Analysis – 22 teams made the final cut for Pyeongchang. Three of the 14 countries represented have an outside chance at a sweep of the podium, though highly unlikely because of the intense competition. One team not on the list is Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov of Russia, who were banned from the Olympics due to doping allegations. The Olympic Athletes from Russia still has a strong contingent of skaters ready to win.
At the top of the list is Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov (shown right), who are currently #1 on the ISU’s pairs chart. They captured the European championships in January and followed it up with a win in the short program of the team event at Pyeongchang. They’ve only had one blemish on their record this season, and that was a 5th place finish at the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, where they stumbled during their free skate.
Close behind is Germany’s Aljona Savchenko & Bruno Massot (shown left), who were outstanding this season, winning the Grand Prix Final and placing 2nd at Europeans. Germany came up short in the Team event, but Savchenko & Massot were able to finish 3rd in the short program.
Canadians Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford (shown right) may have lost a step since finishing a disappointing 7th at last year’s Worlds, but they were able to pull together a series of victories at Skate Canada and at nationals. They look to better their 7th place finish at Sochi in 2014. China is still a powerhouse in pairs, as their teams nearly swept the podium at Cup of China. Weijing Sui & Cong Han lead the charge with wins at Beijing and the NHK Trophy along with a 2nd place showing at the Grand Prix Final.
Teams to watch – There are multiple teams from the OAR, Canada and China capable of making the podium this week. Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert made the podium at Europeans and gave a strong performance in the pairs Team event. Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang have two 2nd place finishes at Skate America and Cup of China this season and placed 4th at Worlds in 2017. Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau have positioned themselves as the heir apparent to Duhamel & Radford for Canada. They have a Grand Prix win at Skate America in 2016 and were also Junior Grand Prix Final winners in 2015.
Now let’s talk about other countries, vying for the podium. The Americans have the husband-wife team of Alexa and Chris Knierim, who literally saved the US from dropping out of medal contention with their outstanding performance in the Team event. Italy’s Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek are currently 8th in the world, but a strong performance this week in Pyeongchang could give them an appearance on the podium. France’s Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres had a break thru season with two podium appearances in Grand Prix action and just missing the podium at Europeans. And speaking of break thru, North Korea’s Tae Ok Ryom & Ju Sik Kim made just that with the country’s first medal at the Four Continents Championships last month.
Smooth’s Pick: This is a toss-up competition and it could go either way, but I give the edge to the Germans over the OAR based on their experience.
Gold – Aljona Savchenko & Bruno Massot (GER)
Silver – Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov (OAR)
Bronze – Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford (CAN)