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PopWatch on Ice: Good music, bad costumes, and questionable scoring in the pairs' short programs

Presumably not just so the world’s figure skating commentators could keep discussing how poetic it was for the pairs to take the ice on Valentine’s Day, competition got underway Sunday at the Vancouver Games. China’s married two-time Olympic bronze medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao (pictured, far left), who came out of retirement in their thirties (!) to go for gold, performed first and set a new short program record. NBC’s package on their 18-year partnership and dorm-room marriage made me emotionally vulnerable, so yes, I got chills when they hit their perfect side-by-side triple toe loops. They were skating to an instrumental version of Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever” — I’m only human. We’re all rooting for them, right? Other questions that emerged after the first night of pairs (the free skate decides the medals tonight at 8 p.m. ET):

1. Whose costumes were worse: Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (pictured, center), who sit in second after their “Send in the Clowns” program, or Ukraine’s Tatyana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov (currently ninth, pictured right), who donned electric blue catsuits that could’ve been rejects from Blades of Glory for their program to “Dreams Illusion”? Note: Had Björk not built up our tolerance for swan-wear, the sequined birds on the bodices of Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Aleksandr Smirnov (currently third) would’ve earned them an honorable mention. I like this pair, but their remix of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan” wasn’t as memorable as Oksana Baiul’s.

2. Why don’t NBC’s commentators name each piece of music? I’m sure some viewers were driven crazy trying to remember where they knew American skaters Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig’s from (Love, Actually). Watching her mother and his wife cry in the stands was sweet, but I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that their coach, Jim Peterson, didn’t start the waterworks like he did when they made the Olympic team at Nationals. Maybe if they skate another personal best tonight. Neither U.S. couple will medal — Evora and Ladwig sit in 10th, and Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett (who dates Evora) are 14th after she doubled their side-by-side triples — so getting him to well up is now my the goal.

3. Were the judges a little too kind to Canada’s Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison? Dubé fell on their side-by-side triples and he stumbled during the footwork sequence. The dramatic performance lost a little momentum, but the home crowd kept them in it. Should they be in 6th, above their countrymen Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay (7th), who delivered a solid program that epitomized the word “lovely”? NBC commentator Sandra Bezic certainly didn’t think so. I don’t trust myself to judge: I’m a sucker for real-life couples who show affection on the ice, and the way Hay lifted Langlois for an embrace after their performance earned them extra points in my book.

4. Was anyone else kinda hoping that Russia’s Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov would turn on each other? I’m not normally a cruel person, but Bezic and Scott Hamilton had told us they had a tempestuous relationship and had to see a sports psychologist and well, he fell on the side-by-side triples. She touched the ice though, so maybe that’s why she was so supportive when he fought breakdowns on the ice and in the kiss and cry area. I wanted to hug him, too. They’re in 8th.

5. Who will stand on the podium? Less than a point separates first and second, less than two points second and third, and you’ve got two more Chinese couples, the expressive Pang Qing and Tong Jian and the athletic Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao (the latter of whom Hamilton referred to as The Incredible Hulk), within striking distance in fourth and fifth. This is what people mean when they refer to sports as the ultimate reality show. Your picks?

More Olympics coverage:
Scott Hamilton: The 5 most memorable Olympic figure skating falls
Scott Hamilton: The 5 times I was a little too excited in the broadcast booth
Scott Hamilton: The 5 programs I would have skated
Olympic Stud of Day 3: Canadian men’s moguls gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau
Olympic Stud of Day 2: U.S. speed skater Apolo Ohno
Olympic Stud of Day 1: U.S. curler Chris Plys
Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremony: Best and Worst

Photo credit: Shen/Zhao: Ditmar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images, Aliona Savchenko: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images, Volosozhar/Morozov: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Originally posted February 15 2010 — 11:46 AM EST

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