Borscht belts: Weaver, Poje going for the bronzeChock, Bates alter lift; Martin shears curls; Who's 'Plyushchenko'?
Most everybody thinks Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, will battle each other for ice dance gold in Sochi.
That leaves one medal up for grabs and a host of teams -- including Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat of France; Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dimitri Soloviev, and Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov; and Anna Cappellini and Luna Lanotte of Italy -- fighting for it.
The battle heated up last month, when both Péchalat and Bourzat, and Bobrova and Soloviev, elected to skip the 2014 European Figure Skating Championships. The French spent time retooling their short dance, while the Russians returned to last season's free dance. In their absence, the Italians prevailed, with Ilinykh and Katsalapov placing a close second.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who won their fourth Canadian silver medal behind Virtue and Moir last month, think their chances are at least as good as any of the others.
"Absolutely, we are fighting for a medal," Weaver, 24, said after Wednesday afternoon's practice. "We've worked our butts off. We deserve to be ranked among the top teams. We feel equal to the challenge, and we're excited to be on Olympic ice."
Pasquale Camerlengo, who coaches the couple at the Detroit Skating Club (DSC), agreed.
"The chances for each [of the teams] is pretty equal, depending on the performance of the day," he said. "Kaitlyn and Andrew are certainly among the teams with a chance for a medal.
"There have been absolutely no changes to their programs since Canadians, just regular, intense practices right up before we left Detroit. Our plan was to taper off a little after Canadians and then build back up for Sochi."
Weaver credited Camerlengo and his wife, two-time world ice dance champion Anjelika Krylova, with whipping them into the best shape of their lives.
"Anjelika is a benevolent dictator, and she has pushed us very, very hard," she said. "We're grateful now and we're ready."
Their training partners at DSC, Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, won bronze at the Canadian championships last month and arrive in Sochi on Thursday.
"It's definitely exciting to be able to share experiences with another team we're close with," Poje, 26, said. "This is the first Olympics for both of us, and we've kind of talked things through with them."
"They've worked like crazy people, and they really push us in practice," Weaver said. "They earned their spot in Sochi, every point of it."
Shpilband gives Chock, Bates a lift
U.S. ice dance silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates and their coach, Igor Shpilband, tinkered a bit with the team's free dance to Les Misérables.
"[We changed] the last lift in our program, the choreographed lift," Bates, 24, said. "We did it after nationals, just to keep things fresh and exciting. We're excited to debut it here at the Olympics. It's a little special to us. ... We feel like it fits the music better, fits the story better."
This is Bates' second trip to the Olympics; he and former partner Emily Samuelson placed 11th in 2010.
"Evan has told me that, whatever you're expecting, it's going to be a 100 times better than that, and it has been," Chock, 21, said.
Being an Olympic veteran hasn't dimmed Bates' awe of the occasion.
"I feel just as excited as I was four years ago," he said. "I feel like a first-timer again."
Martin gets buzzed
As most everyone does before leaving for the Games, Bobby Martin got his pre-Olympics haircut. His barber, however, may have taken a little too much off the top.
Martin is sporting a 'do that is quite a bit shorter than usual, something that did not go unnoticed by his skaters and, in particular, Marissa Castelli.
"When he walked into the rink, I didn't know who he was," Castelli said. "It was like in that movie Castaway, where's he's all scruffy and all of sudden he shaves and looks like he lost 10 pounds. We were like, 'Is that Bobby?'"
Indeed, it was Bobby, albeit a less hirsute version.
Thankfully, the Skating Club of Boston coach is becoming more and more recognizable with each passing day.
Castelli said, "The curls are coming back; before, it was literally flat."
What's in a name?
There's a name in the starting order for the men's team event that looks vaguely familiar: Evgeny Plyushchenko.
We say vaguely because we've never seen Evgeni Plushenko's name spelled like that. The "y" at the end of "Evgeny" represents the traditional Russian spelling of that name, so we'll let that go, but there are quite a few extra letters crammed into that surname.
As the usually bombastic skater left the ice after his practice session Wednesday, he announced to the assembled media, "Everything's good. We'll see you tomorrow," but didn't actually stop to talk to anybody.
To this point at least, Plushenko -- as we'll continue to call him -- is a man of few words but many letters.
Was able to watch a rehearsal the opening ceremonies and it is pretty spectacular. Lots of surprises & rich history. Eyes wide open! #sochi- Apolo Anton Ohno (@ApoloOhno) February 4, 2014
It was so good to see @NastiaLiukin today! Hopefully we will bump into each other again!- Marissa Castelli (@MarissaCastelli) February 5, 2014
the olympic village is basically the coolest place on earth. wish i could live here more than once every four years! #mycountryistheworld- Shani Davis (@ShaniDavis) February 1, 2014
Yuzu and Evgeni Photo today became hottest topic on the web ??p> - Misha Ge (@Sk8Prince) February 5, 2014
Tomorrow I'll be competing at my first Olympics and will be the first athlete to ever to compete in Team Event at the Olympic games! #TeamGB- Matthew Parr (@MattParr) February 5, 2014