PopWatch on Ice: Good music, bad costumes, and questionable scoring in the pairs' short programs

Presumably not just so the world’s figure skating commentators could keep discussing how poetic it was for the pairs to take the ice on Valentine’s Day, competition got underway Sunday at the Vancouver Games. China’s married two-time Olympic bronze medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao (pictured, far left), who came out of retirement in their thirties (!) to go for gold, performed first and set a new short program record. NBC’s package on their 18-year partnership and dorm-room marriage made me emotionally vulnerable, so yes, I got chills when they hit their perfect side-by-side triple toe loops. They were skating to an instrumental version of Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever” — I’m only human. We’re all rooting for them, right? Other questions that emerged after the first night of pairs (the free skate decides the medals tonight at 8 p.m. ET):

1. Whose costumes were worse: Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (pictured, center), who sit in second after their “Send in the Clowns” program, or Ukraine’s Tatyana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov (currently ninth, pictured right), who donned electric blue catsuits that could’ve been rejects from Blades of Glory for their program to “Dreams Illusion”? Note: Had Björk not built up our tolerance for swan-wear, the sequined birds on the bodices of Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Aleksandr Smirnov (currently third) would’ve earned them an honorable mention. I like this pair, but their remix of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan” wasn’t as memorable as Oksana Baiul’s.

2. Why don’t NBC’s commentators name each piece of music? I’m sure some viewers were driven crazy trying to remember where they knew American skaters Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig’s from (Love, Actually). Watching her mother and his wife cry in the stands was sweet, but I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that their coach, Jim Peterson, didn’t start the waterworks like he did when they made the Olympic team at Nationals. Maybe if they skate another personal best tonight. Neither U.S. couple will medal — Evora and Ladwig sit in 10th, and Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett (who dates Evora) are 14th after she doubled their side-by-side triples — so getting him to well up is now my the goal.

3. Were the judges a little too kind to Canada’s Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison? Dubé fell on their side-by-side triples and he stumbled during the footwork sequence. The dramatic performance lost a little momentum, but the home crowd kept them in it. Should they be in 6th, above their countrymen Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay (7th), who delivered a solid program that epitomized the word “lovely”? NBC commentator Sandra Bezic certainly didn’t think so. I don’t trust myself to judge: I’m a sucker for real-life couples who show affection on the ice, and the way Hay lifted Langlois for an embrace after their performance earned them extra points in my book.

4. Was anyone else kinda hoping that Russia’s Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov would turn on each other? I’m not normally a cruel person, but Bezic and Scott Hamilton had told us they had a tempestuous relationship and had to see a sports psychologist and well, he fell on the side-by-side triples. She touched the ice though, so maybe that’s why she was so supportive when he fought breakdowns on the ice and in the kiss and cry area. I wanted to hug him, too. They’re in 8th.

5. Who will stand on the podium? Less than a point separates first and second, less than two points second and third, and you’ve got two more Chinese couples, the expressive Pang Qing and Tong Jian and the athletic Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao (the latter of whom Hamilton referred to as The Incredible Hulk), within striking distance in fourth and fifth. This is what people mean when they refer to sports as the ultimate reality show. Your picks?

More Olympics coverage:
Scott Hamilton: The 5 most memorable Olympic figure skating falls
Scott Hamilton: The 5 times I was a little too excited in the broadcast booth
Scott Hamilton: The 5 programs I would have skated
Olympic Stud of Day 3: Canadian men’s moguls gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau
Olympic Stud of Day 2: U.S. speed skater Apolo Ohno
Olympic Stud of Day 1: U.S. curler Chris Plys
Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremony: Best and Worst

Photo credit: Shen/Zhao: Ditmar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images, Aliona Savchenko: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images, Volosozhar/Morozov: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Comments (126 total) Add your comment
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  • Marie

    the scoring in last night’s pairs short program was very questionable. i was hoping that i wasn’t the only one who noticed that.

    • warped

      I agree. There were a few couples that I questioned the scoring on – but I can definitely agree with the top 4.

    • Quirky

      When does figure skating NOT have questionable scoring? I’ve always enjoyed the artistry of skating, but I’ve found it hard to treat it as a real sport due to the integrity of the judging.

