Figure Skating: From the Boards

Summer Spotlight: Alissa Czisny July 15, 2011

“It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel.”

That one line in a seemingly unrelated Super Bowl commercial became the unspoken motto for Alissa Czisny last season.

Only, her fire didn’t come in the form of an economic disaster. It came, instead, with a shocking turn of events that cost her what many thought was her best chance at fulfilling a life-long dream –competing on Olympic ice.

After finishing 10th at the 2010 Nationals and missing that chance, Czisny had a decision to make.

Many assumed the result had made the decision for her. She would retire, right? Obviously, she didn’t have the “stuff” to hold up under the pressure of expectation. Her best competitive days were behind her, they claimed.

The thing is, Alissa didn’t see it that way. Not even close.

The season started filled with questions. Questions Alissa was determined to answer on the ice.

“I had almost quit skating after last season,” Czisny admitted. “But I chose to come back because I love to skate and because I wanted to reach my full potential. [I] felt that I hadn’t yet realized that.”

So, Czisny boldly decided to take charge of the next phase of her career, the phase that would likely be the most difficult: the comeback.

She changed her coaching team to Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato, hoping the change would give her new perspective, and most importantly, renewed confidence.

“They believed in me at a time when there weren’t many people who believed that I could accomplish anything more in my skating career,” Czisny said. ” They helped me technically with my jumps, they helped me with the everyday training, with competitions, they helped me completely change my perspective on skating.”

So, the dream team went to work. Alissa had come so close before — she won at Skate Canada in 2005, placed third at Nationals in 2007, won that title in 2009. But this season needed to be about the present, not the past, or even the future.

“This season meant a lot to me, not only in terms of placements, but also in terms of personal achievements and satisfaction,” Czisny dais. “This year, I was able to overcome so many things, and I felt as though I [became] a new skater.”

A skater committed to proving — to herself, first — that the best was yet to come.

Armed with two stunning programs, Alissa took on the first challenge of the season, despite still battling the newness of her training arrangement. Apparently “new” works well for her.

“To be completely honest, going into Skate Canada, I did not feel ready to compete yet,” she said. “I was still trying to adjust to new coaches, new technique and I was quite nervous to compete there.  However …  It was wonderful to win again, and to do it in Canada, where I had won my first Grand Prix competition. I was able to gain confidence from that competition, heading into the rest of the competitions of the season.” (more…)


Summer Spotlight — Meryl Davis and Charlie White June 29, 2011

In an American dance landscape desperate for consistency, Meryl Davis and Charlie White are a breath of fresh air.

The two have been together longer than any other American couple, having paired up in 1998. And after 13 years of grueling work, their patience has paid off. The three-time National champs have won seven Grand Prix series titles, and Olympic and World silver medals since their senior debut in 2006. This past season, though, they did something no US dancers have ever done — claim World gold.

Davis and White's tango experiment paid off as they peaked just in time for Worlds.

They displayed laser-like focus all season as they challenged themselves with the new short dance and a deliberately detailed free dance.

With the short dance, they were not alone.

The new dance was an attempt to blend the old-school technique of the compulsories with the expressiveness of original dance in an attempt to satisfy both skaters and judges. It shortens the competition, but keeps the focus on technique.

“We were excited,” White said, “because the obvious plus was only having two parts to the competition.”

But the new format presented its own dilemmas.

“The name itself  obviously makes it clear that it’s no longer trying to do something that’s extraordinarily unique,” Davis said comparing the SD to the OD. “My main problem with it is that the originality isn’t necessarily as accessible as it was during the original dance.

Now, both choreography and music have to mesh with compulsory steps.

“The original dance we did at the Olympics – the Indian one – there’s no compulsory dance that you can sort of put an Indian spin on, unfortunately,” Charlie said with a chuckle. But, in all seriousness added, “Everyone is going to be a little bit more similar, which, I think some of the judges really appreciate because it’s easier to compare, but it will take away from a more exciting competition.” (more…)


Ladies Short Program Recap April 29, 2011

We’ve arrived at the ever-prestigious Ladies event (appropriately on the same morning as the also prestigious Royal Wedding!) and the ladies took to the ice with much to prove.

Canadian Amelie Lacoste skated early, but had a nice Worlds debut that kept her in first place until Mae Berenice Miete had her turn. She included a triple-triple combination, followed by lovely a triple loop and double axel. She has a beautiful quality to her skating, and a great combination of power and presence. I was quite impressed!

