Sasha Cohen of the United States skating to Dark Eyes by Nikolai Morozov at the 2006 Olympic ...vSasha Cohen was truly a ballerina on ice. She will go down as the best female figure skating in history never to win a World or Olympic title.
At her best, Sasha Cohen could beat anyone. She brought her game and won the short program segment over an equally impressive Irina Slutskaya at Torino in 2006. On this day, Stutskaya's effervescent personality, huge jumps, and frenzied choreography were no match for Cohen's masterful technique, extension, and musicality. In addition, Cohen brought a fire to her performance that we hadn't seen since her passionate portrayal of Carmen at Salt Lake in 2002. The difference here being that she stumbled but she did not fall.
In the long program, both Cohen and Slutskaya were sloppy and finished second and third, respectively, to a less-than-memorable Shizuka Arakawa of Japan. Suffice it to say, Cohen's energetic performance to Russian folk music would become the standout Olympic performance in figure skating across all disciplines at the 2006 Games.
Mao Asada of Japan skating to Fantaisie-Impromptu by Fréderic Chopin at the 2008 World ...vIt is rare that a fall can elevate a program to greatness. En route to her first World title, Mao Asada became the first skater Janet Lynn in 1972 to pull herself up from the ice and end up in history.
As she prepared to step up into a triple axel, Asada lost her footing and crashed to the ice. Initially stunned, Asada recovered quickly to reel of two triple-triple combinations in a balletic, musical, intricate, and unusually vulnerable performance that helped Asada connect with the audience in a way she never had before.
Mao Asada is possibly the most underappreciated skater today. In part, this is due to her inconsistency. Also, Asada's skating is not always accessible and crowd pleasing like some of other, more popular female skaters of her generation. More than anything, she always seems to come up on the short end of the skating world's fickle, ever- changing rules. Deemed by many to be the best skater in the world in 2006, Asada was unable to compete in the Nagano Olympics because she was too young. After 2008, Asada began to draw intense scrutiny for her jumping technique that continues even today.
Mao continues to fight back, refining her technique pushing the envelope both technically and artistically. Her skating point of view is distinct, and in stark contrast to Kim Yu Na. Where Kim Yu Na has become a crowd pleasing powerhouse, Asada seems to be the somber ballerina Russia always wanted and never got. One gets the sense that the best she has to offer is yet to come. But if it does not, she will always have this historic performance along with her dramatic triumph over rival Kim Yu Na at the 2010 Worlds as a testament to her greatness.
Daisuke Takahashi of Japan skating to music from the motion picture La Strada by Nino Rota at ...vDaisuke Takahashi is possibly the greatest male figure skater of all time. Coming back from knee surgery that kept him off the ice for nearly a year, Daisuke Takahashi had been training for just under nine months prior to the 2010 Olympic Games.
After challenging for gold but ultimately claiming bronze at the Vancouver Olympic, Takahashi claimed his first World title before a hometown crowd and almos became the first figure skater in history to perform a quadruple flip in competition; unfortunately, he two-footed the landing.
Featuring deep edges, difficult transitions, and complex footwork, Takahashi's entertaining long program to music from the motion picture La Strada would make even the great Frederico Fellini himself smile.
Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean of Great Britain skating to Bolero by Maurice Ravel at the ...vJane Torvill and Christopher Dean triumphed at the 1984 Winter Olympics with a long program that will remain the highest scoring single program in the history of figure skating under the retired 6.0 system. Choreographically, Bolero remains a benchmark even today; it is always interesting, unexpected, original, passionate, and musical.
While its choreography was progressive, this program was considered easy even by 1984 standard. Butt hardly mattered then and it certainly does not matter now. This performance captured the hearts and minds of figure skating fans then and it still does today. When both Torvill and Dean fall unexpectedly to the ice on the sudden last beat, it comes out of nowhere, and moment that should have been just insignificant became completely significant.
That is the beauty of this performance. It sort of comes out of nowhere and possibly ends nowhere too; but in the middle viewers are taken on a journey that becomes a testament to the power of movement and its ability to tell a story that feels epic in the span of four minutes.
Peggy Fleming of the United States skating to Selections from Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens, and ...vPeggy Fleming was in every way - stylistically, athletically, and choreographically - ahead of her time. Where skaters before her always seemed awkward and hesitant on the ice, Fleming skated with the smooth lines found in great art.
Her 1968 Olympic gold medal winning performance was as much a testament to her as it was to her coach, the great Carlo Fassi. Her performance had Fassi all over it: elegant, musical, tasteful, jazzy and modern. Fleming's technique seemed more influenced by jazz, ballet, and modern dance than by her predecessors, such as Tenley Albright or Carol Heiss. The execution of her jumps and spins were athletically were more in line with the male skaters of her generation.
Stylistically, Fleming was the prototypical Fassi woman. In Grenoble, she seemed to have emerged from the pages of Cosmopolitan when she took the ice to deliver a free program that challenged conventional free skating with style, grace, and power.
