The Future is Here! All Hail Yuzuru Hanyu – Olympic Champion!

Yuzuru Hanyu 2014 OWG LP

The men’s competition in Sochi was packed full of surprises for better and worse. The result is still a little bit of a shock but somewhere deep down, I think I was expecting it. Or maybe, a lot of us just managed to see what a talent this guy was back at the beginning of the Olympic cycle and he certainly proved us right. Thanks, Yuzuru!

Also, the men’s figure skating Olympic curse seems to be in full effect after taking a small break in Vancouver. (For those of you who don’t know, the “curse” is that the man who was World Champion from the previous year/season will not win Olympic gold. All the figure skating “curses” were broken in Vancouver but so far, they seems to be in full effect.) Anyway, let’s start this brief recap of the men’s figure skating competition with one of the biggest game changers…

Evgeni Plushenko Withdraws in the SP

I think a lot of us in figure skating circles expected Plushenko to be “injured” after the team event and therefore bow out before the individual event started. That was Plushy’s intention anyways, since he wanted Kovtun to replace him in the individual event but according the ISU rules, this isn’t allowed. It was a little surprising to see Plushenko on the ice only to have a “scattered” warm-up. Nonetheless, when the Russian legend bowed out of the competition, you could just feel the excitement of the arena die immediately. For a fan of the sport, I was excited because I knew that for at least one figure skating event, we would have some half-decent judging without seeing overmarked Russian skaters as we saw in the team event. What I did not expect was that the judging was actually quite fair throughout the entire competition. It was refreshing and I truly hope that the ISU can continue in that vein.

Still, whether or not Zhenya faked his injury, I commend him for all that he has accomplished in his long and illustrious Olympic career. It’s impressive that he can pull quads at his age. Kudos, man.

The Short Program: What You Want the Olympics to Be

The short program for the men’s competition was a spectacular event. We saw a few young lower-ranked skaters shine and we saw a truly good competition where everyone was at their best. Here were some highlights:

  • Yuzuru Hanyu won the short program over Patrick Chan, a feat that I thought could not be repeated after this season’s Grand Prix Final event. However, he not only did that, but he broke his own record and he was the first man in history to break the 100 point barrier with a score of 101.45. Yuzuru skated flawlessly and with abandon, showcasing Jeffrey Buttle’s smooth and sexy choreography. Good job, Yuzu!
  • Patrick Chan turned out a pretty good performance as well, he skated near flawlessly but stepped out on a triple axel. It seems that this jump is still plaguing the three-time World Champion.
  • At the end of the night, eight men ranging from complete unknowns to known podium contenders such as Javier Fernandez were in contention for the bronze medal.

Sochi 2014 mens SP

For full results, consult this page.

As you can see, the difference between 2nd and 3rd place was huge (about 10.5 points) so the fight for gold would be a re-match between the young phenom, Yuzuru Hanyu and Mr. Skating Skills, Patrick Chan. As for the rest, you can see that 3.5 points separate Tatsuki Machida sitting at 11th place and Javier Fernandez in 3rd. A virtual tie. THIS is what you want to see at the Olympics, everyone giving it their all and giving all podium contenders a good run for their money.

  • A honourable mention goes to Jeremy Abbott who went down hard after his quad toe attempt. Abbott was down on the ice for a long time and I didn’t think he would finish his program. However, he proved us all wrong and skated the rest of his program flawlessly. Great job!
  • Brian Joubert decided to end his career on a high note by having a little fun on the ice. His program clearly had less difficult footwork and may have been front-loaded but I think the ladies in the crowd appreciated his signature crotch thrusts.

The Long Program – Where Everyone’s Program Kinda Died

The long program was a segment that was completely cringeworthy. I don’t think anyone skated a clean long program and despite the fact that my favourite won and more importantly, that the judging was fair, the day was less exciting than it was after the SP. In any case, a few key events:

Yuzuru beat Chan in the long program but only by a smidgeon and purely because of his TES.