Kanako Murakami is the young fireball from Japan, and she came out with the usual energy and vivaciousness! She hit a big triple toe-triple toe combination, a solid triple flip, then had an unfortunate step put on the double axel, but her interpretation of this music is impeccable. She has oodles of energy and this program is great for her. I do miss her polka dot dress, though!

The first of the Russian hopefuls took the ice in an unfortunate, clown-like dress. However, as Irina Slutskya sat nervously with clenched fists on the sidelines, Elena Leonova skated a wonderful short program. She, too, hit a triple toe-triple toe, a triple flip, and a double axel. Everything was on cue and strong. The reaction from the crowd didn’t hurt, and she easily took the lead.

Carolina Kostner has the unfortunate reputation of skating poorly and being overly rewarded in the scores. She started out strong with a triple toe-triple toe combo, hit the double axel, then fell on the triple flip. She skates with great speed, but her transitions are average as are some of the other elements. Still, she ended up tied with Leonova after the short. And still, I don’t understand 8s for her components. (more…)


That’s a Wrap: Pairs Even Recap April 28, 2011

Filed under: 2010-2011 Season News — Tara Wellman @ 11:16 am
Tags: ,

With former World Champions going head to head, the pairs competition was bound to be intense. It did not disapoint.

Before we got to the Pang/Tong vs. Savchenko/Szolkowy faceoff, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford took the ice, despite his broken nose after the short, and they were wonderful! I can’t imagine skating at all after the hit he took, but they came out and did a beautiful — high! — triple twist, and sailed from there. I was very proud of them, as was Meagan. At the end, she said to Eric, “I’m so proud of us!”

The other Canadians skated well, also, hitting both throws beautifully to finish just behind Duhamel and Radford.

Americans Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig had a rough go of it. He fell on the side-by-side triple toe, and she fell on on throw. They had a strong second half, though, but the mistakes were too much to overcome.

Russians Kavaguti and Smirnov skated their magical free skate with an elegance that very few ever master. But, a fall on one of their throws kept them from gaining much ground.

The American champs Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin skated their “Ava Maria” program for the final time, and I was once again moved to tears. There is something so much greater than elements to this program. It means something, and that is worth more than any component mark can explain. Of course, it helps that they hit their elements in superb fashion, the only mistake being a slight hand down on the second throw. They moved up to fiinish 6th overall — the best showing for US pairs since 2006. I’m already excited about what they can do next season. (more…)


Pairs Short Program Recap April 27, 2011

I finally had the chance to watch the final two groups of the Pairs competition and now feel capable of posting my recap!

First, and likely most dramatic, was the performance by Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. They started strong, but on the triple twist, she nailed him in the nose with her elbow on the way down. He’s lucky he wasn’t knocked out cold…she hit him hard. Hard enough, in fact, that his nose was quite visibly broken and bleeding through the rest of the skate. But, to his great credit, he wouldn’t stop. Even telling her when she tried to tell him they should, that he would be fine. Clearly, he was not fine. But they managed to hit each element and go on to hold the 1st place position for quite some time!

His nose was reset by a team doctor afterwards and Eric said he’d wait to see how he felt in the practice session before the free tomorrow. Wishing them the best!

Also skating early on was the potential spoiler team from Russia of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. These two are a nearly brand new team, but they stepped up at Russian Nationals and beat both Kavaguti/Smirnov and Bazarova/Larionov who have competed well internationally all season.

Boy, did V/T make a statement here!

They not only hit every element, but they skated with passion, attention to detail, and an awareness of each other that defies their short partnership. I must say, I was quite impressed…as were the judges.

The American teams skated near the end, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig in the second to last group. This is only the second time they’ve competed with their new short program to “Sing, sing, sing” and I must say, it is MUCH improved since 4 Continents. They looked much more comfortable and confident in each move. Unfortunately, she fell on the side-by-side triple toe which cost them. But their lifts are still spectacular, and she hit the throw. Although not enough to compete with the big guns, E/L earned their own season’s best score and have much to be proud of.

