Understanding Pairs Figure Skating: We Scored 'The Cutting Edge'

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Spoiler warning: The results of Wednesday's free skate (and medals) are included at the bottom of this post. 


via IMDB

In honor of Wednesday's Olympic pairs free skate — and to help explain the current scoring system and what you'll see tonight — The Wire decided to score the free skate in the greatest skating movie ever made: The Cutting Edge. And we hope it will help you understand the pairs free skate, which will livestream Wednesday morning and air during the primetime broadcast on NBC Wednesday night.

For a generation of us, Kate Moseley's and Douglas Dorsey's free skate, punctuated by the dangerous and high-scoring Pamchenko (more on this in a bit), was one of the greatest things we've ever seen on the ice or in cinema. It's a story of fire and ice and fire on ice, when a reluctant hockey skater and an ice princess come together, fall in love, beat the Red Army the dominant Russian pairs team, and win gold for America. Who could forget Dorsey barreling down the ice in Albertville like a freight train, while his lumpy troglodyte relatives and old flings cheered him on Minnesota? Or Kate Moseley showing steely grace while her relationship with the the dashing Hale Forrest went up in flames? 

Recommended Reading

No one.

And it will go down as the best 10-point free skate in skating history. That breath-taking performance, under today's rules, would only garner 1/5 or 1/6 of what pairs teams score today. Here's why:

Scoring the Routine

To help explain the the current scoring system, The Cutting Edge, and the teams to watch during today's pairs competition, we spoke to national team member and pairs skater Jimmy Morgan; Marni Halasa, a coach and figure skater based in New York; and Dave Lease, a superfan, expert, and skater who runs The Skating Lesson blog.

Because of the 2002 scoring controversy, a new scoring system was implemented in 2004. The bottom line: there are elements and these elements are worth a certain number of points. And if you do the elements well, you can score even higher (think of them like bonus points) in what's called Grade of Execution (GOE) scores. Judges can also penalize you in GOE scores if you do the elements poorly. 

Morgan and Lease reminded us that one of the biggest differences between reality and The Cutting Edge is that there are no spotlights in actual competitions. "They skated to race car music. You have to respect musicality of that performance," Lease said, referencing Moseley and Dorsey's Olympic short program. 

But before we get carried away, let's get back to the score and the program. Here is the scene which changed my childhood and taught me that loving someone could give you the power to kick ass:

According to Morgan (a good sport who went with our semi-silly request), here are the technical elements that Moseley/Dorsey performed in their free skate and their point value:

2FTh Throw double flip - 3.0 points

2F Double Flip - 1.7 points 

4Li2 Group 4 Lift - 3.0 points

2F Double Flip (no value) - can't repeat the same jump

2LzTw Double Twist - 3.0 points

Illegal element (Headbanger) - 0 points

Pamchenko / Impossible Throw / Iron Lotus Move - 0 points (possible death)

The total base value of their technical elements: 10.7 points. 

That's sad when you consider the total base value for the top pairs from the team event, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov from Russia, was 57.43.

The main difference here is Moseley-Dorsey had seven elements, two of which defied physics, were illegal, and could have resulted in death. "He let go of the girl [during the Pamchenko] and the girl starts to spin the air and is somehow not dead. That's impossible," Halasa told us, really driving home that the Pamchenko (pictured in the top GIF) is really too good for this earth.

Stolbova-Klimov and the rest of the skaters in real life are graded on 12 elements and perform more difficult jumps, spins and moves than the ones Moseley-Dorsey performed. 

What to Watch for on Wednesday

In spite of having the greatest skating movie ever made in its back pocket, pairs skating in the U.S. just doesn't have the same enthusiasm that the men's and women's individual skaters do. 

"I don't really understand [why pairs skating isn't more popular], because I think pairs is dynamic and highly dangerous sport and the public loves that," Halasa said. "These are amazing incredibly beautiful skaters."

Another factor is that the U.S. doesn't have a strong tradition of pairs skaters compared to countries like Russia and China. And America likes winners. Changing that will have to mean changing the way pairs skating has been approached in the U.S.

"In our country, most of the pairs skaters are failed singles skaters and it's considered a lesser discipline," Lease said.  "Whereas Russia has had a strong history and tradition ... In China, their pairs skaters are their best skaters," he added, explaining that we need to value and study pairs skating to produce better teams. 

That said, just because the best teams in the world right now aren't American or Moseley and Dorsey, doesn't mean that we should ignore the sport or these splendid pairs. Here's who to keep an eye out for:  

The Perfectionists: Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov

Tatiana and Max have taken the lead after the short program and hold around a 5-point advantage going into the free skate. "They perform high-risk elements with ease and perform with a poise that makes you believe they've skated together all their lives," Morgan said. He noted that they've won almost every event they've entered this year. 


What to watch for: Their perfection. "They have lines that match perfectly," Lease explained, noting that Tatiana and Max's moves are textbook. "That old crotchety piano teacher you had would love them." Lease also explained that this perfection cuts against their maybe-odd music choice. "They have this weird mash-up of 'Jesus Christ Superstar,'" he said. Adding: "You have to appreciate anyone who wears a fake mustache." 

The Competitors: Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy

Savchenko and Szolkowy are four-time world champions and are Volosozhar and Trankov's biggest rivals. They don't have the perfect lines and OCD-like unison that the Russian pair has, but they have excitement and big tricks on their side. 

What to watch for: Savchenko's competitive spirit. Savchenko does not like to lose, and she is the fiercest competitor in the game. "Those eyes," Lease said, referring to a look Savchenko shoots "where you know she is going to land it. And if her partner misses, he will see her for his life afterward." Savchenko is so committed to winning that she wore a hot pink body suit in her short program. That type of spirit cannot be underestimated. 

With Savchenko determined to land everything, it makes sense that this team has the capability to perform big tricks like the throw triple axel, one of the hardest throws in the sport Morgan says. 

The Darkhorses

While there seems to be a consensus when it comes to the top two teams, there is no odds-on favorite for the bronze medal. Lease's money is on the other Russian team, Stolbova and Klimov, who are consistent and a little quirky. "They have a free skate to the Addams family," he told me over the phone. I imagine if Lease had told me face-to-face there'd be a smirky grin and an eyebrow raise accompanying that comment. He also likes the experienced Chinese team, Qing Pang and Jian Tong.

Castelli/Shnapir of the US show off a huge throw triple Salchow.

Morgan believes that the American team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have a good chance as any of sneaking into the third spot. "They are currently in 9th place. However, they are around 7 points away from the top teams, which is possible to make up in the free skate. They are planning to do a throw quad salchow, even harder than the Germans' throw triple axel," Morgan said. "However, more than just their throws, they have an amazing James Bond program that could win big. I'll be rooting for them in the long." 




Update: 1:43 p.m.  RESULT— SPOILER WARNING

The Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov have won gold in the pairs competition. The other Russian team,Stolbova and Klimov, finished second and the German team of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy won bronze after an error-filled performance. 

The competition begins Wednesday morning in the U.S. and will be shown in prime-time Wednesday evening. 

To follow the Olympic competition alongside Lease head on over to The Skating Lesson. Morgan is at @HashtagJimmyAnd Halasa's site can be found here

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.