Ladies’ Olympic Figure Skating RECAP

Although women’s figure skating started off its Olympic season in a straight forward, undramatic manner, that trend did not continue during the actual Olympic competitions.

The top four women at the US Championships. Left to right: Marai Nagasu (silver), Bradie Tennell (gold), Karen Chen (bronze), and Ashley Wagner (pewter; fourth).

The Olympic team is determined after the United States Figure Skating Association’s National Championships: typically consisting of the top three scorers at that event, but it’s not that straight forward all of the time. Four years ago, during the 2014 Olympic season, the US ladies bronze medalist, Marai Nagasu was replaced on the Olympic team with Ashley Wagner, who finished behind her at the US Championships, in fourth place. During this year’s US Championships, Bradie Tennell received gold, Marai Nagasu achieved silver, and Karen Chen claimed bronze. Ashley Wagner, again, finished fourth. There was talk about a similar situation occurring again, with one of the medalists being removed from the Olympic team in order to make room for Wagner, but that never happened. The team consisted of the three medalists, and they went to the Olympics without great upset.

And everything started off very well. The first competition in Olympic figure skating was the team competition; two men, two women, two ice dancers, and our sole pairs team all perform, and their scores were compiled and compared to the teams from other countries.

Marai Nagasu after landing her triple axel and setting the record |

The most amazing part of that competition was during Nagasu’s long program. She had one triple axel jump planned. Nagasu was the only woman in this year’s Olympics to have a triple axel planned, and if she landed it, she would become the first American woman to successfully perform one on Olympic ice. It is the hardest jump currently performed in women’s figure skating. Nagasu landed the triple axel with pride, landing herself a record, as well. Between her hard work, and the hard work of all of her team members, the US team clinched the bronze medal for the team competition.

Sadly, this triumphant start to the games did not continue into the ladies’ singles competition.

After the short program, Nagasu, Chen, and Tennell placed 10th, 11th, and 12th, respectively. Their placement after the first round was the worst in women’s firgure skating Olympic history.

Tennell was America’s favorite going into the competition, and she was known for sticking every single jump. She hadn’t fallen all season. However, her short program showed a diffferent side of her, one that seemed to be cracking under the pressure. She fell on the second jump in her combination, despite her reputation.

Chen did not perform much better. She remained standing the entire time, but she was unable to complete a combination due to her stepping out of it after the first jump. She tried to add the second jump back into her program afterwards, but she was only able to add a double, compared to the original triple.

Marai Nagasu falling on the landing of her triple axel in her short program |

Nagasu’s performance was the greatest let down, even though she managed to score the highest out of the three. She fell on her triple axel this time, the same jump that earned her a record during the team competition. The fall was devastating to fans, but Nagasu did not seem too bothered by it, seeming ultimately happy with the fact that she landed it once.

This held true through to the long program, too. Nagasu’s attempt at the triple axel was unsuccessful again. This time, in her attempt at 3.5 revolutions, she was only able to complete a waltz jump, which is only .5 revolutions. She lost major points for this, due to the drastic change in the jump’s base value. Later in her program, she doubled out of a jump that was meant to be a triple, again, losing points that she didn’t have to lose in the first place.

But Nagasu kept a smile on her face all throughout her performance, almost as if she didn’t care, which is surprsing at an Olympic level. There was so much on the line! How could she not care?

My cousin, Mark Donellan, is a figure skating expert, and he had some commentary of his own. He said, “Marai Nagasu only took the team event seriously . She’s been overheard saying that when the team event was over, she wanted to go home. So she really didn’t take the individual event very seriously at all. Which is sad, because people would’ve done anything to be in her position.”

Bradie Tennell stumbling during her long program |

And before Chen even started her long program, Donellan predicted the happenings of her program. He said, “Karen Chen will be a disaster,” and it almost seemed like he would be wrong. The first half of her performance was surprisingly good. However, she is a slow turner, so when she does her jumps, she struggles to complete each jump’s full rotation. In the second half of her performance, this caught up with her, causing her to face harsh deductions for under rotations, and to even fall multiple times. After her perofrmance, Donellan said, “Karen Chen basically performed the same that she’s been doing all season, so I’m still confused as to why we sent her. She skated exactly as she’s been doing in the past.” She has been skating inconsistently, and these falls were no surprise to figure skating fans.

Tennell’s long program was supposed to be her redemption. Americans thought she was going to medal, but the girl who had been known for perfection had been skating uncharacteristically poor throughout the Olympics. Like Chen, Tennell started off her program strong. However, she stumbled on two of her landings, ensuring that she would not be able to close the point gap in order to make it onto the podium.

Olympic results |

Donellan sees the potential in Tennell, though. He commented, “I feel as if she’s brand-new, and she actually performed very well under the circumstances. She has barely any international experience at all.” He ackowledges the pressure that she was under; Tennell was expected to uphold her perfectly clean season, even in an environment like the Olympics. Donellan believes that she will score much better at the upcoming World Championships, with this experience now under her belt.

At the end of it all, Tennell placed 9th, Nagasu placed 10th, and Chen placed 11th, with Tennell almost 30 points out of medal position, and almost 40 points out of first place. The American women have not scored so poorly in decades. The US is not focusing enough on advanced and consistent jumps, failing to keep up with the progression of the sport, world wide. In Russia, there are junior girls — girls who will soon become seniors — who can complete quadruple jumps. This sport is changing, can the American women keep up?

Bradie Tennell upset over her disappointing scores |

Donellan agrees that something has to change, but he does not think that the US is completely out of the picture for the future. He said, “In a way, the United States women did exactly as they were supposed to do. So all that being said, I don’t think the problem is a lack of training, I think it’s a lack of mental toughness. I think, in the future, Bradie will achieve that, but I think it’s too late for Karen Chen and Marai Nagasu.”

The Olympics are almost over, but the great highs and lows of each event will be remembered long past this year. I cannot wait until the next Olympics in the summer of 2020, and, after that, the Winter Olympics in 2022! Until then, check out the article that I wrote about the men’s event: !