The other American team of Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin had the challenge — and honor! — of skating after China’s Pang and Tong (who I will get to momentarily!). Talk about a tough act to follow! However, John and Caitlin skated strong. They had a great triple twist (I think improved from Nationals, even), a stunning throw triple salchow, and a sultry, demure character that perfectly portrayed the maturity of the tango selections. However, a bobble by Caitlin on the side-by-side triple toe that was followed by a fluke toe-pick kind of fall by John cost them critical Grade of Execution points. Plus, I think they were more nervous than they let on! John felt terrible afterwards. Again, they don’t have the base technical content to match up with the top teams, but with the execution they’re capable of, they should have been a few places higher. Look for them to really lay it all on the line in the free skate — it’s the “final goodbye” so to speak, to the Ave Maria program in honor of John’s mother. If they could somehow recreate US Nationals, they could move back up the standings. Most importantly, as John said afterwards, “Don’t fall down!”

Now. Back to Pang and Tong.

I’ve said all season that they looked a bit flat. The elements were mostly there, but that was it. Nothing went any deeper. Today, they found it. And the result? Magic. This short program was absolutely stunning. Every technical element was executed with control and perfection. Every component to the choreography was meaningful and complete.

I fully expected the Germans to come in and take this title with a fair amount of ease. But Pang and Tong decided they weren’t quite ready for that, and they proved it.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy also had a beautiful skate. They were mostly clean. There elements are big. But little things started to add up quickly: a pitch forward here, a scratchy landing there, and a small collision on the twist later one. The Russian crowd seemed to adore their Russian-folk themed short program, but the judges didn’t love it enough to ignore the imperfect execution. They weren’t happy with their scores, but (unlike the men’s short program!) I was in complete agreement with their 2nd place finish.

Expected to compete for a top spot on the podium was the veteran Russian team of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov. They also started well. Similar to the Germans, they had a few minor issues. Still, big elements, and bigger crowd responses. Then the bizarre fall series continued and Smirnov went down just after they’d started their step sequence. Whether it was the fall, the lost points on the footwork, or the small errors all over, they fell to a fifth place finish just behind the other two Russian teams. Clearly, not what they were hoping for, and not what anyone expected. They sit roughly 11 points out of first, and nearly 8 points off the podium. They’ll have plenty of ground to make up in the Long.

I expect the free skate event to be quite the battle. The top three are separated by less than 4 points, while roughly 8points separate 4-10.

Here are the complete standings after the short programs.

  1. Pang/Tong (CHN)   74.00
  2. Savchenko/Szolkowy (GER)    72.98
  3. Volosozhar/Trankov (RUS)    70.35
  4. Bazarova/Larionov (RUS) 64.64
  5. Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)    62.54
  6. Takahashi/Tran (JPN)    59.16
  7. Duhamel/Radford (CAN)    58.83
  8. Yankowskas/Coughlin (USA)    58.76
  9. Berton/Hotarek (ITA)    57.63
  10. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch (CAN)    56.86
  11. Evora/Ladwig (USA)    54.64
  12. Hausch/Wende (GER)    53.90
  13. Zhang/Wang (CHN)    52.25
  14. Dong/WU (CHN)    49.29
  15. Kadlecova/Bidar (CZE)    45.20
  16. Zabijako/Kulbach (EST)    44.35
  17. Kemp/King (GBR)*    44.14
  18. Canac/Bonheur (FRA)*    43.92
  19. Bakirova/Kamianchuk (BLR)*    38.20
  20. Montalbano/Krasnopolski (ISR)*    37.43
  21. Martini/Kiefer (AUT)*    35.34
  22. Malakhova/Kenchadze (BUL)*    30.10
*did not qualify for the free skate
See you all again before the sun comes up for the free skates!!

Men’s Short Program Recap

One short program event down, three to go. While waking up at 4 a.m. wasn’t the ideal situation, the men’s short program competition was worth it, I must say. Even from the first group, there were highlights. Of course, the real fireworks came later on when the favorites hit the ice and they did not disappoint!

Not much was expected of the inexperienced American team in Moscow. Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner are at their first Worlds, and Ryan Bradley, who has been there twice before — unsuccessfully — has said this is the first time he feels like he belongs.

Dornbush and Miner both skated in the first group and were more than clean — they were quite lovely to watch! I felt Miner’s PCS scores were a bit low, but they both hit the 70+ mark and had a lot to be proud of.

Bradley skated first in the third group, and from the get go, I could tell he was nervous. He hit two quad toe-triple toe combinations in the warm up, but in the program, it was a quad-double. Still, he hit a HUGE triple axel and a nice triple flip. The crowd wasn’t eating him up like normal, so it felt a little flatter than it should have. But it was a good, strong, clean skate. He was underscored, in my ever so humble opinion.

