Who will stand on the podiums in Sochi?Icenetwork contributors weigh in with their Olympic predictions
Icenetwork asked its several of its contributors who they thought would come home with hardware from the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Some of their predictions may surprise you.
1. Mao Asada (Japan) - The triple Axel gives her an added weapon on top of her strong technique and high components.
2. Julia Lipnitskaia (Russia) - She has added much to the artistic part of her skating and is able to take any medal in Sochi, including gold.
3. Yu-Na Kim (Korea) or Carolina Kostner (Italy) - Kim's performance at the 2013 World Championships was not just a comeback -- it was an unconditional and undisputable victory. The Italian also has a good chance, especially after returning to her free skate from last season ("Bolero"), which, in the instance of a stable and inspired performance, could bring her a medal.
1. Patrick Chan (Canada) - If he skates like he did at the Parisian Grand Prix, he'll get the gold medal.
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan) - He is a leader of modern men's skating, with a great technical and artistic arsenal.
3. Daisuke Takahashi (Japan) - Daisuke has problems with stability, but when he's 100 percent "on," he can ascend to high places.
1. Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov (Russia) - The periodic nervousness of Trankov at major events could play a negative role in Sochi.
2. Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy (Germany) - This team has sacrificed a lot in recent years, most notably in the finance department (compared to the Russians, who get full support from the state). Here we have a rivalry between self-made and state-made concepts.
3. Qing Pang/Jian Tong (China) - We all know how powerful Chinese pairs are when they compete on the Olympic stage.
1. Meryl Davis/Charlie White (USA) - The results speak for themselves.
2. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (Canada) - The Vancouver Olympic champions are still very strong, but their American competitors are stronger this season.
3. Nathalie Péchalat/Fabian Bourzat (France) - Sochi will be a culmination for this French team, and in this decisive moment, Pechalat/Bourzat can be stronger than their main rivals, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (Russia).
3. United States
1. Kim has the steady nerves, consistent triple Lutz-triple toe combination and golden aura to bring her second Olympic title home to Korea.
2. Russian wunderkind Lipnitskaia's sterling programs at the 2014 European Figure Skating Championships made a believer of me. Skating on home ice will help the 15-year-old.
3. Something surprising always happens. I'm betting the confident, happy Gracie Gold (United States) we saw win the U.S. crown in Boston takes advantage of mistakes from others to land on the podium.
1. My gut tells me three-time world champion Chan will stay on his feet and ride the event's highest program component scores (PCS) to a well-deserved Olympic gold medal, Canada's first for a male skater.
2. Chan's biggest challenge will come from Japan's Hanyu, who out-scored the Canadian in the free skate at the Grand Prix Final even though he fell on a quad.
3. Javier Fernández (Spain) doesn't quite get the same respect from judges in terms of PCS, but if the top two guys falter, the Spaniard will be there technically and could finish higher on the podium.
1. When Volosozhar and Trankov skate clean or near-clean, they are virtually unbeatable. Familiarity with the Sochi rink, where they have trained for months, helps steady the volatile Trankov. Russia gets gold.
2. Four-time world champion Germans Savchenko and Szolkowy will skate well but just miss their long-coveted prize. Her health is a question mark.
3. Another surprise. Other top teams will trip up in the short program, opening the door for Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, the Canadian silver medalists.
1. Davis and White's consistent excellence of execution -- plus two programs that fit like velvet gloves -- will deliver a first-ever U.S. Olympic ice dance gold.
2. Virtue and Moir will skate strong, compelling programs, but the Canadian Olympic champions will be edged in a close decision.
3. Péchalat and Bourzat have more maturity than their Russian rivals. Although all three top candidates for bronze are a bit mistake prone, if the French skaters hold their nerves in check, they will win bronze.
1. Evgeni Plushenko has just enough left in the tank to help propel Russia to the first-ever Olympic team gold medal.
2. Strong pairs performances are the key to silver for Canada.
3. Meryl Davis and Charlie White lead the U.S. to bronze.
3. Adelina Sotnikova (Russia)
5. Ashley Wagner (United States)
The "gliders" may still win over the "screwdrivers." In that respect, Yu-Na should remain the queen. Sotnikova may have "her" night. If so, the rankings will be reversed.
3. Fernández/Jeremy Abbott (United States)
Components are given forever, it seems, when the elements may or may not be there. Hence the proposed rankings.
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (Canada)
If there are none of Trankov's "surprises," they have proven the strongest.
2. Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov (Russia)
Yes, surprise. The Russians will do their utmost to have one team on the podium. If Ilinykh and Katsalapov skate as they can, they can be in front of Virtue and Moir. Although the latter's natural skating skills are higher than the Russians', the Russians are better in performance, choreography and interpretation.
4. United States
Russia should be impossible to beat. Canada is so strong. And Italy will gather as one team, with very brilliant entries in three categories.
Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins
1. Lipnitskaia has a slight technical edge, and she has the momentum after her win at Europeans. She's 15, which makes her less vulnerable to pressure. And she's got the home-ice advantage.
2. We're sure Kim will skate beautifully, but possibly not perfectly.
3. Tough to pick ... Gold.
1, 2. We agree on the top two but not the order. Sarah thinks Hanyu will win, but Drew gives the gold to Chan.
3. Fernández, but there could be a big surprise on the podium like there was at worlds last year.
1. Volosozhar/Trankov - Their problems at Europeans were an anomaly, and they still won. They're miles above the field.
3. Drew picks Duhamel and Radford. Sarah has a hunch it wil be Pang and Tong.
1. Davis/White - It seems to be their time, and they couldn't be skating better.
1. United States
If Kim skates well, she is superior. But let's wait and see if she has the nerves.
