Last night, all Olympic-obsessed eyes descended on the women’s figure skating short program as skaters took to the ice to compete in front of the world. The United States had three skaters perform—Bradie Tennell, Karen Chen, and Mirai Nagasu, who made history with her triple axel in the team event—and all three had stumbles.
Tennell, who had skated clean all season, fell on her opening jump combination. Nagasu fell on the triple axel that landed her a spot in history books last week. Chen had to put her hand down on the ice to prevent a more serious error. They ended up in 9th (Nagasu), 10th (Chen), and 11th (Tennell) places.
It is entirely fair to say it was disappointing that they didn't have their best performances, but their mishaps have caused many to lament the state of U.S. women's figure skating as a whole.
If you look closer though, Nagasu's, Chen's, and Tennell's performances also mark a rare time when one country has three skaters make the top 11. In fact, at Pyeongchang, only three countries in the world were even qualified to have three skaters in this event, and when all was said and done, only Russia had combined placements higher than the United States (1st and 2nd with their third skater in 12th).
How does that point to a women’s program in decline? Let's look at what's really going on here.
There were 30 athletes competing during the figure skating short program, and even with the falls, all three Americans ended up in the top half of the pack, with two in the top 10.
The disappointment with the women's skaters seems to stem from them not having a clear shot at winning a medal, but if we only judge the value of our athletes by medal count, we lose something greater. Take a look at American men's skater Nathan Chen. He did not land a single mistake-free jump during his short program, but the story that defined his Olympic run was his impressive comeback in the free program.
And when Chen got 17th place in the short with his fellow U.S. competitors placing in 7th and 12th, nobody bemoaned all of U.S. men's figure skating.
Why is that happening to the women, when they outperformed the men? Why are people applying a burden of responsibility solely to them, given that a few days ago, the same standard was not applied to their poorer placing counterparts?
Obviously medals matter, but the American ladies performance in figure skating is nothing to sniff at. With a free program to go, and world records and a team medal already under their belts, let's apply the same standard to both groups and NOT be so quick to write the women off.