My short program preview went through a lot of scenarios and what-ifs. My free skate preview is not short on those either, except we’ve narrowed it down to five teams who make it in. If nothing completely bizarre takes place, the most likely scenarios have Canada, OAR, and the US in some order on the podium. But unlike the short program, where the uncertainly in the pairs’ event could be the decider for the five who make it to the free, the free skate may very well come down to the men’s event.
Remember, the free skate has less potential for volatility in standings than the short, because the worst you can finish is 5th with 6 points, whereas the worst you can finish in the short is 10th with 1 point.
It is looking like a race for gold between Canada and OAR, though. How to choose??
Olympic Team Event predictions
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GOLD Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR)
It will likely be a close race for the gold after the short program, so the free skate starts becoming a head-to-head in each discipline - the strategy for both teams will be to start their strongest skaters. Alina Zagitova has been reliable in the free all season, so I’d imagine they will sub her in to make sure Evgenia Medvedeva doesn’t peak too soon (or vice versa if Zagitova does the short). OAR has the advantage over Canada for ladies, Canada has the advantage in dance, and then it’ll be a toss-up for the men and pairs. For the pairs, they will likely depend on Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov again, especially with Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov not here. But you look at the men, Mikhail Kolyada has been anywhere and everywhere in consistency for the free - the intrigue will happen there.
With Gabrielle Daleman skating the free skate of her life at Canadians and Kaetlyn Osmond not having the consistency in her free skate, I’d imagine Daleman gets the free skate spot. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir will likely be up for the free dance, especially knowing that they need to put some room between them and Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev. It will be Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford for pairs, and how they fare against Tarasova/Morozov (or potentially Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert?) will say a lot about Canada’s medal. But strangely enough, the biggest liability for Canada will likely be Patrick Chan’s free skate. He has been inconsistent there this season, even at Canadians a month ago. He could finish anywhere from first to fourth, which could be a significant swing in team points.
BRONZE United States
A lot of things have to fall into place for the U.S. to really have a shot at the gold or silver. The Americans are underdogs to at least OAR in ladies, at least Canada in dance, and both Canada and OAR in pairs. So the math doesn’t add up unless mistakes happen left and right with the other teams. The only way I see the U.S. using Nathan Chen in the free skate (assuming they start him in the short) has a realistic shot at team gold (i.e., if the U.S. is actually leading after the short). Otherwise, it makes sense to sub in someone in the men’s free to make sure Chen isn’t overworked before the men’s individual event. The other substitution is up for grabs, though the greater equivalence in American ice dance may be what swings the substitution there.
Much like the U.S., Japan will be looking to strategize and optimize for team and individual medals. There are few scenarios in which Japan has a realistic shot at a medal in the Team Event, so unless they are somehow super close to the U.S. after the short, they will opt to sub in Keiji Tanaka for the free skate to rest Shoma Uno. Same goes for Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto - assuming that Miyahara starts the short, Sakamoto will be in for the free.
Based on what we've seen in practices so far this week, Italy now looks to be the clear favorite for the fifth spot in the free skate. With Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, and Boyang Jin not in practice, it's likely that they - their countries' biggest threats for individual medals - will not be in the Team Event.
Italy will be competitive for fourth place in their fight with Japan. They have three very strong disciplines, with the men's event being their weakness. Even though Matteo Rizzo has made strides this season and has developed a reliable consistency, he doesn't yet have the difficulty or components to