If you're like me, you're still trying to recover from the spectacular second day of the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. Looking back at it, I can say that this was absolutely the finest set of ladies' short programs I've ever witnessed. Ten of the final 11 short programs were clean or near-clean, which is that much more incredible given how deep ladies skating is this season. It was Gracie Gold who became the first American woman to win the short program at Worlds since Mirai Nagasu did it in 2010.
Of the 38 women in the competition, 30 planned triple-triples in the short. Whereas it used to be triple toe-triple toe all the time, now the more difficult combinations are much more common. And so when so many of the women deliver clean programs and are great all-around skaters, the competition steps up to a whole new level.
Base values tell the story
The top of the standings is packed, and it was interesting to see the scores and where the favorites landed. Gold is 2 1/2 points ahead of the rest of the field, thanks to getting both the highest TES and the highest PCS of the bunch. Second through fourth are separated by only 0.72, with fifth and sixth fewer than three points behind.
Looking at the base values, it becomes much clearer why Evgenia Medvedeva and Elena Radionova are still very much in the mix even though they each made one minor mistake, while Gold, Anna Pogorilaya, and Ashley Wagner all skated cleanly. Medvedeva's back-loaded strategy gave her the highest base value, and Radionova maxed out her jumps with a lutz-toe and solo flip, giving her the second highest base value. Both of them also maxed out their levels, which gave them the advantage over Gold and Wagner, both of whom had one level 3 element.
Wagner had an extra disadvantage of having slightly easier jump content than the four of the top six, with no lutz in the short. And though she has the same jump difficult as Medvedeva does, Medvedeva's backloading gave her the edge. An additional wrinkle is the fact that she changed her steps into her solo triple loop, which now breaks the continuity of that sequence (before, she launched into her loop with running three-turns), and that was reflected in some of the GOEs from the judges who take a harder line on it. So while she brought down the home crowd and got the second highest component marks, she sits in fourth by just a tad.
Component surprises and placement surprises
While the fact that it was the two American women who grabbed the highest PCS was not conventional wisdom coming in, both brought higher energy and greater performance quality to their short programs than they ever have. It was no doubt bolstered by the electric home crowd support. The biggest surprise was Pogorilaya, who emerged as the Russian skater to get the highest components. It's quite the coup for her, as she came in as somewhat of an underdog to her more decorated teammates.
Worlds veterans Mae Berenice Meite and Joshi Helgesson both failed to reach the top 24 and qualify for the free skate. Less disappointingly, three-time World champion Mao Asada could not muster up a clean triple axel, her differentiating jump, and goes into the free skate in ninth with an outside chance for the podium.
French wins second, Americans 2-3
The free dance followed the ladies' short program, and the top teams delivered personal best after personal best in a stunning final two groups. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron were a notch above everyone else, breaking Meryl Davis/Charlie White's free dance record score to become the first dance team to win back-to-back titles since 2007. Madison Chock/Evan Bates returned to the podium and added a bronze to their silver last year.
The notable jump this season was by U.S. champs Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, who steadily improved and transformed themselves back into World medalists. After winning the bronze in their first Worlds in 2011, they missed the podium for the past four Worlds. No ice dance team in the history of the World Championships has ever gone that long between podium finishes.
This podium sets up an interesting next season, one before the next Olympic Games. Will Papadakis/Cizeron experiment with a different style, since their last two free dances have evoked similar moods? Can the Shibutanis continue to build after this re-breakthrough season? How will Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir's return affect the standing of Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje, who are now a much stronger dance team than they were the last time Virtue/Moir competed?
But before any of that happens, we have two more days of Worlds left.