Opining on Olympic ladies (part 1): Records, calls, and components

Somehow, we are nearing the end of these Olympics. And though we have seen some amazing performances so far, we aren't done yet. Yesterday's short programs from the women were exciting. As a whole, we've seen better sets of short programs before, but we sure saw some amazing programs, especially with the top five skaters heading into the free skate. Tomorrow's free skates promise to be quite the fight for the podium.

Recap/videos: Ladies short program

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Battle royale

We expected it from the start, and were hyped up for it from the Team Event. Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva - training mates, teammates, friends, and very much rivals in competition - brought it to the biggest stage yesterday. Records fell, first with Medevdeva and then with Zagitova, as they grabbed the top two spots after the short program.

Medvedeva skated cleanly, but her flip-toe and axel were both just a bit tight, certainly done with less ease than what we saw from her in the Team Event. Zagitova, on the other hand, could not have been freer in her skating in the short. And the almost two-point advantage in her base value over Medvedeva's did the trick to vault her into first.

It promises to be an epic showdown tomorrow for the title - Zagitova skates fourth in the final group, with Medvedeva going two skaters after her, knowing exactly how she will need to skate and/or if she will even have a chance to win.

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It really should be a three-way battle for gold right now. But unfortunately, and undeservedly, lost in that conversation was Kaetlyn Osmond, who skated a program that should have been scored closer to first and second. She was third with her own personal best short. And though she trailed in base value because she placed her most difficult elements in the first half, whereas Medvedeva and Zagitova have all of their jumps in the second half for that 10% bonus, the execution of her jumps were stronger than Medvedeva's and there was a case for her components to be higher than both.

Rewarding the present

Speaking of components, that short program event highlighted issues that you can't avoid with the way that the very top skaters get rewarded in grades of execution and components. It tends to be much more egalitarian with skaters who are below the top tier - shaky landings get the proper demerits in execution, for example. But there's something about the luster of the top skaters that blind at least some of the judges when it comes to actually rewarding what they see in front of them.

Kaori Sakamoto comes to mind when you think about components here. Compared to the very top skaters, she has some of the strongest skating skills. Her power is effortless, her ice coverage is big and bold, and her edges are deep and secure. As much as you might be able to say that her interpretation isn't among the very best, what you can't say is that her components deserved to 5-6 points lower than those of the top three and Carolina Kostner. Sakamoto's short was clean and significantly more difficult than Kostner's, yet they are basically in a tie after the short, separated by just 0.03.

Lenient calls

We've seen in PyeongChang that there has been a tendency to be lenient on calls from the technical panels (perhaps with the exception of the Team Even short dance). The short programs yesterday were a perfect example of just how much this panel is giving the skaters the benefit of the doubt.

Given another technical panel, you could have seen three underrotations for Maria Sotskova instead of one, two underrotations (on the lutz and toe) for Satoko Miyahara instead of none, and an underrotation on the triple toe for Dabin Choi. At least the calls are consistent (I guess?).

A revision

A quick note - Elizabet Tursynbaeva's short program had a revised score from the unofficial scores that were posted. Her triple salchow-triple toe was placed in the second half of her program but originally didn't get the bonus. Her score was revised from 57.95 to 58.82, though her 15th-place standing remained the same.