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OH MY GOD HE FELL!: An Uneducated American’s Guide to Figure Skating

OH MY GOD HE FELL!: An Uneducated American’s Guide to Figure Skating

Estimated Reading Time: 10 Minutes

So during the two days of the Men’s Singles Figure Skating of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, I had food poisoning.

Laid up on my couch, unable to move, I lay on my sofa contemplating my sorry state and watching one of the most contentious and surprising competitions in the history of the Men’s Singles. Or so I learned. Before this moment, I knew absolutely nothing about figure skating, much less the current men’s competition scene.

I had spent the majority of my young life in an ice rink playing ice hockey or skating with teammates and I couldn’t explain a figure skating score to you if you offered me a gold medal for free.

Enter Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski! God bless these two sassy, hilarious, and super knowledgeable glitter-skeletons. Not only did I not know that you didn’t just get a score of like “9 from the American Judge. 4 for from the Russian Judge cause he’s a grump” but there are multiple components to a given score. And certain jumps/tricks/spins/footings are worth specific points. WHAT?! This was so much more advanced than what I signed up for but hey, I was here for it, I had nowhere else to go. My doctor was the Olympics and this was my prescription. Here we go.


So we do two things to get to the final “you-won-a-gold-medal-hooray” moment:

  • A short program
  • A long program or “free skate”

Add those two scores together and you get the final score. Short program one day, long program the next day, pretty simple. Here’s the complicated part.

Per a skate, an individual skater is working towards the highest possible Total Segment Score or TSS. That is arrived at by adding the Technical Elements Score (TES) and the Program Component Score (PCS) together.

The TES is the execution of specific moves based on the points the move is worth and how well it was done. Johnny is obsessed with this one. He’ll constantly say “oh he left points on the table by not doing a quad” or “he’s fighting for all his points with that toe loop”. Each move is worth x-amount of points. Do it well, you get the points. Do it badly, you lose the points. Do it ok, you only get some of the points. If you’re watching any events later and you see little red, yellow, and green boxes, that’s what those boxes are telling you. Green is good. Red is bad. Yellow is under review. All of those add up at the end and going out of the program, you know what they earned there from the moment the applause starts. Skaters will tell you their “approximate Tech score” going into the skate and lay out what they plan to try to do. Like little US 17-year-old Vincent Zhou had the highest predictive score going into the short programs. He didn’t make it all, but he tried.

The PCS is basically just artistry. That simple. There is a little more to it that but that is also over my pay grade by a whole lot. And I just don’t quite get those intricacies. I’m only just learning here, kids. I basically tracked this by when they’d be quiet. Usually, if they were quiet, it was beautiful so the score was higher. Except for the elephant in the room… We’re almost to that elephant.


Ok, so I’ve got this all down pat now. This confusion and google searching and hanging on Tara’s every word went deep into the short program. Through a French guy in a taxi costume to an ex-pat representing Israel skating the Hava-Nagila, I’m just trying to understand. And all anyone is really doing is talking about two guys, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and USA’s Nathan Chen.

Hanyu is a batty, genius, mad scientist, rockstar figure skater.

He won the gold last time in Sochi. If he wins again, he’ll be the first to do it since the 1950’s. Instead of throwing panties, girls throw Winnie the Pooh dolls at him. I’m not joking. This is a 100% percent fact. Go look it up. Dude loves a Pooh bear. They keep cutting away to him warming up. He’s rolling around on office chairs, bouncing plastic bottles off of walls. He’s just being very eccentric. I love him. He looks like a little cartoon with his big eyes and bobblehead. He’s fun. I can’t wait to see him skate.

Chen is the opposite.

18-years-old and mature to the point of wondering if he’s secretly Benjamin Button and actually 80-years-old, Chen is our hope at a gold. He’s won a bunch. He’s skating well. He does five quads in one program. He’s supposed to win. But he skated poorly the other day in the team challenge. So can he skate well? Is he ready? Is he too young? Who knows. Kid looks like a high school kid graduating college and his parents haven’t shown up to commencement yet. He looks nervous. Every time they show him, he looks like he’s gonna jump out of his skin. But he seems so sweet and I wanna root for patriotism and a miracle story so why not.

Finally, we’re all obsessed with quads.

Quads are 4 spins in the air. That’s four spins in less than a second. In the air. And landing. And the way that you get up in the air to do that is harder or easier and gets more points. It’s all physics. It’s very complicated. But we are all obsessed according to Johnny. Apparently, the use of quads has altered the sport. If you can’t do a quad, you can’t win. That’s it. Men are retiring because of this. Multiple that evening, actually. Just done. No quads, I’m out, thanks for the Olympics.

Even American Gay darling, Adam Rippon, doesn’t even ATTEMPT a quad. He doesn’t have it, he’s ok with that. He sassily swings his tush at the judges and puts on a real show and it earns him a really great score given that he isn’t doing the crazy jumps. Remember, performance is part of it, even if his tech score is low. He’ll finish 10th for the day.

