Like it or not, contemporary figure skating is a numbers game.
And Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva has played it better the past two seasons than anyone else in the 14 seasons since the sport’s judging system was changed into something only an accountant with a computer can really love.
Now that the curtain has come down on the final act of the sport’s 2016-17 season, the recent World Team Trophy in Japan, it is worth taking a look at just how remarkable Medvedeva’s numbers have been as she became the first woman to win back-to-back world titles since Michelle Kwan in 2001 -- and, next season, the overwhelming Olympic women's singles favorite.
No matter what one thinks of the choreographic content or themes of her competition programs, (I really liked both in 2015-16 but found what she did this season a bit repetitive in gestures and emotions and generally less appealing), the overall quality of her performances in her first two seasons at the international senior level has simply been stunning.
And that has been reflected in the numbers, even if those at the World Team Trophy were a tad hyperbolic.
At that event, where no overall score is given, she achieved world best scores in both the short program and free skate. Those were her sixth and seventh world bests in the past two seasons.
By doing all her short program jumps and eight of her 11 free skate jumps in the bonus area (second half) of her programs, the 17-year-old Russian maximizes the chance for big scores. She also bumps up the numbers by doing many jumps with one or both hands over her head.
But what has made such scores really possible is the extraordinary consistency of her skating, as reflected in her placements and in the chart below. She has won 12 of her 13 individual competitions the past two seasons and, including the World Team Trophy, has been first in 12 of 14 short programs and 12 of 14 free skates. She has won not only consecutive world titles but also consecutive national, European and Grand Prix Final titles.
(Dear readers: I have checked and rechecked the numbers, but my aging eyes and other human frailties mean I cannot claim 100 percent accuracy for all the information. I would be pleased for anyone to send corrections.)
A few highlights:
*Of the 2,698 individual judges grade of execution scores she has been given in the 16 competitions on the chart, just 117 (4.3 percent) have been negative. And 27 of those negative scores came from her first two appearances at senior nationals, when she was 13 and 15 years old.
*She received no negative GOEs at the 2017 European and World Championships.
*Of some 242 jump attempts done in those competitions, there have been just seven falls – none in her last five events, only one this season.
“It’s honestly amazing how consistent she is,” U.S. champion Nathan Chen said. “When she made a mistake (a stumble on a triple flip) at the Grand Prix Final, I was shocked. It didn’t seem possible.”
To be near flawless in this era when programs are packed to overflowing, when there is no time to regather energy, when her jump order requires incredible stamina, is nothing short of incredible.
That is why Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman took a moment before beginning her free skate at the 2017 World Championships to applaud Medvedeva as the Russian left the ice after what would be another record score.
“I respect her so much,” said Daleman, the eventual bronze medalist.
You can count the reasons why.