Olympic pairs’ figure skating preview: China, Germany teams set for podium duel


While many of the pairs figure skating teams started their 2018 Olympic experience in the team event – some even already winning medals in PyeongChang – the pairs event begins just two days later.

The pairs’ short program is Tuesday, February 13 in Primetime on NBC and NBCOlympics.com and the free skate is Wednesday, February 14 in Primetime on NBC and NBCOlympics.com.

The top pair teams in the world each come to the Olympics with a major victory under their belts.

Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot won the Grand Prix Final. The team from OAR/Russia, Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, were victorious at Europeans and just won silver in the team event. And China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are the reigning world champions. All three were on the podium at the Grand Prix Final in December, but that’s not to say other teams in the field won’t play spoiler.

Here are some names to know before the event kicks off:

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, Team USA

Credentials: The Knierims are two-time U.S. national champions and have placed as high as seventh at the world championships.

Buzz about the Knierims: As the sole U.S. pair team at the 2018 Olympics, the Knierims were called on to compete in both the short and long program phases of the team event. Their efforts paid off: they already have experience on Olympic ice and can call themselves bronze medalists.

Season so far: The Knierims started their Olympic season by winning the U.S. International Classic in September. Then, they finished fifth at both of their Grand Prix assignments in Japan and the U.S. They recaptured the U.S. national title – their first as a married couple – in January, and were named to their first Olympic team.

At the Olympics so far: The Knierims won team event bronze medals for the U.S. As the sole American pair in PyeongChang, they were responsible for both the short and long programs for the team.

Notes: Alexa Scimeca paired up with Chris Knierim in 2012, and they married in June 2016. Their figure skating-themed wedding was a hit with the attendees. They mounted a blade to a boot as part of their ceremony, and their first dance was their free skate music. Additionally, in April 2016 Alexa came down with a series stomach problems which ultimately required three surgeries. She was off the ice for nearly eight months but recently returned to full health.

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, Germany

Credentials: This is Savchenko’s fifth Olympics, but it’s Massot’s first. Together, they’ve won two medals at the world championships.

Buzz about Savchenko and Massot: Savchenko already owns two Olympic bronze medals from a former partnership, but isn’t looking to get a third bronze. Massot could be the secret ingredient to send her to the top of the podium.

Season so far: To kick off the 2018 Olympic season, Savchenko and Massot earned silver at a competition in Germany. Then, they came to the Grand Prix series, earning a silver in Canada and a gold in the U.S. Savchenko and Massot won the prestigious Grand Prix Final title together in December. They went on to win the German national title, but withdrew from the European Championships in January to focus on the PyeongChang Olympics.

At the Olympics so far: The team competed the short program in the team event for Germany, where they placed third. Germany did not advance to the free skate.

Notes: Savchenko and Massot have gone back to last season’s short program for the Olympics, which they said feels more comfortable to them.  

Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, OAR/Russia

Credentials: Tarasova and Morozov are two-time European Championships gold medalists and the reigning Russian national champions.

Buzz about Tarasova and Morozov: Russian pairs won Olympic gold every Games from 1964 to 2006, before struggling in recent competitions. Teams from Russia stood atop the podium in Sochi for gold and silver, but neither of those teams are competing in PyeongChang. That leaves Tarasova and Morozov.

Season so far: To start the Olympic season, Tarasova and Morozov won a competition in Germany in September. Then, they won both of their Grand Prix assignments, traveling to Russia and France. They placed fifth at the Grand Prix Final, but bounced back to win their first national title and their second European Championships gold medal.

At the Olympics so far: Tarasova and Morozov performed their short program for the team event. They earned a silver medal for their contribution. They were subbed out for the free skate, which teammates Natalia Zabiyako and Alexander Enbert competed.

Notes: Tarasova and Morozov’s “boogie woogie” themed free skate features songs from Christina Aguilera and Elvis Presley.  

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, China

Credentials: Sui and Han are the 2017 world champions and two-time Worlds silver medalists.

Buzz about Sui and Han: After missing out on the 2014 Sochi Olympics when they weren’t selected to the team, Sui and Han now have the opportunity to bring home a medal in their Olympic debut. Their short program to K. D. Lang’s cover of “Hallelujah” is a fan favorite.  

Season so far: Sui and Han won both of their Grand Prix assignments in China and Japan. They also won gold at the 2017 Shanghai Trophy. They took silver medals at the Grand Prix Final.

Notes: Before the 2016-17 season, Sui underwent surgeries on both feet. She not only had to learn to skate again, but learn to walk, too. During her time away from the ice, nearly three months, she learned English.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Canada

Credentials: Duhamel and Radford are the 2015 and 2016 world champions and have won seven Canadian national championships.

Buzz about Duhamel and Radford: Even with two world titles on their resumes, Duhamel and Radford see themselves as underdogs in these Olympic Games. They won silver as part of Canada’s roster in the team event in Sochi.

Season so far: Duhamel and Radford began their 2018 Olympic season with a victory at the Autumn Classic. Then, they won Skate Canada and earned a bronze medal at Skate America. They stood on the podium with bronze medals at the Grand Prix Final. In January, they won their seventh national title.

At the Olympics so far: Duhamel and Radford have already struck gold once in PyeongChang. They competed the short and long programs for Canada in the team event and even won the free skate.

Notes: PyeongChang is expected to be Duhamel and Radford’s final Olympic appearance. Radford is also the second-ever figure skater, next to Adam Rippon, to be an out athlete at the Games.

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, France

Credentials: James and Cipres placed eighth and 10th in two appearances at the world championships. They were 10th together at the Sochi Olympics and the 2017 European Championships bronze medalists.

Buzz about James and Cipres: The French duo nearly spoiled a Russian podium sweep at the European Championships last month – they missed the bronze medal by 0.01 points. Look for them to make a push for the podium again in PyeongChang, the team’s second Olympic appearance together.

Season so far: James and Cipres began the Olympic season with a victory at the Autumn Classic. Then, they competed in Canada and France as part of the Grand Prix series, landing on the podium each time with a silver and a bronze. They planned on competing at French nationals, but withdrew as a precaution due to James’ shoulder injury. They recovered in time for the European Championships, where they placed fourth.

At the Olympics so far: James and Cipres competed their short program for France in the team event, where they finished sixth. France did not advance to the free skate.

Notes: James and Cipres train in Coral Springs, Florida.