Figure Skating at the 2010 Winter Olympics begins its competition schedule Sunday night with the Pairs Short Program. The Chinese team of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao and the heavy gold medal favorites in the event, having already won bronze twice.
Returning from a two-year layoff for one last run at that elusive Olympic gold medal, the Chinese have been simply brilliant this year. They've won each of their competitions by huge margins. The Grand Prix final had the most stacked field outside of the Olympics, and Shen and Zhao blew away the field by a dozen points.
Their practices here have been masterful -- seeing them is better than watching some others compete. Their athleticism, always their strength, hasn't dropped off at all despite being in their 30s, ancient for pairs skaters. But they're also wonderfully expressive and emotional, a big change from a couple whose faces used to look like blank slates.
However, they're not the only gold medal hopefuls, writes our figure skating blog, Required Elements. Laura points out that Shen/Zhao is "up against two-time reigning world champions from Germany, Savchenko and Szolkowy, as well as the late-surging Russian pair Kavaguti and Smirnov ..."
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (Russia): Kavaguti and Smirnov have all the makings of a great pair team, including a bit of fearlessness (they're one of the few pairs that attempts the throw quadruple salchow). They had a fairly disappointing start to the season, losing all of their Grand Prix competitions, but it looks like they are a pair that peaks at the right time. They were able to snag a bronze medal at last season's world championships and recently won their first European championships, beating three-time reigning European champs and two-time reigning world champs Savchenko and Szolkowy. Although they aren't often perfectly clean, the judges really like them and I expect to see them score high here. They are coached by Tamara Moskvina, who has several Olympic champion pairs teams to her credit. And they're a Russian pair at the Olympics - Russians have quite a track record in this event. A Russian or Soviet team has won at each games since 1960.