A combo spin between boring and horrific
The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics were a massive victory for Canadian figure skating. The Canadians won team event gold. Women’s singles skater Kaetlyn Osmond won bronze. Pairs team Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel won bronze. And, of course, the world fell in love with ice dance team Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir as they won gold and became the most decorated Olympic figure skaters of all time.
In the four years since, all of these skaters—as well as beloved men’s singles skater Patrick Chan–went into retirement, effectively ending “the golden era of Canadian figure skating” as dubbed by Skate Canada. However, Skate Canada’s long standing reliance on big name skaters at the expense of developing younger talent is what has left the vacuum in Canadian figure skating seen at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Skate Canada’s decisions have been fraught and confusing, and they seem to be making the same mistakes again and again. By not giving their upcoming women skaters international opportunities, Skate Canada left it all up to Maddie Schizas, a talented 19-year old who had barely any senior international experience until last year. Schizas was incredible under pressure, performing remarkably well in the Team Event and ranking third. Although Schizas performed beautifully, the pressure of Skate Canada’s hopes and dreams were inappropriately placed upon her.
Pairs was a place of particular controversy for Skate Canada. In spring 2021, pairs skaters Eric Radford and Vanessa James announced that they were teaming up to skate for Canada. Besides being an older team, and Radford’s previous back issues, there were some moral issues surrounding these two skaters.
Radford’s previous partner, Meagan Duhamel, stated in an Instagram post that she felt “blindsided” by the news after Radford had promised to continue show skating with her. Also, Vanessa James’s previous partner, Morgan Cipres, was suspended by SafeSport over sexual abuse allegations involving a minor. Cipres has left his training base in the US, where he faces a felony charge. It is rumored that James knew about these events and still supports her former partner. Even with all of the controversy surrounding this team, Skate Canada chose to send James and Radford to the Olympics over young team Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud.
Despite the fact that Walsh and Michaud finished second at Canadian Nationals, James and Radford withdrew from the free dance. This decision caused much fragmentation within the Skate Canada community, with past and present figure skaters like Kirsten Moore-Towers, Kaitlyn Weaver, Meagan Duhamel, and Tessa Virtue showing support for Walsh and Michaud on social media. Since it is likely that James and Radford will retire post-Olympics, it is curious as to what Skate Canada’s long term plans are.
As with everything else in the world, these Olympics were also plagued by the dark cloud of COVID-19. The virus led to the withdrawal of American skater Vincent Zhou, and earlier in the season, American skater Amber Glenn was not able to go to Nationals, a deciding factor in Olympic spots.
Many of the events at the 2022 Olympics only committed the crime of being boring and predictable. While there were races from second place down, it was not much of a surprise as to who would win in men’s or ice dance. Nathan Chen has been the favourite to win since his disappointing finish in 2018, and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron have dominated ice dance since 2015, only bested by Virtue and Moir in 2018. Wenjing Sui and Han Cong were also favourites for pairs; however, their triumphant win at a home Olympics after many injury struggles was much more of an emotionally charged gold.
Disaster was perhaps most in play in the women’s event. A doping scandal surrounded the skaters, as Russian skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for trimetazine in December, with WADA investigations ongoing. The 15-year old is highly regulated by a coaching team headed by Eteri Tutberdize, known for her jumping prodigies such as Yulia Lipnitskaya, Alina Zagitova, and Evgenia Medvedeva.
The coaching team is known to force their teenage skaters on restrictive diets and use puberty blockers along with unsustainable techniques that cause permanent injuries later in life. This event brought much controversy as to how medals in both team and ladies events could be affected. There was also a question of investigation for training mates Alexandra Trusova and Anna Scherbakova, who were all medal contenders. The event itself was horrific. After a disastrous free skate with four falls and a week of immense pressure, Kamila Valieva left the arena crying, placing fourth. Alexandra Scherbakova won second, breaking into tears and yelling that she never wanted to step on the ice again to her coach. Anna Scherbakova, the surprise gold medallist, said that she felt numb through her win.
The only joy to be found was in Kaori Sakomoto’s bronze win. Additionally, due to recent global events, Russian skaters have been banned from the 2022 Worlds Event, leaving a sour note for the history of Russian teenage girls in skating. Most importantly, these are children who are being subjected to terrible training environments upheld by the international skating community for the last decade. The Olympics have finally brought the terrors behind these prodigies to some sort of light.