olympics

The Definitive Ranking Of Olympic Ladies Figure Skating Gold Medalists Since 1980

Just the long programs. Watch them all right now, yell at me if you disagree, and then let’s get REALLY EXCITED ABOUT TODAY’S SOCHI FINALS!

8. Anett Pötzsch (East Germany) - Lake Placid, 1980

This program is interesting to watch mostly because it shows how far the sport has come. There are so many doubles in this program, which skaters these days wouldn’t get very far with. But it’s also a very athletic and lovely skate.

Age at the time: 19

Mistakes: 1 maybe 2

Standing: 1st after the short program.

Triples landed: 2
Total no. of jumps in this program: 9
Double axel; double axel; double salchow (meant to be a triple); double loop; triple toe; double axel; triple salchow; double lute; double flip

Spins in this program: 4

Most interesting commentator quote: “I don’t know whether it’s nationalistic bias or not but this crowd has not warmed up to Annett Potzsch.”

7. Shizuka Arakawa (Japan) - Torino, 2006

Robert Laberge / Getty Images

Gah I feel like a jerk placing her so low in this ranking, but who even remembers this skate. Arakawa skated a clean but very conservative performance. It was pretty but not exciting or captivating. Meh.

Age at the time: 24

Mistakes: maybe 1

Standing: 3rd after the short program behind Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya, who both tragically screwed up.

Triples landed: 5
Total no. of jumps in this program: 11
Triple lutz/double loop; triple salchow/double toe; triple flip; double axel; triple lutz; double loop (maybe meant to be a triple); triple salchow/double toe/double loop.

Spins in this program: 4

Weirdest commentator quote: “That’s a lady skating.”

6. Katarina Witt (East Germany) - Sarajevo, 1984, and Calgary, 1988

In addition to all the usual things you hear about Katarina Witt, like how she’s sexy, she’s classy, she’s gorgeous — these performances also show that she’s a huge jumper. She’s not a smooth skater, but fun to watch. Also, since her, no other female skater has won two Olympic Gold medals in a row. If you want proof of her charm, watch the first 30 seconds of this clip.

Age at the time: 18 then 22

Mistakes:
‘84: 1
‘88: 1

Standing: First after the short program.

Triples landed:
‘84: 3
‘88: 4

Total no of jumps in this program:
‘84: 10
‘88: 9

‘84: double lutz/triple toe; double salchow (meant to be a triple); double axel; triple salchow into double loop; double flip into double axel; triple toe; double axel
‘88: Triple toe/double toe; triple salchow; triple toe; double axel; double loop (meant to be a triple); triple salchow into a double flip; double axel.

Spins in this program:
‘84: 5
‘88: 3

Most interesting commentator remark: “She certainly is a beautiful lady, isn’t she.”

5. Kristi Yamaguchi (USA) - Albertville, 1992

Getty / Mike Powell

I feel like a traitor not putting Kristi higher in this ranking because she was my hero as a child. But there are some mistakes in this program I forgot about! She skates with exciting energy and strength, but she doesn’t have the flexibility of many of the skaters today. The most remarkable thing here was the level of competition that year overall: Yamaguchi was up against Midori Ito and Tonya Harding — the first and second woman ever, respectively, to land triple axels in competition. (Ito actually fell on her triple axel in her long program at this Olympics, then threw one in at the end of the program and landed it, and still came in second.)

Age at the time: 20

Mistakes: 2

Standing: First after the short program.

Triples landed: 5
Jumps in this program: 9
Triple lutz into triple toe; double axel; triple flip; triple toe; triple loop (touches down); double salchow (she had planned a triple); triple lutz; double axel

Spins in this program: 3ish

Best commentator quote: “All in all a good performance but the door is slightly open.”