      • Nick B

        I agree. Same goes for gymnastics at the summer Olympics. The scoring is always questionable, and in some instances, downright ridiculous.

    • jones

      Definitely. Dube and Davison’s programs had mistakes and was boring. The other Canadian pair skated much better and should have been ahead of them.

      • Amidala

        Oh definately. It was a really shaky performance after she first fell.

      • Amanda

        Actually, Dube and Davison had a much more technically difficult program than Anabelle and Cody. Yes, they skated cleanly, but when they’re doing double twists and the rest of the field are doing triples, they are still going to be behind in the marks.Also, Jessica completed her rotation in her jump which means they still receive some points.
        Skating clean isn’t the be all and end all anymore.

    • Laura M.

      Yeah, seriously. A lot of the couples in the top 8 fell on jumps or were not synchronized, and yet somehow they scored higher than Langlois/Hay and Evora/Ladwig, who skated cleanly? I especially question the scoring of the German pair, who somehow scored less than a point behind Shen and Zhoa’s perfect performance, despite the fact that they were out of sync several times. Were the judges even watching the performances, or had they already pre-determined the rankings?? I’m guessing it’s the latter, yet again.

    • ba’al

      The Canadian couple were the only ones to do their stunts in front of the judges. I enjoyed all the couples costumes and all

  • Lisa Simpson

    Shen and Zhao all the way! I have loved watching them for over a decade, and they are always spectacular. I loved Langlois and Hay (and such lovely costumes) as well as Evora and Ladwig as far as non-medal contenders. I thought the judges were also kind the the Russians, especially Kavaguti and Smirnov, whose performance seemed a bit sloppy and lost momentum about halfway through. The Ukrainians had the worst costumes, though I’d give second to Dube and Davison of Canada.

    • boredinbklyn

      Seriously the Russian couple just aren’t natural. They are a bit too contrived.

    • jezoebel

      I’m rooting for the Chinese couple, too. Their performance was flawless. The German couple were good also but those clown costumes were too distracting for me.

  • melissa

    My whole family is rooting for Shen and Zhao too. They’re absolutely terrific!

  • momma bear

    Gooo shen & Zhou…i thought the should have been farther ahead of the germans (who should have received a 5 point deduction for those awful costumes – really detracted from their performances, which was otherwise lovely). hope s/z kick ass tonite

  • EW Fan

    THANK YOU for listing Evora and Ladwig’s music! During their entire performance I was going crazy trying to remember where I’ve heard that score before. That would have bothered me for days…

    • MsSuniDaze

      Me too. There program was amazing but it was driving me crazy where I heard that music from.

    • melissa

      I used Shazam on my iPhone to figure it out while they were skating. I definitely agree, though, that NBC should put the name of the music up on the screen or something.

  • HAH

    Very questionable scoring last night. Kind of scared for today’s scoring.

  • orville

    I wasn’t knocked out by a lot of the pairs in the top ten. Sure, some were technically proficient (and some weren’t–falling and still getting good scores is very suspect), but so many of them lacked any sort of chemistry as a team. It was all business–jump, spin, throw, rinse, repeat.

    Granted, I had to go back and watch the video of Shen and Zhao since I missed it the first time. They kept refering back to the record breaking skate and I kept thinking, “Could it really have been that good?” Well, yeah, for the most part it was. I can’t wait to see their long program.

    • Christa

      I respect all the pairs for their athleticism, and if they also have emotion and chemistry I consider that a bonus. Pairs skating is a sport above all, and a quite dangerous one! I can’t blame the pairs who just focus on the elements.

    • Kim

      The short program is all about getting through the elements.

  • Jen

    OK…who paid off the French judge again? I’m calling shennanigans on some of the scoring.

  • Lemon

    I was so thrilled to hear the music from Love Actually I barely paid any attention to the skating. Maybe the judges were too?

    • dawnomite

      me too! i recognized it right away and got lost in my daydreams thinking about the movie that i don’t even remember the pair’s routine.

