Opining on Olympic pairs (part 1): Pair skating has never been better

One thing that resonated throughout the pairs short program today was just how deep and amazing the pairs field is. Pairs who finished outside the top 10 could've very well been top 6 or 7 at any other Olympics. Qualifying to the free skate itself was a feat, with familiar names like Cheng Peng/Yang Jin not making it because of mistakes. But when it was all said and done, 16 pairs made their way to the free, which takes place tomorrow.

Recap/Videos: Pairs short program

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The top four are (almost) as expected
It's the four pairs most picked to be in the final group tomorrow, but the order was certainly not what was expected. It was looking like it would be a two-way race for the Olympic gold - Wenjing Sui/Cong Han did their job, delivering a career-best emotional short program that put them in the lead going into the free.

But the other spot in the top two did not go to Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot, with Massot making a major error in doubling his solo triple salchow. He looked absolutely shell-shocked after the program. And if they are to make a run for the gold at Savchenko's fifth Olympics - she's won two bronze medals - they will need to somehow make up a 5 1/2-point deficit. It's not within their control; they will need mistakes from the top two.

It was Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov who made the leap to second with a flawless and also personal best short. And fresh off their Olympic team gold, Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford are sandwiched between in third - they weren't flawless, but they got the job done.

Marchei/Hotarek continue to shine
After an incredible showing in the Team Event free skate, Valentina Marchei/Ondrej Hotarek did it again. Another clean skate and another personal best - this time to put them in seventh after the short by just two points from the podium. It's been a brilliant 2018 so far for them. If they can carry that momentum and turn in another flawless, crowd-pleasing skate, a top five finish is very much within reach.

Redemption from the Team Event
A few pairs made some adjustments from the Team Event for some redemption. Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang and Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres rediscovered their form after struggling with their side-by-sides in the Team Event short program. And even more than that, they've positioned themselves to have fighting shot at the podium.

Similarly, Marchei/Hotarek's teammates, Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise, skated the best short program of their lives by far. It was not only clean, but the entire program had more flow and clarity than anything they have ever delivered. With third through ninth separated by fewer than three points, it's going to be a battle in the free skate. 

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North Koreans make a splash
A lot of eyes were on the North Koreans (also see: cheering squad). Tae Ok Ryom/Ju Sik Kim continue to improve and impress. They skated a fantastic short today with a personal best by a few points. Nowhere better than at the Olympics for that.

What's more, I learned today that there are at least five other pairs in North Korea. Intriguing.