Denis Ten was quite a pleasant surprise. He led the field from the first group up until the second-to-last group with a solid 71+ score. He’s made some dramatic improvements with Frank Carroll. I wonder, though, if he can hold it together for a long program.

The Frenchmen Florent Amodio and Brian Joubert skated back to back.

Amodio was cool, calm, controlled…and explosive. He laid down a great skate. No quad, but he easily took the lead.

Joubert was good…not great. And while he had a quad (that he turned out of), he had no combination. This should have been a serious deduction. His technical elements score was lower than Bradley, but his components score was higher by about 5 points. As much as I love Brian, that was not right. I would have Brian/Ryan’s programs about equal. Brian with perhaps a slight edge in PCS — but slight. That is, if Brian has all the elements. Without a combo, he shouldn’t have led. I feel the international judges don’t take Bradley seriously, probably partly due to his comedic routines. But that doesn’t make his skills any less significant.

But I digress.

Takahiko Kozuka skated after winning the Qualifying Round and proved that he’s quite a contender. I still cringe at this short program, but he skated it well with only a minor error on his triple axel.

Daisuke Takahashi and Patrick Chan stole the night, though. These two have been the co-favorites all along, and they proved why.

Chan skated first, and he laid down the gauntlet with a textbook quad toe-triple toe, triple axel, and a triple lutz. Add that to his impeccable basic skating, creative transitions and best-in-the-world footwork, and we have a winner! He set the new world record short program score, taking down that of previous record-holder Plushenko (who was in the building to see it go down!).  It was truly something special. And one of the few programs I felt deserved the scores it received!

Takahashi was wonderful as well. He didn’t have a quad, but what he had was heart. People were moved by his performance, and not just because he skated it well. To come through the trials his country is coming through and to skate with that much focus and skill…just brilliant. His scores didn’t reflect the quality of his skate, and he finds himself some 13 points behind Chan (who is rightfully in first, but Dai was incredible as well).

Michal Brezina’s scores baffled me a bit, as did Artur Gachinski’s…and even Tomas Verner’s. It almost appeared like the old 6.0 system that because these three skated later in the event, the judges scored them higher. Now, in the old system, they had to save scores for the later groups. Not so anymore. Or so it is supposed to be.

These three compared to the three Americans (and Denis Ten) weren’t all that impressive. Certainly not 7 points more impressive. Brezina struggled on his combo and lacked some polish and quality throughout. Gachinski’s quad-triple combo was impressive, but the rest was just average. Verner’s short program is to die for, but even “Singing in the Rain” couldn’t mask the fall on his quad attempt or the struggle with his combination. And yet, there they are, all at least 6 points higher than those with comparable skates early on. *sigh* Maybe the judges will never learn.

Nobunari Oda was the last to skate, and he had some demons to fight. Last year at worlds he had a disastrous  short program and ended up 28th overall in the event. He certainly made up for that here. But yet again, the scores baffled me. His program shouldn’t have compared to Takahashi’s, and yet he found himself between Patrick and Daisuke and in second place headed to the free skate.

I must say, this was a very entertaining event thanks to the athletes. It was quite frustrating and even confounding thanks to the judges. I’m obviously  not a judge. But I think I know good skating when I see it, and the placements after the shorts don’t reflect the best skates of the night (err, early morning here!).

Regardless, the stage is set. Chan looks to have a comfortable enough lead that he should skate with less pressure. Takahashi, Oda and Kozuka will be battling it out for medals, but they won’t be alone. Less than 5 points separate 2nd-6th. Plus, there are just over 5.5 points difference from 8th-13th.

Oh, the games are just beginning!

Here are your complete results after the Short Programs.