If Hanyu and Chan both skate well, it might be a close decision. But I expect Chan to make a mistake or two.
Volosozhar and Trankov have the home advantage and were the best in the last 12 months, even if they had bad nerves in Budapest.
Davis and White skate a bit faster and make fewer mistakes than Virtue and Moir; therefore, I expect them in the gold position. Both couples would merit a gold medal, but there is only one.
Canada has two gold medal contenders with Chan, and Virtue and Moir, two strong pairs and a lady who might also not be far from the medals. The U.S. has only a gold-medal contender in ice dance, ladies and men who are not favorites for a top medal and pairs who are out of the medal picture.
Reasoning: Kim certainly is the heavy favorite and could very well leave Sochi with her second Olympic gold medal, but I have a feeling that things won't be as easy this time around. Lipnitskaia will have the home crowd on her side, and I have not seen anyone with her toughness in a long time. She looked great at Europeans and was the highlight for me when I was at Skate Canada. Asada, I am sure, will go for the triple Axel, but I am not sure that will be enough for Olympic gold. If Lipnitskaia wins, she would be the first Russian woman to win an Olympic gold medal, and that would be huge in Sochi.
Reasoning: So, Chan didn't have the best showing at Canadian nationals earlier this month. I still believe that if he skates as well as he can (his short program is absolutely brilliant when he does just that), Canada will finally have a men's Olympic gold medalist in figure skating. He is the best pure skater in the event and should win, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will. Hanyu will be Chan's biggest threat for the gold as he won the Grand Prix Final and the national title in Japan, which is an Olympic competition in and of itself. Fernández is a delightful skater and should be Spain's first male skater to reach the Olympic podium. His victory at Europeans might be a message to the skating world that he is peaking at just the right time.
Gold: Volosozhar and Trankov
Silver: Savchenko and Szolkowy
Bronze: Pang and Tong
Reasoning: A little more than a month ago, the Russians would have been a lock to win the gold medal in Sochi. They've shown they aren't as invincible as they once were, finishing second to the Germans with a rare, flawed performance at the Grand Prix Final and placing second in the free skate at the European championships earlier this month ... but they are still the team to beat. The Germans withdrew from Europeans as Savchenko had an infection. If healthy, this team is one of the more eccentric and exciting to watch and should be a podium finisher. Pang and Tong are the 2010 Olympic silver medalists, and although they have not medaled at worlds the past two years, they placed third at the Grand Prix Final and could earn a podium finish again in Sochi.
A team representing Russia (or the Soviet Union/Unified Team) won the Olympic gold medal every year from 1964 to 2006. No Russian team was on the podium in Vancouver, and the Russians are doing everything to return to the top in Sochi.
Gold: Davis and White
Silver: Virtue and Moir
Bronze: Cappellini and Lanotte
Reasoning: Davis and White have not lost a competition since 2012 and, perhaps more importantly, have not lost to their training mates and rivals, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, in the last four meetings between these teams. The Americans and Canadians are clearly the cream of the field, but Davis and White have been so consistently good, they will be tough to beat. Should Davis and White come out on top, they would be the first U.S. team to win the Olympic ice dancing title. The bronze medal is up for grabs, but the Italians looked fantastic in winning the European championships. The last Italian ice dancing team to medal at the Olympics was Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio, who finished third in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Bronze: United States
Reasoning: Russia is the strongest team all around, and Evgeni Plushenko, an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Olympic silver medalist, is going to do everything in his power to win another gold in his home country. The men had been considered Russia's weak link, but with Plushenko in the mix, the host country is a gold-medal threat. Canada is especially strong in the men's category, with Chan leading the way, and Virtue and Moir will give the Canadians valuable points in ice dancing. The Canadians also have two strong pairs teams. Its weakest link is Kaetlyn Osmond, who won her second national title but has battled injuries this season. As for the Americans, they will lean on Davis and White, who are in a class of their own; Abbott, who looked fantastic in the short program at the U.S. championships; Jason Brown, who could hold his own even without a quad if he is selected to compete in the free skate; and Gracie Gold, who was solid in both her short and free skate programs in Boston.
1. Kim 3, Lipnitskaia 3, Asada 1
2. Kim 3, Lipnitskaia 3, Asada 1
3. Gold 4, Asada 1, Sotnikova 1, Kim 0.5, Kostner 0.5
1. Chan 5, Hanyu 2
2. Hanyu 5, Chan 2
3. Fernández 5.5, Takahashi 1, Abbott 0.5
1. Volosozhar/Trankov 7
2. Savchenko/Szolkowy 7
3. Pang/Tong 4, Duhamel/Radford 2, Moore-Towers/Moscovitch 1
1. Davis/White 7
2. Virtue/Moir 6, Ilinykh/Katsalapov 1
3. Péchalat/Bourzat 4, Bobrova/Soloviev 1, Cappellini/Lanotte 1, Virtue/Moir 1
1. Russia 4, United States 2, Canada 1
2. Canada 4, Russia 3
3. United States 4, Canada 2, Italy 1
1. Kim, 15.5 points
2. Lipnitskaia, 15 points
3. Asada, 6 points
1. Chan, 19 points
2. Hanyu, 16 points
3. Fernández, 5.5 points
1. Volosozhar/Trankov, 21 points
2. Savchenko/Szolkowy, 14 points
3. Pang/Tong, 4 points
1. Davis/White, 21 points
2. Virtue/Moir, 13 points
3. Péchalat/Bourzat, 4 points
1. Russia, 18 points
2. Canada, 13 points
3. United States, 10 points
(First-place predictions were three points, second-place predictions two points and third-place predictions one point.)