2018 Olympics Figure Skating Preview: Pairs Part 2

We have a pairs short program starting any minute, so here’s your quick guide to the second half of the pairs alphabet.

We have a pairs short program starting any minute, with the men’s event hot on its tail. Meanwhile, I have a job and a social life and the occasional need for sleep. So here’s your quick guide to the second half of the pairs alphabet, with video, basic info, and a brief analysis of where each stands in the Olympic field. For more detailed profiles of the skaters from the first half of the alphabet, plus explanations of the four broad categories I’m sorting them into, see my 2018 Olympics Pairs Preview Part 1.

Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro

The Basics: Moore-Towers and Marinaro represent Canada. She’s 25 and from St. Catharines, Ontario; he’s 26 and from Sarnia, Ontario. They now live in Montreal, coached by Bruno Marcotte. They began skating together in 2014, and both have had notable international careers with other partners, she with Dylan Moscovitch and he with Margaret Purdy.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: Since they teamed up, Moore-Towers and Marinaro have been seen as the fourth chair in Canadian pairs, but they stepped up when it mattered at Nationals this year and earned an Olympic spot. That takes the pressure way off – their teammates are seen as far more likely to rise to the podium – but also leaves them unjustly overlooked. They don’t compete the most difficult content, but skating conservatively and with consistency can get a team far when everyone’s nerves are running high. I can’t convince myself to count them out, which is the kind of ridiculous but satisfying mathematical conclusion that’s Why I Drink.

Cheng Peng and Yang Jin

The Basics: Peng and Jin represent China. Both are originally from Harbin and now live in Beijing, where they train with Bin Yao. She’s 20 years old, while his age is difficult to report on because of age falsification controversy. They’ve been skating together since 2016, before which she skated with Hao Zhang and he with Xiaoyu Yu.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: This team would probably be fandom darlings for their plucky personalities and warm on-ice connection, but they captured the heart of the internet when the Chinese Skating Association forced a partner swap, sending the message that Yu and Zhang were the preferred team and Peng and Jin were “Team Leftovers.” While Peng and Jin do lack the consistency and explosive jumping ability of the other Chinese teams, they make up for it in the precision and loveliness of their elements. They’ll probably get lost in the shuffle, but if they skate their best in Pyeongchang, they have the technical and artistic skills to catch the judges’ attention. Rooting for them feels like an act of revenge, and that’s Why I Drink.

Tae Ok Ryom & Ju Sik Kim

The Basics: Ryom and Kim represent North Korea. They’re both from Pyongyang, where they still live and train, coached by Hyon Son Kim. She’s 19 years old, and he’s 25. They’ve teamed with other partners domestically but have had international success only with each other.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: Some athletes are important more for what they represent than for how they’ll compete. As North Korean athletes at an Olympic Games in South Korea, Ryom and Kim’s mere presence is symbolic. The best part is, they’re legitimately good enough to hold their own. They’re fresh off a bronze medal at Four Continents – achieved in a less strenuous field than usual, but nonetheless a first for a North Korean team at an ISU championship. They perform with a natural grace and flow, and their throw jumps are breathtaking. It’s unlikely they’ll have the base difficulty to reach the top ranks, but they’re Just Happy to Be Here on a more profound level than anyone else in the field.

Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot

The Basics: Savchenko and Massot represent Germany, although neither is a native of the country: she was born in Obukhiv, Ukraine, and he in Caen, France. Both skated for their countries of origin in the past and had notable international careers before they teamed up in 2014, she with Robin Szolkowy and with Stanislav Morozov, and he with Daria Popova. They live in Oberstdorf, Germany, where they train with Alexander Konig. She’s 34 years old, and he’s 29.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: Savchenko has been a force of nature throughout her long career – she’s been competing internationally since 1998 – and she’s raised Massot to her level. Their greatest strength is their lack of weakness: they’re strong jumpers, elegant lifters, and spirited and versatile performers. Savchenko is also basically a pro at this Olympics thing, as she’s won bronze medals at the past two Games. If they skate like they did at their most recent international appearance, the Grand Prix Final (Savchenko’s fifth career gold medal at the event, and Massot’s first), they’ll be almost unstoppable. If they make weird, dramatic errors, as they too often do, their base value and high program components might still be enough to keep them on the podium. They’re not a lock for a medal, but they’re Front Runners.

Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau

The Basics: Seguin and Bilodeau represent Canada. She’s 21 years old and from the Montreal area; he’s 24 and originally from Rimouski, Quebec. They train in Chambly, Quebec, under a coaching team led by Josee Picard. They’ve been a team since 2012, before which she was a singles skater, and he had some domestic and junior-level success with another partner.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: If my doctor wants to understand the state of my liver function, she might want to look to the Canadian pairs. Like their teammates, Seguin and Bilodeau are world-class talents, but so unreliable under pressure that it’s impossible to predict where they’ll wind up in the standings. As performers, they’re among the most engaging pairs skaters, with a strong connection to one another and lots of emotional range. Their technical difficulty is high enough to put them in contention, although they tend to throw away points with small errors – when they’re not melting down completely. It would be great to see them rise to the occasion, but the uncertainty of that happening is Why I Drink.