Then, Hanyu skates. And it’s transcendent.

Call it caloric deficiency and dehydration. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s clouded judgment, but I actually cried watching this. Like I said earlier, no one spoke. For two minutes, we didn’t breathe or we’d blow him over and he’d mess up. And he didn’t. It was so thrilling as he spun through the air and landed like a knife going into butter. He was so intense and scary but also inviting and beautiful. It was the amazing duality I had never seen. And I cried. Like a baby. And he set a record and scored over 111.68 points!!!! To give you reference, the lowest score was 46.58. That’s almost 70 full points in difference. He is a god.

Chen is next….perfect Nathan Chen:

Or Nathan Chen, the boy who fell. Over and over again. After such an amazingly eye-opening performance by Hanyu, we all wanted to see Chen challenge him. “We were rooting for you, we were all rooting for you” kind of situation. The first fall was like taking the air out of a balloon. The second was someone stepping on it. With every error, the room grew more and more silent. I swear a woman gasped at some point. It may have been my delirium but I swear I heard it. Even Johnny was silent for the final minute. Watching a young man realizing he was missing out on his dream was, in a word, heartbreaking. It was a baby giraffe trying to walk, not a two-time US Champion in figure skating. His legs were, quite literally, not under him. And mind you, I’m still trying to figure out when a jump is good or bad. All of them were bad. All of them. And I even knew that. No quads. Nothing. Professionally, I’m a director so when an actor I personally brought in flops in an audition, my heart breaks and all I want to do is hug them but I can’t cause it isn’t professional. This was a similar feeling. Except I couldn’t hug him cause a) he’s a stranger and b) he’s in South Korea. My arms just are not that long. I was so ready to love you, Nathan Chen. And I still am. But tomorrow’s long program has to deliver. It just has to. He’s got 82.57 right now. He’s the lowest scoring American. He’s sitting at 17th. It just really doesn’t look good and honestly, I cried a little about that too.


I’m all a titter. I can’t tell if it is the day after feeling of having not been able to really eat or anything but I’m shaking with excitement. I’m already wondering what matching outfit Johnny and Tara are wearing and what ridiculous words are gonna come out of Adam Rippon. Is Spanish skater Javier Fernandez gonna be as charming as last night? I almost told my boyfriend I was leaving him to go to abroad and win the Spaniard’s heart. Seriously, that cute. And frankly, I don’t think he’d have disagreed. But of course, the big question: what the hell is gonna happen with Chen and Hanyu? Is Hanyu going to be as flawless? Is Chen gonna give up? The suspense was killing me.

But then history struck.

Nathan Chen skated early cause his score from the first day was so low. Then he landed SIX QUADS!!! SIX!! Not all were perfect but they were landed and they were there and he was triumphant!! History from the young American to say the least. He’s nearly flawless, I don’t love his music choice but I can appreciate a great skater working well with the what he has and he sells this song. He is the Mao’s Last Dancer (that’s what his program is to). My words do no justice. His numbers do. He scores 215.08!!! YES! He’s number one for the first time in this entire situation. He’s on top. For how long? We don’t know. But that could mean a medal but at the very least, it is the most important thing: redemption.

What will Hanyu do???

Well, he comes in and throws down another gorgeous performance. Truly stunning. He almost stumbles a few times but keeps control. He lands many beautiful quads, even more stunning triples. And he hangs on and performs the way we expect him to as the mad genius that he is. But he was not squeaky clean. And he did fewer quads then Chen. What’s gonna happen? Where will he sit? He brings in a whopping 206.17, a great score but you know what… You know who scored more? Nathan Chen.

In the end, Yuzuru Hanyu rightfully took home his second straight gold.

Like he said in an interview, he is mentally strong. And it showed to not bow to that pressure and collapse like Chen did in the short program. Chen jumped from 17th place to 5th, still missing a medal but he’s only 18. Unless he is actually Benjamin Button, cause then he would be 14 and too young to compete in the next Olympics. But only time and reverse aging will tell us the truth on that one. I, on the other hand, am now committed to quad toe loops and having regained the ability to eat solid food and I move on with my Olympic life. I’m sorry, but I like figure skating.

Sarah Jane, Sarah, or SJ-depending on the source-is a director, educator, theatre artist and now, sports blogger. She lives in Queens with her darling, not-so-sports-fan boyfriend. She played ice hockey growing up for the NJ Quarry Cats and various other teams. Being team captain her last two seasons is the most important achievement of her life to date. She proudly also was about a quarter of the size of her opponents and often led her team in both penalty minutes and enthusiasm. She's a Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers fan (thanks, Momma!) and a New York Yankees fan (thanks, Poppa?) and was given zero choice on all three of these teams. Other hobbies include reading non-fiction books, cooking, and being spunky. Check in with her for all your greater hockey needs!

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