Both skaters made mistakes in their program – Yuzu fell on a 4S and 3F while Chan had a shaky 4T, 3A and flubbed a double axel. A double axel for the love of god. Easiest jump in the program. For longtime readers of my blog, you know that I’m not a huge fan of Chan even though I recognize his skating talent. This is mostly because of his personality (you do NOT belittle a legend like Plushenko, especially when you haven’t even gotten your world title yet), his inflated scores and his inability to recognize them, especially when talking to the media. (In short, this guy really needs media training though he seems to have cooled down lately.) In any case, I wanted both Chan and Yuzu to skate well. I wanted to see good skating. And magic on ice and both of these guys have the ability to do that. Alas, it was not to be. Yuzuru was nervous and Chan looked stiff and doubtful as he did his opening movements for the LP.

What puzzles me exceedingly is Chan’s strategy going into the Olympics, especially with his long program.

When Chan lost to Yuzuru at the GPF, he should’ve recognized two key take-aways. As someone aiming for gold, each competition is a teaching exercise leading up to the Olympics. The two issues he should have taken into account after the GPF were:

1) Yuzuru was beating him mostly based on the Technical Elements Score. (In the SP at the GPF, Yuzuru beat Chan in both TES and PCS but in the LP, Yuzuru had the higher TES but a lower PCS than Chan.)

2) Because of his Technical Elements Score, Yuzuru doesn’t necessarily have to skate clean in order to beat Chan. We saw that happen in the LP at the GPF.

In terms of program construction, Yuzuru took advantage of the rule that gives skaters a 10% bonus for each jump in the second half of each program. At the same time, even if a skater falls on difficult elements like a quad at the beginning of the program, they will still be awarded the base score for that jump if they complete the rotations. In other words, falling on a difficult jump isn’t the end of the world anymore. Especially if you can skate cleanly and save the program in the second half, which is what Yuzuru did at the Olympics.

The jumps in the second half of his program were harder than Chan’s and he completed all the rotations. For Chan, his problem was less about the stumbles and more about the fact that he was doubling the second jump in combinations as well as bobbling. In the new judging system, which rewards risk, a skater can get more points by falling on a very hard jump than if they did an easier jump perfectly. The worst thing you can do under the new system is to make your content easier by doubling or singling jumps because the disparity in the base value of single/double jumps compared to triple/quadruple jumps is huge and the maximum that the judges can add or deduct based on the quality of the element is 3. The moment I knew that Chan lost the gold was not when he bobbled out of his double axel – something I’m a little infuriated about since it’s considered an easy jump in men’s figure skating – but when he doubled the salchow in his 3Lz-1Lo-2S combination. The first two bobbles evened out the playing field between the two but all those double jumps in the second half sealed the deal.

Going back to the two key take-aways from the GPF, I wonder why Chan and his coaches didn’t make changes to his programs to even out the field a little more. (And yes, we can throw in the argument that making changes is difficult but Carolina Kostner and Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy both came out with semi-new programs for the Olympics. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir have also been reported to have made changes to their programs since the team event.) With the programs staying the same since the GPF, Chan would’ve had to defeat Yuzuru by a) skating clean(er) in both programs and b) Yuzuru would’ve had to make a lot of errors. In the past season and a half, Hanyu has proven that he is slowly resolving his stamina issues and for the most part, he skates pretty solidly. I wonder if Chan underestimated Yuzuru a little bit or overestimated his own abilities. His strategy going into the Olympics seems to give little leeway for him to make errors, which might have put even more pressure on him.

In any case, I wonder if this result somewhat points to another facet of the International Judging System (IJS) at the top-most echelons of the skating: the limits of the PCS. As we all know, the PCS is the more subjective part of the mark that looks at a skater’s skating skills, choreography, expression and interpretation. A lot of skaters in the past have been buoyed or sunk with the PCS based on the political support from their figure skating federation. But let’s think about the math of the PCS for a second. Judges can only award scores from 0 to 10 in 0.25 increments. The scores are averaged, weighted and added together to create the PCS.

