Ice Network

Bulgogi bites: Rippon ditches unreliable quad lutz

Chen to skate short in team event; Massot's back back to full strength
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Due to his low success rate on the jump, Adam Rippon has decided to take the quad lutz out of his free skate. -Getty Images

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea - Adam Rippon looked at the numbers and decided they didn't add up.

Rippon has scrapped the quadruple lutz from his free skate and will open with a double axel instead when he competes for the United States in the second leg of the Olympic team competition Monday.

"I feel the Olympics is a competition where you take everything you have learned and you apply that information to put your best performance forward," Rippon said after unveiling his new free skate layout during a Wednesday afternoon practice at the Gangneung Ice Arena.

The main piece of information that went into the decision is his decidedly underwhelming record on quad lutz attempts since the start of the 2014-15 season.

When he fell on the jump in the free skate at the 2018 U.S. Championships a month ago, it meant his 11 quad lutzes over four seasons have included seven falls, seven under-rotations and four downgrades. None of the 11 got a positive Grade of Execution; when falls are deducted, he had an average score of 4.43 on a jump with a base value of 13.6.

"The best quad lutz I've done in competition was at (this season's) NHK, and I got (an) under-rotation on that," Rippon noted.

With a good double axel, Rippon can score 4.43 points or more, but that math is only one reason for his ditching the quad lutz, which is his opening element. Equally important is the possibility that a hard fall could disrupt the rest of the program or lead to an injury.

But for a broken foot last season, Rippon might have gone back to trying a quadruple toe loop, on which he has had some success in the past. The lingering pain in his takeoff foot for the toe loop, however, meant it was not a viable option.

"With all that information compiled, I went to my coaches and said, 'What do you think if we do a double axel at the beginning?'" Rippon said.

His primary coach, Rafael Arutunian, is such a believer in pushing the envelope that Rippon was not sure what the response would be.

"You know, one of Rafael's students is Nathan Chen, who is trying five quads," Rippon said. "Raf's mentality is always, 'Let's do as much as we can.'

"I said (to Arutunian), 'This is the information, my stats and everything -- what do you want to do?' He said, 'Let's do a clean program.'''

In a recent icenetwork interview, Arutunian said he was very aware of Rippon's quad lutz stats.

"I know he has a bad record," the coach said. "I understand why he has a bad record, and I think he understands, too. It's because of his age (28) and because he started to work on that jump late in his career."

So Rippon will be one of a handful of men to eschew a quad attempt at these Olympics. He believes he can still get a good technical element score based on the quality of his execution and can pile up points with his usually strong components.

"My mentality and my gameplan are a lot different than a lot of the other guys," Rippon said. "It's get as many points as possible and then sneak in there."

That won't make him a medal contender, but it will give him a chance to make his first (and almost certainly only) Olympics memorable and personally satisfying.

"I'm going to go out there knowing I can put on a really great performance," Rippon said, "so I can always look back and think, 'These were really awesome Olympic performances.'"

- Philip Hersh

Let's go to the tape

Nathan Chen had an unusual bracelet on his right arm when he talked with media after Wednesday's practice.

It was a roll of the black duct tape Chen uses to hold his boots together, in case they start to come apart before he is done using them.

The tape recalled last year's world championships in Helsinki, where Chen seemed to be going through a roll a day in a vain effort to salvage the only broken-in pair of boots he had with him. He cited the boots' instability as a factor in his falls on one jump in the short program and two in the free skate, which led to him finishing a disappointing sixth.

Not to worry, Chen said. Yes, he was taping the boots he wore in an inconsistent practice session Wednesday, but he has learned from what happened last March.

"These are just for practicing," Chen said. "I have another two pairs ready. They all basically feel pretty similar."

Chen will skate Friday's short program in the team event.

Since Arutunian coaches both Chen and Rippon, he asked the skaters which phase of the team event each preferred and then told them his choice.

"They agreed with me," he said.

The idea behind the choice is primarily to give Chen, a definite contender for an individual medal, more time until the men's short program Feb. 16.

"Short program is less taxing, obviously," Chen said.

- Philip Hersh

Savchenko takes fifth shot at Olympic glory

Withdrawing from the European Figure Skating Championships last month may pay off for Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot.

Massot, who suffered from excruciating back pain at Skate America earlier this season, now says he is in "perfect" shape.

"We can do everything in both programs. I don't think about it anymore," Massot told reporters Wednesday. "We are ready. I did special treatment, special exercises to get more muscle, to be stronger."

Both skaters feel strong enough to perform their short program in the team event Friday, in addition to next Wednesday's individual pairs event.

"For us, it's like practice," Savchenko said. "We definitely want to do it."

That's a turnaround from four years ago in Sochi, where Savchenko and former partner Robin Szolkowy sat out the team event to be fresh for the pairs competition. Contending for gold, they ended up settling for a second consecutive bronze medal.

"Well, it's a new team, new decisions," Savchenko said. "That's it."

This is the fifth Olympics for the 34-year-old Savchenko, who placed 15th at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games with Stanislav Morozov while representing her native Ukraine. She and Szolkowy competed at three Olympics and won five world titles for Germany before splitting in March 2014, after which Savchenko immediately teamed up with the 29-year-old Massot, who is competing at his first Olympics.

"I started in 2002 and each time things are better and better," Savchenko said. "I see the revolution of the athletes village. In Salt Lake City, [the room] was simple, just a bed, nothing more. Then it grew, and grew. And here, so far, it's the best I've seen. Nothing is too far from the Olympic village, just 15 minutes maximum, so there's less lost time."

The Germans, considered favorites for the podium here, are undecided on whether they will try their throw triple axel -- the landing of which Savchenko often two-foots -- in PyeongChang. With a base value of 7.5 points, it is worth two points more than the throw triple flip they would do instead.

"We (will) work on everything, and we will see how we will feel at the time of the competition," Massot said.

"Our goal is, first, to do our very best here, and then to see what happens," Savchenko said.

- Lynn Rutherford