PyeongChang 2018

The Figure Skating Exhibition Gala Is the Cherry on Top of the Olympics Sundae

For Olympic athletes, their individual events are the peak of competition -- what they build towards their entire lives. And as spectators, we’re invited to share in their triumphs and devastations. And whatever you’d call this.

Yet when all of the PyeongChang Games' medals have been awarded and they’re unburdened by the weight of competition, they’re still the best athletes in the world, all in one place. Which brings us to the exhibition gala, a figure skating event that takes place after all awards ceremonies.

What is the figure skating exhibition gala?

During the gala, the top individual skaters and pairs of the games, usually those that medal or come close, are given the chance to let their hair down and perform more personality-driven routines. They even perform group skating showcases in a show of no hard feelings after the sometimes-brutal competition of the games.

And it’s phenomenally popular. After the men’s hockey finals, the exhibition gala has the second-most expensive tickets of the Olympics.

So what can we expect from the exhibition gala?

First off, more smiles.

Many of the skaters take the opportunity to shine a light on the sunnier sides of their personalities and indulge in their passions, as opposed to their more formal programs during the games that tend to be geared towards judge-friendly drama and emotion.

For example, at the 2014 Sochi gala, fourth place finisher Javier Fernandez of Spain did a routine titled “Aerobic Class” that featured props (a boombox and a gym bag), costume changes (including a superhero costume), and a bucket of water getting dumped on him. Tatsuki Machida, the 5th place finisher from Japan, skated to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” complete with a full 30 seconds of air guitar.

Outside of song choice and costuming, the gala gives skaters a chance to perform tricks that may be too risky to attempt when their entire future can be determined by a single botched lutz. In the 1994 exhibition at Lillehammer, France’s Surya Bonaly landed a backflip on one skate, despite the fact that backflips had been banned from competition.

What to look for during the 2018 exhibition gala

Not much is known outside of the when: it’s happening on Sunday, February 25, in PyeongChang, and airing stateside during NBC's primetime block from 8 pm to 11 pm on Saturday, February 24

The only other announcement surrounding the gala is that Canadian gold medal winners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will be skating a tribute to Gord Downie, the Canadian music legend who passed away last year. Their performance will be set to Downie’s band the Tragically Hip’s “Long Time Running”.

Besides that, expect some remarkable routines from the biggest names in figure skating. For many of us, it’ll be the last time we see some of these faces for the next 4 years.

In the meantime, check out some highlights from the 2014 gala here.

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Erik Helin is a Thrillist contributor.