In theory, there is a maximum score for the PCS which differs from discipline to discipline and it can be calculated as (10*factorSS)+(10*factorTR)+etc; for all PCS categories. In other words, we assume that all judges awarded the skater a 10 for all PCS categories. We multiply the 10 by a factor set in the ISU guidebook and add it together. When we do so, we get the maximum PCS score. And that’s the snatch: there is a definite maximum PCS and it is impossible to exceed it. With newer advances in technology and understanding of the human body, there is theoretically no limit to the TES. In the future, we could see quad axels or maybe it could be possible to see people do 5 revolutions in the air. The point is, as long as skaters continue to push the athletic aspect of the sport, the TES part of the overall score will continue to grow in the future until it plateaus to the outermost limits of the human body. However, at the top echelons of the sport, we’re seeing skaters performing near the limit in terms of the PCS. We saw it with Yuzuru and Patrick and we’re seeing it in the epic rivalry between Tessa & Scott and Meryl & Charlie – their choreography, expressions, transitions, skating skills, timing and interpretation, etc; are as near perfection as they can be according to the judges and because there is a mathematical limit to the PCS, skaters are relying more and more on the athletic aspect to gain points. I think right now, we’re seeing how this sport will progress even though that day has yet to come.

With that aside, here were a few other highlights from that depressing night…

  • Daisuke Takahashi’s LP made me teary. The former Olympic bronze medalist two-footed a few of his jumps in his Beatles’ Medley program, which was meant to be a thank you and goodbye to his fans. In that program, Daisuke showed us for the last time why we love him so much: he is an artiste, capable of transforming the ordinary (or at times, terribly choreographed Morozombie programs) into gorgeous works of art on ice. We’ll miss you terribly, Daisuke. I wish you could skate forever.
  • Denis Ten being a complete spoiler for bronze. If you told me, even last season with his World  silver medal that he would get Olympic bronze, I would’ve told you to lay off the vodka. I’m glad he proved me wrong. His LP was relatively clean and showed us why we made a fuss over him at the beginning of the Olympic cycle.
  • A beautiful recovery from Jeremy Abbott after a hard fall in the SP. He should be really proud of that performance.

Anyways, I’ve written a lot. There was another topic I wanted to write about but I decided to save that for another post since this one is so long. Also, is it bad that I still want to pinch Yuzuru’s cheeks, even though he’s an Olympic champion now?

What did you think of the men’s event? And the various facets of the IJS that is changing the sport? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

~The Rinkside Cafe

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. unidebt
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 10:01:24

    Wonderful blog post, I couldn’t agree agree more. I was so pleased that the judging was fair, to be honest, after Chan’s free, I had my doubts, I thought he would I still be above Hanyu. I imagined Chanflation taking effect immediately, although I felt sorry for Chan, I think the best all round skater won on the night. I’m so happy another person can see the oddities in the marking of the PCS. It’ll be interesting to see how they score the Russian girls, in particular Lipnitskaia over Kim. I had Kim winning although I’m not sure anymore. If she messes up on a jump here and there she may see her title slip. Although if she skates clean, which she knows how to do quite well, then I think the title is hers. It’s not set in stone but I think it’s hers to loose.

    As for the near future, it’ll be interesting to see how vocals will effect skaters’ performances. And I’ve been fascinated with the talent coming out of Russia, although I feel this Olympics marks the end of a golden era, I still think we have a lot to look forward too. I watched a video about whether or not it would be possible for someone to turn 5 revolutions and according to that video the answer was no, unless the person was the size of a pencil haha, I feel it’s a bit premature to say though, the next step should be skaters performing at least most of the jumps as quads. And then females attempting quads. And that’s still yet to happen. And like you pointed out in your analysis of the PCS and the TES, skaters will eventually reach the maximum PCS (unless they change things) and will need to improve the TES to set them apart, but I think the PCS at that level is super demanding and it takes a lot of focus, not a lot of skaters score in the 9 and high 8s, yet.

    And Daisuke!!!
    I almost cried when he performed. The first step sequence he made right in front of the judges was to die for, it was like he was trying to seduce them into loving him. And he got a level4 and GOE+3 from most of the judges.
    Sigh… I wanted him to make the podium so badly. I hope he goes to the Worlds in Japan for just one more skate. I can’t help but wonder why he tried the quad, if he hadn’t he could have been on that podium.
    And for the choreography sequence, Chsq, all the men got level 1, why is that?

    Reply

    • rinksidecafe
      Feb 16, 2014 @ 11:24:33

      The choreography sequence isn’t judged by level, only by GOE, so all competitors get level 1 by default. I think it’s a way to make sure skaters do another step sequence but take the pressure off to make it super difficult to allow their skating to shine.
      Also, where did you find that video about quint jumps? I’ve been looking for the answer to the whether or not they’re possible.