Wenjing Sui & Cong Han

The Basics: Sui and Han represent China. They are either 22 and 25 years old or 20 and 28 years old, depending on the documentation. They’ve been skating together since 2007 and have had no other partners during their career. Both are originally from Harbin but now live in Beijing, where they’re coached by Hongbo Zhao.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: Sui and Han are the reigning World Champions, and their momentum has continued into this season. They’re capable of an enormous quadruple twist lift, but where they really bring home the points is on the beauty of their execution. They don’t just do difficult elements; they perform them with finesse, and in ways that blend with the choreography. Sui has been battling injuries for several years, though, and their errors are often as dramatic as their successful jumps and lifts. To win gold in Pyeongchang, they’ll have to keep things exceptionally clean, but they’ve proven themselves so often capable of doing so that they’re Front Runners.

Miu Suzaki & Ryuichi Kihara

The Basics: Suzaki and Kihara represent Japan. She’s 18 years old and comes from Nagoya, while he’s 25 years old and from Ichinomiya, Aichi. They train primarily in the Detroit area in the United States, coached by Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato. Both are former singles skaters, and he previously skated pairs with Narumi Takahashi. They’ve been a team since 2015.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: Suzaki and Kihara have already attracted attention for skating their short program to music from the skating-themed anime Yuri on Ice. The team event gave them a rare showcase, as pairs is the weakest link in Japan’s otherwise formidable figure skating program. Even when they nail their elements, which include a sometimes impressive side-by-side triple lutz, they don’t have the overall difficulty to stand up to a field that is pushing pairs to new limits. They’re a great example of how a Just Happy to Be Here team can gain popularity through savvy choices and winning personalities.

Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov

The Basics: Tarasova and Morozov will compete as Olympic Athletes from Russia. She’s 23 and from Kazan; he’s 25 and was born in Germany but moved to Moscow as a child. They train in Moscow under Nina Mozer. They skated with other people early in their careers, but their partnership, which began in 2012, is the first internationally significant one for both.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: If nothing else, Tarasova and Morozov will be memorable. Criticized in the past for not standing out enough artistically, their free skate is either a bonkers attempt to remake their image or a triumph of figure skating camp. Either way, they have the skills to back it up, from their huge opening quad twist to their speedy and graceful lifts. While they’re not paragons of consistency – and what pair is? – they have a remarkable ability to rebound from errors, most recently at the European Championships, where they jumped from a fifth-place short program to an overall gold medal. Get ready for some yellow polka dots on the podium, because they’re Front Runners.

Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang

The Basics: Yu and Zhang represent China, and like the other Chinese teams, they have conflicting records of their ages: 22 or 20 for her, and 33 or 36 for him. She’s from Beijing, and he’s originally from Harbin. They train in Beijing with Bin Yao and Hongbo Zhao. Before they teamed up in 2016, she used to skate with Yang Jin, and he had substantial international success with Dan Zhang (including an Olympic silver medal way back in 2006) and Cheng Peng.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: China took a risk by putting these two together despite their success with other partners, and they’ve proved to be steady competitors, but not stars. Their difficulty is on par with that of other top teams, and they’re about as consistent as anyone, which means that on their best day, they’re in the conversation for a medal. But with less chemistry or artistic impact than the other teams at their level, they’ll have to hit every jump perfectly. They’re solid Dark Horses, but they’ll be eclipsed by other teams unless they give the performances of their lives.

Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert

The Basics: Zabiiako and Enbert will compete as Olympic Athletes from Russia. She’s 23 and was born in Tallinn, Estonia, and he’s 28 and from St. Petersburg. Both have laundry lists of former partners, although their current team is by far the most successful for both. They’re based in Moscow, and their primary coach is Nina Mozer.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: Zabiiako and Enbert tend to fly under the radar, to the point where I’ve seen several dedicated figure skating fans forget that they’d made the team for major events such as Worlds and Europeans. While they’re not the most dynamic performers, their rare consistency and focus have become a major asset. If other teams skate well, Zabiiako and Enbert are probably out of the running for a medal, but if it’s a messy pairs event, look for these Dark Horses to glide past the wreckage.

Miriam Ziegler & Severin Kiefer

The Basics: Ziegler and Kiefer represent Austria. She’s 23 and from Oberpullendorf, and he’s 27 and from Graz. They’ve been a team since 2013, and both had some success as singles skaters before that. They train in Salzburg and in Berlin, coached by Knut Schubert.

Outlook for Pyeongchang: In every generation and discipline, there are a few solid, persistent mid-listers. Ziegler and Kiefer are defining examples, with a respectable record of top-ten finishes at Europeans and qualifications for Worlds and Olympics. They don’t compete the most difficult jumps, or land them consistently, but they skate with a determined joy that makes them a pleasure to watch. They won’t come in last, but they won’t finish in sight of the podium, either. They’re Just Happy to Be Here, and they’re the kind of team that fans are just happy to have around.


Previous Olympics Coverage on The Finer Sports:

Up next: previews of the men and ice dance, followed by the rest of the ladies!