    • Jennifer

      I didn’t care about the Love, Actually music, but I’ve been trying to figure out what the second Chinese pair skated to (Pang & Tong were their names, I think) Does anybody know? It sounded so familiar, and yet I couldn’t quite place it.

      • Melinda65

        You got my curiosity going, so I searched and found that it’s Bizet’s “The Pearlfishers.” Go to vancouver2010.com, and you can look up all of the scores and music for each pair.

      • Xiaoding

        No, there is no listing of music there, just the results.

        Who does “Dreams and Illusion”? Can’t find it, suspect the title may be wrong.

      • Melinda65

        Yes, there is. Click the + sign next to each pair’s names and you’ll see the detailed results and the music they skated to. According to that site, the Ukranians skated to “Dreams Illusion” by DJI.

      • Xiaoding

        Thnx! Now to find DJI, they must be unknowns, goggle has nuthin :)

      • Melinda65

        You’re welcome, and good luck finding DJI, whoever they are. :-)

  • llevinso

    I’m definitely rooting for Shen and Zhou. IMO they were leaps and bounds above the rest. And yes, the scoring for a few of the couples last night was definitely questionable…

    I don’t think the Germans should be that close in score to Shen and Zhou. They just didn’t have the same energy and beauty and awesomeness in their performance. Shen and Zhou owned that ice last night. The Germans, while good, did not come as close to that as their score suggests.

    • Mel

      I agree. The Germans didn’t have the chemistry and they didn’t skate as in sync and the Chinese team did. And I really hated their costumes, even though that has nothing to do with the performance.

      • Castiella

        Argh. Their stupid clown outfits made me want them to fall. I mean, this is the OLYMPICS, people. You want the judges, the audience, and your competitors to take you seriously. Clown outfits = epic fail.

  • amanda

    We compared those awful blue suits to “Blades of Glory” as well. There were some terrible costumes, but those took the cake.

    • LOL

      I liked the Blades of Glory blues over the Send in the Clowns outfits. The pair from the Ukraine was hampered by the dude. The woman skater was awesome.

      • llevinso

        Yes the Ukrainian female figure skater was breathtaking. But her partner really did seem to weigh her down. Too bad.

  • B

    Thanks for the link to the performance by Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay. I enjoyed theirs more than any other and thought they should have ranked higher. It seems to me that ones who are expected to be the “best” get higher marks even if their performances don’t merit it – like if they have a fall or other obvious mistake, it doesn’t matter as much and they still end up near the top. Not just in pairs, but individuals, as well, and in different areas (gymnastics, too, for example). It’s really irritating to see someone be really wonderful and not get the recognition because they aren’t “favored.”

    • marie

      “It’s really irritating to see someone be really wonderful and not get the recognition because they aren’t ‘favored.'”

      I agree.

      • Jennifer

        Figure skating has been that way for decades – you pay your dues, and work your way up the ladder and then you win. Sometimes it correlates to the actual performances, often times not.

    • Alan of Montreal

      they have a slew of elements they have to perform, with some more difficult than others. So don’t just go by jumps and “cleanness,” because often there are other factors involved such as difficulty and execution of other elements.

  • Alichat

    I’m glad someone else thought the scoring for Dube & Davison was questionable. The whole night I was scratching my head on the scoring. There were couples who performed flawlessly, yet aren’t in the top 5, and couples who fell and stumbled…or weren’t in sync on turns…and they are in the top 10…….so odd to me.

  • chris

    i usually root for the germans, ’cause we love them in this part of the world (europe), but you can’t deny shen and zhao’s chemistry. i love them. as for the others… the russians scare me (well, kavaguti freaks me out with her stare. somehow, they seem so contrived… and the helium-baloon fabric the ukranians were wearing – ugh! i can forgive the germans for their costume.

    • boredinbklyn

      She totally freaks me out too!

  • marie

    I agree Shen and Zhou skated beautifully last night. I’m rooting for them all the way. Am I the only one who thought their choice of song was pretty awesome too? I love it when I recognize the piece of music.

    I also agree that the commentators should name each song so the audience at home can look it up if they like it or something.

    • llevinso

      I loved Shen and Zhou’s song choice too. It really meant something to them and I recognized it which was bonus points in my book :)

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