      Reply

  2. Andrea Kobayashi (@AndreaKobayashi)
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 19:52:19

    Great post and in agreement. SP was exciting and Hanyu WOW. LP was kind of a fizzer. The head-to-head produced jitters rather than grit and was sadly underwhelming. Surprised to see Daisuke behind Machida, and a shame Fernandez called it wrong and lost bronze by less than 2 points. But them’s the breaks!! Impressed with Abbott’s resolve and enjoyed very much Brown, Joubert, Ten and Martinez. Hanyu has said in interview that he wants to be the next Plushchenko! Rumour has it Takahashi will be at Worlds in Saitama.

    Reply

    • rinksidecafe
      Feb 16, 2014 @ 20:25:35

      Daisuke!!! ❤ I hope he can win something at Worlds but I'll love him even if he doesn't. He's just a skater that does art, not programs. Do you know which of the Japanese men are going to Worlds other than Daisuke?
      I also agree with your favourites. Abbott, Ten and Martinez were lovely and it was nice seeing Joubert enjoy himself. I'm not a huge fan of Riverdance on ice but I'm glad that he ended the evening with a glowing smile.

      Reply

  3. Trackback: Re: Yuzuru’s Gold – Paradigm Shift or the End of an Era? | The Rinkside Cafe
  4. Andrea Kobayashi (@AndreaKobayashi)
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 04:30:45

    Nothing official yet. JSF will wait until after Olympics I guess. Just rumours on FB, yet I would love to see Takahashi skate one more time in comp. He studied sports psychology and is interested in coaching…we may be seeing him in a different skating role in the future.

    Reply

  5. Trackback: Maybe I Should Start Memorizing the ISU Guidelines… | The Rinkside Cafe
  6. pom
    Feb 27, 2014 @ 06:57:00

    For me as a Daisuke fan, the Sochi event was really bitter, knowing that he had not recovered from his knee injury. But as some of you wrote, his skating was just fantastic and I got so emotional watching his LP… the smile on his face… Lori’s Beatles turned out to be a beautiful program. Who else could have skated the last choreo sequence with that flow, speed and commitment!1

    Reply

  7. Satoko Archer
    Feb 27, 2014 @ 11:17:33

    Hi, this is my first comment to you. I became a big fan of Yuzuru just 2 months ago.
    Since then I watched lots of Youtubes and read blogs, and I find your blogs very informative and interesting. I really enjoy reading your posts. You predicted Yuzuru’s future so early in 2011!!
    Today he flew back to Toronto after only 3-day stay in Japan in order to practice for the World Championship next month held in Japan.
    As for now, Japanese contenders are Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, Daisuke Takahashi, Mao Asada, Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami (same as the Olympics). I am looking forward to seeing Yuzuru’s proper 4S.
    As to jumps, Yuzuru said he wanted to be the first man to jump 4A and other 4s, so he already started practicing these quads jumps which nobody has succeeded. I translated about his interviews in Japan and wrote this (his next challenge) in my blog (http://bowandstrings.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-39.html).
    I am Japanese native and usually write articles in Japanese. When there are something I would like people who don’t understand Japanese but English to know, I write it in English. (so far just 2 articles….)
    Anyway, I am pleased to find that there are lots of Yuzuru’s fans all over the world!

    Reply

  8. Marinehyde
    Feb 28, 2014 @ 03:25:33

    PCS has to be limited as you see what happened at the ladies event…..
    Agree all your comments about chan & Yuzuru‘s olympic performance。Just love Yuzuru,he is so dynamic but before 4A he really needs a perfect LP & solve the stamina issue。last, I would also love to pinch Yuzuru’s cheeks~~Cuite Pie~~

    Reply

    • AT
      Jul 14, 2014 @ 23:54:26

      His stamina issues are do to having Asthma (sp). This is why he is always so exhausted after every performance. Unfortunately this will issue that may never be resolved. Hence I think he is an incredible athlete, besides just being the best skater in the world. Maybe even become the worlds best ever skater, no injuries please 🙂

      Reply

  9. bikolana
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 06:34:18

    the video is not available in our country. haisst.

    Reply

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