Aleksei Yagudin of Russia skating to Winter by Bond at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake ...vThe bitter rivalry of Russians Evgeny Plushenko and Aleksei Yagudin was rendered moot after Yagudin thundered across the ice delivering a poetic, passionate and athletic short program of Bond's Winter that would remain a signature program when he turned professional.
In this performance, Yagudin builds up to a dynamic circular footwork sequence with a huge quad toe-triple to loop comination and an even bigger triple axel before bringing the crowd the Salt Lake City crowd with a fast, Riverdance-inspired straight line footwork sequence across the stretch of the ice.
At the 2002 Olympics, Aleksei Yagudin was the standout figure skater, receiving every first place ordinal possible and earning four perfect artistic marks for his long program, the most at an Olympics since Torvel and Dean in 1984. Figure skating's most enduring image from the 2002 Olympic Games came in this performance, when Yagudin took snow formed by the blade of his skate against the ice and threw it up in celebration of the winter.
Michelle Kwan of the United States skating to Piano Concerto No. 3 and Piano Trio No. 2 by ...vSkating to Rachmaninoff, Michelle Kwan challenged the convention of the short program and took it to new artistic heights while garnering seven perfect marks all on an injured right foot.
Michelle Kwan never skated under the new, progressive scoring system, so it is difficult to compare her to today's female standard bearers Kim Yu Na and Mao Asada. But the influence of this short program along with her 1998 long program to Lyra Angelica by William Alwyn and Gymnopedie #3 by Erik Satie, both choreographed by Lori Nichol, on Kim Yu Na's gold medal Gershwin performance is undeniable. Skating this signature short program, Michelle Kwan won the short program segment at both the 1998 Olympic Games and the 2002 Olympic Games.
Under the scrutiny of today's progressive scoring system, Michelle Kwan the Olympic gold medal at those games as well. Fortunately, she did not. In pursuit of an elusive Olympic title, Kwan would skate competively for over a decade, delivering many more gold medal-worthy performances en route to nine US titles and five world titles before injury forced her into an "early" retirement.
Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China skating to Violin Fantasy on Puccini's Turandot by ...vThe packed house was on their feet a full thirty second before the best pairs skating team of all time struck their final position. Nobody, not even the great Gordeeva and Grinkova ever brought down the house the way that Shen and Zhao did in this clean, passionate, and technically superior program to music from Puccini's dramatic opera, Turandot. When you skate to Puccini you either skate big or skate home. Shen and Zhao skated huge. Such is the joy in her performance the Xue Shen recalls the young Ekaterina Gordeeva in that she leaves the audience with the feeling that there is not a place in the world that she would rather be than on the ice performing for them. Hangbo Zhao, a great performer in his own right, knows how to make the love of his life shine.
This is one of those performances that's so good, it sends a chill up your spine and leaves you feeling like you just witnessed a little bit of history. This is because, well, you did.
Kim Yu Na of the Republic of Korea skating to Concerto in F by George Gershwin at the 2010 ...vWith the weight of Korea on her shoulders, the most powerful, passionate skater transformed from the sexy James Bond vixen she portrayed in the short to this erstwhile Gershwin ingénue in the long. In fact, this performance does not feel like a Gold medal performance at all. It feels more like a romantic springtime walk through Children's Grand Park in Seoul, South Korea, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
The lightness of this otherwise sophisticated performance is made all the more remarkable by the magnitude of the jumps, the intricacy of the transitions and the complexity of this choreography. It's not likely that her world record-breaking score of 150.06 will be broken any time soon. As Scott Hamilton once said, "Kim Yu Na is a phenom." This performance is a performance that is in every way befitting of Hamilton's observation; it is simply phenomenal.
Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir of Canada skating to Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler at the 2010 ...vThe best ice dancing team in figure skating history ran away with gold at the 2010 Olympic Games in what was expected to be a tight finish at the top for the top four couples. The defending World silver medalists did not just win; they won by enormous 15-point margin over their training mates Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Even more impressive, they did this while skating to deliberate, ominous, but oddly romantic music that would otherwise seem at odds with a progressive scoring system that rewards difficulty, speed, and athleticism.
Progressive scoring can sometimes come at the expense of memorable moments like the one where both Virtue and Moir skate to the middle of the ice and just stop to look at something no one else can see. Virtue and Moir, however, remain an exception to the rule because they are exceptional; they can do anything and still win. Their ability to quickly accumulate points is unparalleled. In unison, Virtue and Moir accelerate through complex choreography that combines deep edges, clean lines, intricate footwork, difficult lifts, and unexpected twizzles.
In ice dance, the difference between first and second place often comes down to opinion that might not hold up under scrutiny. Virtue and Moir left no room for dispute. Their free dance at the 2010 Olympic games was not just the best ice dance performance in figure skating history. It was the best performance in figure skating history. Period.