This is what we learned from the 2022 Olympic team event that ended Monday with the result everyone expected, as the Russian Olympic Committee took gold, the U.S. silver and Japan bronze:
Men’s singles has potential four-way battle for title
Either Nathan Chen of the United States, who won the team short program, or Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who did not compete in the team event, still is likely to win gold.
But Shoma Uno (second in the team short) and Yuma Kagiyama (first in the team free) of Japan both skated so well they could take full advantage if Chen and Hanyu make mistakes.
Uno’s short program score, 6.25 points behind Chen’s, was a personal best, and his component scores could easily have been higher. Kagiyama’s free skate score was the best in the world this season, and it included the first clean quadruple loop jump of his career, giving him four clean quads in the program.
While Chen made a statement of his readiness with a commanding performance in the team short, Hanyu remained something of an international man of mystery.
Hanyu has been even less visible than he was en route to a second straight Olympic gold four years ago, when he did give a much-anticipated press conference three days before the singles event. That ended a virtual radio silence over the three months after his November 2017 ankle injury.
Hanyu did not even arrive until Sunday and practiced on 2022 Olympic ice for the first time Monday afternoon. His only other “public interaction” of any sort since winning the Japanese Championships in late December had been a 38-second message on the Japanese Skating Federation’s website, in which Hanyu pledged both to attempt a quad axel and also to "definitely" go for the win.
"For that, I know I'll definitely need everyone's power, so please cheer me on," Hanyu beseeched his fans.
No one has landed a clean quad axel in competition. Hanyu has focused on being the first for more than a year, and he tried several unsuccessfully in practice Monday, falling more than once.
Expect quad explosion from team event to continue
In the 2022 team event, the men made 26 quad attempts, and 18 were judged clean. In 2018, it was 15 quad attempts, with just five clean; in 2014, there were 13 attempts, with 10 clean.
(For purposes of this discussion, using data culled from skatingscores.com, a quad attempt is one that is listed as a four-revolution jump on the score sheet. A planned attempt that was popped does not figure in these statistics.)
Here are the numbers from men’s singles at the last three Olympics:
2010 – 15 attempts, four clean, by 10 different skaters
2014 – 40 attempts, 17 clean, by 16 skaters
2018 – 72 attempts, 44 clean, by 19 skaters
"Definitely you can see where the sport has progressed, like the shock," Canada’s Roman Sadovsky said. "I looked at 2014 and 2018. The amount of progression in those four years has been immense. I think this week we are going to see some crazy stuff."
Kamila Valieva of ROC made history Monday by becoming the first woman to land a quad in the Olympics, then became the first to land two quads.
But she left another line in the record books vacant until at least the women’s singles competition next week by falling on her third quad attempt in the team event free skate. She had been flawlessly dazzling in the short program.
“I’m more than happy. I hit a triple axel and two quads,” Valieva said in the press conference after the team event. “I had a burden of responsibility but I coped.”
In two team event skates, Valieva made it clear the only remaining question is whether she will win the individual gold medal by 20 or 30 points – or more.
“When I was 3 years old, I would tell my mother I wanted to be Olympic champion,” Valieva said
The three Russian women are likely to sweep the podium and attempt an aggregate nine or 10 quads, which will be nine or 10 more than the rest of the field. That would include three attempts by Valieva, five by Aleksandra Trusova and one or two by Anna Shcherbakova.
The two U.S. ice dance teams, Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock/Evan Bates, both look like medal possibilities after each won a phase of the team event, twice defeating reigning world champions Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of the Russian Olympic Committee.
And while it seemed before the Olympics the U.S. teams would be fighting each other for bronze, now that battle could be for silver.
The heavy favorites, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, have yet to compete because their country, France, did not qualify for the team event.
*Once again, athletes in the team event were asked if it would be better to have it after the individual competitions.
But, as U.S. pairs skater Alexa Knierim and some others put it, having the team event first makes it at least a useful warmup for their more significant event. But most like the team event.
“I wish we were able to compete at more team events,” Chock said. “It’s a highlight in our careers to be able to share that camaraderie and sportsmanship. There's a real sense of respect for everyone.”
Putting the team event at the end of the Olympic figure skating program would likely diminish its stature. It then might become an afterthought, and some individual event medalists might want to beg off rather than risk diminishing their new stature by competing again at the end of a draining two weeks.
Japan’s bronze medal in the Olympic team event broke the previous three-country hegemony (Russia, U.S., Canada) of the podium, but it is hard to imagine a fifth country becoming a medal contender any time soon.
Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCOlympics.com.