Figure skating arguably embodies the spirit of the Winter Olympics better than any sport. For three years and 50 weeks, only the most diehard fans pay it any mind; it's nearly as obscure as non-Olympic curling. And, yet, during the two-week period, perhaps no event draws a more wide-ranging or captivated audience.
Hockey fans are hockey fans. Curling observers are just confused. And I'm still not entirely sure luge is safe for anyone.
But figure skating?
Men, women and children love it. Sure, you'll have MACHO BROS who say they only watch it FOR THE CHICKS, MAN but then you'll see their faces captivated by the majesty, a slow tear will roll down their face and they'll suddenly start spilling out deep, dark childhood secrets.
Figure skating will do that to you, man.
It will also entertain and astound the living hell out of any average human being. I don't know about you, but I'm not nearly flexible enough to lift my leg and cock it behind my ear. Nor am I strong enough to hold up another human being while keeping my balance, not dropping the other person and skating around with grace. Ice skating by itself is an adventure, let alone any of that nonsense.
Luckily, there are something called Olympic athletes in Sochi there to astound and entertain. There are roughly eight thousand figure skating events over the next couple weeks (OK, there are 14), and you'll have the chance to watch them all if you play your cards right.
Here's a look at the complete schedule for every event in Russia.
2014 Olympic Figure Skating Schedule
|Date||Time (ET)||Event||Stream||TV (Subject to Delay)|
|Feb. 8||9:30 a.m.||Team—Short Dance||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 8||11:10 a.m.||Team—Ladies Short||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 8||1:05 p.m.||Team—Pair Free||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 9||10 a.m.||Team—Men Free||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 9||11:05 a.m.||Team—Ladies Free||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 9||12:10 p.m.||Team—Free Dance||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 11||10 a.m.||Pairs—Short Program||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 12||10:45 a.m.||Pairs—Free Skating||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 13||10 a.m.||Men—Short Program||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 14||10 a.m.||Men—Free Skating||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 16||10 a.m.||Ice Dance—Short Dance||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 17||10 a.m.||Ice Dance—Free Dance||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 19||10 a.m.||Ladies—Short Program||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
|Feb. 20||10 a.m.||Ladies—Free Skating||NBC Sports Live Extra||NBC|
Gold Medal Predictions
Team Skating: Russia
This isn't necessarily fair, if only because we already have a day in the books that help point to Russia as an overwhelming favorite.
The Russians scored 19 points in the mixed short program and men's short program on Thursday, thanks to a second-place finish by Yevgeny Plushenko and a victory for Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov in the day's capping event.
Russia currently holds a two-point lead in the overall standings over Canada. The two favored countries are near virtual locks to advance to the free-skate competition. For those uninitiated, the first round of team skating is a four-event elimination round, where only the five highest cumulative countries advance to the medal-winning free skate.
Plushenko, a three-time Olympic medalist, was a bit of a surprise in the men's free skate. At age 31, few expected him to have such a near-flawless run. His score of 91.39 was only eclipsed by Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, whose 97.98 was enough to prove he's going to be a force in Sochi despite his young age.
There are two more events, women's short program and ice dancing, remaining. However, it's clear from the energy that came out of the building Thursday night that these Russian skaters are feeling the camaraderie.
The home country may not win all of the individual gold medals. I would just be surprised if they didn't win one for the home crowd as a country.
Silver: Canada; Bronze: United States
Pairs: Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (Russia)
After what we saw in Thursday's team short program, it's almost impossible to go in any other direction. Volosozhar and Trankov were among the favorites for gold coming into Sochi, and they did nothing but obliterate the competition in their first try.
The Russian pair scored an 83.98 for their program. For those uninitiated, that may seem like kind of a low score. Didn't we just have two dudes in the 90s during singles skating on the men's side?
Well, yes. But keep in mind that skating with two people is more difficult than one; one might say it's twice as hard. (Audible gasp in the room.)
When you look at the other scores, it's apparent just how brilliantly Volosozhar and Trankov performed. They scored more than 10 points higher than second-place Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and were comfortably ahead of the rest of the pack.
Silver: Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, Germany; Bronze: Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, Russia
Men: Patrick Chan (Canada)
There's a temptation here to go with Hanyu. The Japanese skater has all the makings of a great Olympic story. At age 19, he's not expected to win gold just yet—probably not until the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang. By then, he'll be 23 and have a full understanding of what it means to be an Olympian.
Then again, did you watch him skate on Thursday? It was marvelous. The flaws in his routine were nit-picky at best, to the point you watched and just marveled at the way he combined flair with precision and never felt the pressure.
I understand the temptation. I really do. Patrick Chan just seems like he's the Canadian Hanyu, only with that one Olympiad under his belt to help buoy his confidence. Chan finished fifth in the men's program in 2010, and he's been on a tear ever since.
The 23-year-old has won the World Championships three years running, won the 2011-12 Four Continents event and has been the No. 1 skater in the world since 2012.
There are overwhelming favorites—and then there is Patrick Chan. He finished in third place in the team short program, a bit of a disappointment, but it was obvious at certain points Chan was just trying to do enough to keep Canada in the gold-medal running.
Hanyu will compete, as will Spain's Javier Fernandez, and I guess you can't count out Plushenko at this point. But picking against Chan isn't a good idea.
Silver: Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan; Bronze: Javier Fernandez, Spain
Ice Dancing: Meryl Davis and Charlie White (United States)
This comes down to two pairs and two pairs only. Davis and White and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have been the monoliths of ice dancing for years, the one place where North America knows it will walk away with medals in gold and silver. Virtue and Moir captured gold at the 2010 Olympic Games, but just behind them were Davis and White.
Going back to the 2010 World Championships, the pairs have been tag-teaming one another in each year. One gets gold one year, the other gets it the next. It's as if they're toying with the rest of the world, or just merely motivated by failure.
If that's the case, it depends on which way you want to look at this. If the rivals are trading off Olympiads like they do World Championships, Davis and White should win. If they're merely trading off big-time dancing events, Davis and White's world title a year ago should bring the pendulum swinging in the Canadians' direction.
There's really no guaranteed right answer, because both are so head and shoulders above the competition that it's hard to go wrong either way.
But I'm going with the Americans, if only to fulfill the prophecy of these two pairs being some secret double-agent tag team hoarding all the medals.
That fake scenario makes me happiest.
Silver:Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Canada; Bronze: Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, Italy
Women: Kim Yu-Na (South Korea)
One of the highest-profile events of the entire Winter Olympics, the women's free skate event should be as competitive if not more so than it was four years ago. Kim Yu-Na won her first gold medal in Vancouver at age 19, which most expected to set off a jet-setting run of world dominance.
Only that didn't quite happen.
Yu-Na sat out the entire 2011-12 season for rest, was almost entirely absent in 2012-13 except in events where she needed qualification points and has generally been an enigma ever since capturing the gold. She was recently suffering from a foot injury that kept her out of the Grand Prix and shrouded her status for Sochi in mystery.
You would assume, then, that folks are starting to get wary of her medal chances.
The grace and form that Yu-Na showed last March at the World Championships, in which she obliterated the field by more than 20 points, still sticks enough in people's minds to make her a contender. There is no better female skater in the world than Yu-Na when she's fully healthy and motivated, which most of these athletes in Sochi probably are at this point.
Japan's Mao Asada will give chase as she did two years ago, and there is typically always one surprise in this event who comes in and captures hearts, but I checked the program. Kim Yu-Na is planning to skate. Let's all wrap it up now.
Silver: Mao Asada, Japan; Bronze: Julia Lipnitskaia, Russia
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