchenko generates so much height that she sometimes flies above the frame of the television camera.
The differences are in the form of a lot of things, but they are also very important.