(Program starts at 4:00 minute mark)

4. Oksana Baiul (Ukraine) - Lillehammer, 1994

Both athetlic and balletic, Baiul is one of the most beautiful skaters to watch in history and this performance earned its gold medal. Even if she only beat American Nancy Kerrigan by .10 of a point overall — and they both skated fiercely — Baiul was more captivating even with all the Kerrigan-Harding drama going on. (This was only a month after Shane Stant took a police baton to Kerrigan’s upper thigh — a horrifying attack that’s been brilliantly revisited in a recent article here.) Also, Baiul’s Swan Lake short program from this Olympics is mad famous because it rules.

Age at the time: 16

Mistakes: 2, but makes up for one of them

Standing: 2nd to Kerrigan after short program.

Triples landed: 5
Jumps in this program: 8
Triple lutz; triple flip (two footed); triple loop; triple salchow; double axel; double toe (meant to be a triple); adds a triple toe loop in at the last minute; double axel double toe.

Spins in this program: 3

Most interesting commentator quote: “Oksana is competing with the aid of two Olympic-approved anesthetics in her lower back and shoulder. They were administered by a German doctor who said she would not be able to compete without that help.”

3. Sarah Hughes (USA) - Salt Lake City, 2002

Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

A dreamy, classic skater. Every element was beautiful. This was an underdog performance that blew everyone away. It’s a joy to re-watch.

Age at the time: 16

Mistakes: 0

Standing: Fourth to Michelle Kwan, Irina Slutskaya, and Sasha Cohen after the short program.

Triples landed: 7
Jumps in this program: 9
Double axel; triple salchow/triple loop; triple lutz/double toe;
triple flip; triple toe/triple loop; triple toe

Spins in this program: 4

Best commentator quote: “This is the kind of performance you just dream about.”

2. Tara Lipinski (USA) - Nagano, 1998

Getty Images / Clive Brunskill

Putting Lipinski ahead of Hughes in this list is tough, but Lipinski’s program was INSANE. Lipinksi was a spitfire, a tiny spinning top so flawless that she changed the sport forever. She skated with a surprising amount of thoughtfulness in her extensions for someone so young. She, like Hughes, landed very difficult jumps late in the program. And when she landed that triple loop/triple loop combination, which she was the the first ever female skater to land in competition, I remember thinking, as a young skater, “HOW DID SHE EVEN DO THAT.”

Age at the time: 15

Mistakes: 0

Standing: 2nd to Michelle Kwan after the short program.

Triples landed: 7
Jumps in this program: 9
Double axel, triple flip, triple lutz/double toe; triple loop/triple loop; triple lutz; triple toe loop into triple salchow.

Spins in this program: 4

Best commentator quote: “I don’t think anyone has enjoyed the [Olympic] experience more than Tara…and now she skates for gold.”

1. Yuna Kim (South Korea) - Vancouver, 2010

Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

The best Olympic performance ever. She skates with maturity, grace, composure, ease. Her jumps have incredible height. She makes it all look so easy that it’s stunning even to the greatest skaters in history. At this event and in her short program, Kim’s scores set new world records that no one has beaten them since. And if she wins tonight, she will be the only the third woman in history to win more than one Olympic gold medal (Sonja Henie of Norway won three; Witt won two.)

Age at the time: 19

Mistakes: 0

Standing: First after the short program.

Triples landed: 6
Jumps in this program: 11
triple lutz/triple toe; triple flip; double axel/double toe/double loop; double axel; triple toe; triple salchow; triple lutz; double axel

Spins in this program: 4

Best comentator quote: “Unreal. That was a flawless performance. Just un….Incredible.”

Getty Images / Jamie Squire

UPDATE Thursday 2/20/14 at 11:07am: If this post left you wanting to watch Michelle Kwan’s best long program performance, I don’t blame you, and it’s probably this one at ‘98 nationals. Kwan is a five-time world champion, a nine-time US champion, not to mention a two-time Olympic medalist, of course, so there are a few to choose from. These are also amazing:

1996 World Championships (gold)

2000 World Championships (gold)

2001 World Championships (gold)

2003 World Championships (gold)

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