Second Day of Competition in PyeongChang in the Books

By Troy Schwindt
Editor, SKATING Magazine

Even during the introduction of the final group of ice dance teams, the crowd let Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani know how they felt about them with a roaring ovation that easily ranked above the rest of the teams.

The brother-and-sister duo and two-time U.S. champions responded by delivering a sizzling Latin short dance to place second in the 10-team field on Sunday, helping Team USA remain in medal contention in the Team Event. After five events, the United States is in third place with 36 points, nine behind Canada and three behind Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). Italy is fourth with 35 points, while Japan stands fifth with a score of 32.

Competition continues Monday beginning at 10 a.m. KT/8 p.m. ET Sunday with the men’s free skate, followed by the ladies and ice dance.

Canada’s 2010 Olympic champion team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the short dance.

“The audience, you guys can hear it, they are amazing,” Maia said. “The energy is unlike any other event that we’ve been at, so I feel like Alex and I really took the time to enjoy the moment and I’m really proud of the skating we showed today.”

This certainly wasn’t your typical ice dance audience, as they started the wave during the competition, which usually is reserved for the TV sports such as baseball, football and soccer.

“We took advantage of a great crowd,” Alex said. “We see faces in the crowd that we recognize, and that’s special. I think a lot of athletes can really get in the zone, and we know how to be in the zone while also embracing the moment and looking around us and having these memories that we’ll have for the rest of our lives.

“We just saw Hoda (Kotb) and Al (Roker) from the ‘Today’ show sitting in the crowd, because they aren’t at every competition that we do, and we saw Michelle Kwan sitting in the stands with her mom.”

Despite feeling great about their skate, Alex said they were a bit disappointed with their score of 75.46. Virtue and Moir scored 80.51.

“I thought we brought it,” Alex said. “It was our moment for us together and obviously the Olympic Games are a huge stage, so we want to show the world what we can do. I’m a little surprised by the score, because we have been accustomed to receiving higher scores with skates that maybe weren’t even as strong as today’s. So, we’ll have to go back and see what the panel saw and how they determined their scores, but overall we are psyched with our skate and that’s what we came here to do.”

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell also enjoyed a stellar opening short program in the team event, with a personal-best score of 68.94, just .01 point behind the fourth-place skater.

Tennell, like she’s been all season, was rock solid throughout her program to music from the 2004 South Korean war film Taeguki by Lee Dong-Jun. She landed three triple jumps, including an opening triple Lutz-triple toe combination. Tennell earned Level 4 on all of her spins and footwork.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better first program at the Olympics,” said Tennell, who added she wasn’t nervous on the biggest of stages. “It felt like I was doing another program on a practice session.”

After her combination spin at center ice, the moment finally hit her.

“I looked up and could see the rings on one of the banners,” Tennell said. “It was like, ‘Wow, I just did that on Olympic ice.’”

Tennell, who turned 20 on Jan. 31, told reporters that she was listening to a compilation of 1980s rock before stepping onto the ice, specifically to music from Boston, AC/DC and Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody).

“I’ve always loved ’80s rock,” she said. “It’s kind of weird because people look at me – blonde hair and blue eyes. I’ve always loved that kind of music; it’s great for getting pumped up and working out.”

Her ’80s playlist, she said, is nine-hours long.

Two-time World champion Evgenia Medvedeva of OAR won the short program with a score of 81.06.

The pairs team of Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim helped the team’s cause by placing fourth in the free skate.

The two-time and reigning U.S. champions, unlike in their season-best short program earlier at the Olympics, hit a few bumps in the road in their free skate to Ghost the Musical. The couple executed a solid triple twist to start the program, opting not to attempt their signature quad twist. After landing their first side-by-side triple Salchows, Knierim fell on the team’s triple toe combination jump. Their throw triple flip received a negative GOE, but their spins, footwork, all but one lift and backward death spiral all received Level 4.

“It wasn’t a brilliant skate by any means, but we are just so happy to be here,” said Scimeca-Knierim, who with her husband have faced health and personal adversity in the past two years that almost derailed their career.

“We’ve already won by being able to step on the ice; this is great.”

The Knierims finished with a total segment score of 126.56. Canada’s two-time World champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford finished first with a score of 148.51.