The men’s event at the Sochi Olympics should have been a corker. All those quadmeisters who had all designed their programs to peak in February? What happened?
The team event. That’s what happened.
After the team event, some of the women’s competitors could come down from their peaks (at least the ones that competed in the team event – Yu Na Kim did not) and ramp back up again. Some of them even left to train in Mannheim, away from the Olympic hype. They had time, being the final discipline to compete at the Games. The pairs could just continue to sail on, because they were up next, right after the team event. The men were hit the worst, having no time to come down. But they had to keep skating.
Add that onto the scheduling nightmare for men: the long program was held the day after the short program, with no break between. That meant some skaters, like Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan skated seven days in a row, something skaters just don’t do. And let’s look at the logistics of this at an Olympics: After chugging through the team event (even though both Hanyu and Chan did only the short program), they did not finish the individual short program until after 11 p.m., local time. Then there were the requisite media press conferences and doping procedures. By the time they had struggled through all of this, it was 1 a.m. Then they had to get up for a 10 a.m. practice the next day, the same day they were to compete.
Javier Fernandez did not skate the team event, and he took a day off before the individual events. Hanyu did not take a day off, because he had had a bad practice the day before, which spurred him to practice again, to make sure his confidence was intact. Coach Brian Orser, in retrospect, thinks Hanyu should have taken that day off nevertheless, and we might have seen a different Hanyu in the free. Ditto for Patrick Chan, who was in Sochi a long time before he competed. In fact, he was one of the first skaters to show up.
Does this mean we will never see a stellar men’s event at the Olympics again, because of the team event, and where the men’s competition falls on the calendar? The scheduling is not fluid, because ice makers at the rink constantly have to shift back and forth from figure skating to short track speed skating, but it is that way at every Olympics. However, there has never been a figure skating team event before. It would make a huge difference if the men had a day off between the individual short and long programs. Like Evgeny Plushenko keeps saying: “I am not robot.”