  1. Patrick Chan (CAN)    93.02
  2. Nobunari Oda (JPN)    81.81
  3. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN)    80.25
  4. Artur Gachinski (RUS)    78.34
  5. Florent Amodio (FRA)    77.64
  6. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)    77.62
  7. Michal Brezina (CZE)    77.50
  8. Tomas Verner (CZE)    75.94
  9. Brian Joubert (FRA)    71.29
  10. Denis Ten (KAZ)    71.00
  11. Richard Dornbush (USA)    70.54
  12. Ryan Bradley (USA)    70.45
  13. Ross Miner (USA)    70.40
  14. Javier Fernandez (ESP)    69.16
  15. Kevin Van Der Perren (BEL)    68.34
  16. Peter Liebers (GER)    67.73
  17. Anton Kovalevski (UKR)    65.16
  18. Samuel Contesti (ITA)    64.59
  19. Kevin Reynolds (CAN)    64.36
  20. Nan Song (CHN)    64.78
  21. Joey Russell (CAN)    61.69
  22. Jorik Hendrickx (BEL)    60.74
  23. Paolo Bacchini (ITA)    58.96
  24. Kim Lucine (MON)    58.81
  25. Adrian Schultheiss (SWE)    58.41*
  26. Viktor Pfeifer (AUT)    56.68*
  27. Min-Seok Kim (KOR)    56.19*
  28. Alexander Majorov (SWE)    54.24*
  29. Maxim Shipov (ISR)    50.10*
  30. Misha Ge (UZB)    49.61*
*Only the top 24 move on to the long programs.
Pairs up next today!

Taking on the World: Men’s, Pairs SP Start Orders April 26, 2011

The qualifying rounds are complete, and the stage is set for the short programs to begin first thing tomorrow morning (for those of us in the US!). There was a bit of confusion regarding this qualifying round (including a few questions I had!), so here’s a quick recap:

  • Based on each country’s team finishes last year, “direct entries” were awarded for this year’s teams. For example, in the singles events, if a country ended up with all of their skaters in the top 18 last year, they earned 3 direct entries (i.e. team USA). If a skater finished lower than that, (such as Oda for team Japan) they are given two direct entries…meaning the third member of their team must compete in the preliminary round to qualify.
  • The skater who then as to make it through the “Q-round” is determined by the ISU world rankings. Therefore, although Takahiko Kozuka won Japanese nationals, he had to skate in the preliminary round due to the fact that he was the lowest ranked Japanese man on the team.
  • The top 12 in the Men’s/Ladies Q-round, and the top 10 in Ice Dance move on to the short program (there was no qualifying round for Pairs this year, as there are only 22 teams to begin with).
Now, here are the qualifiers/skate orders for the Short Programs tomorrow.
*skaters who qualified through the preliminary round are marked with an asterisk
Men’s SP start order
Group 1
1. Viktor PFEIFER*    AUT
2. Min-Seok KIM*    KOR
3. Richard DORNBUSH    USA
4. Nan SONG    CHN
5. Denis TEN    KAZ
6. Ross MINER    USA
Group 2
7. Joey RUSSELL*    CAN
8. Paolo BACCHINI*    ITA
9. Maxim SHIPOV*    ISR
10. Peter LIEBERS*    GER
11. Misha GE*    UZB
12. Jorik HENDRICKX*    BEL
Group 3
13. Ryan BRADLEY    USA
14. Kim LUCINE*    MON
16. Kevin REYNOLDS    CAN
17. Alexander MAJOROV*    SWE
18. Javier FERNANDEZ    ESP
Group 4
19. Florent AMODIO    FRA
20. Brian JOUBERT    FRA
22. Patrick CHAN    CAN
23. Takahiko KOZUKA*    JPN
Group 5
25. Michal BREZNIA*    CZE
26. Daisuke TAKAHASHI    JPN
27. Tomas VERNER    CZE
28. Artur GACHINSKI    RUS
29. Samuel CONTESTI    ITA
30. Nobunari ODA    JPN
Pairs SP start order
Group 1
2. Meagan DUHAMEL / Eric RADFORD    CAN
3. Stina MARTINI / Severin KIEFER    AUT
Group 2
4. Yue ZHANG / Lei WANG    CHN
5. Huibo DONG / Yiming WU    CHN
6. Natalja ZABIJAKO / Sergei KULBACH    EST
Group 3
7. Klara KADLECOVA / Petr BIDAR    CZE
8. Tatiana VOLOSOZHAR / Maxim TRANKOV    RUS
9. Adeline CANAC / Yannick BONHEUR    FRA
10. Alexandra MALAKHOVA / Leri KENCHADZE    BUL
Group 4
11. Lubov BAKIROVA / Mikalai KAMIANCHUK    BLR
12. Amanda EVORA / Mark LADWIG    USA
14. Stacey KEMP / David KING    GBR
Group 5
16. Stefania BERTON / Ondrej HOTAREK    ITA
17. Maylin HAUSCH / Daniel WENDE    GER
18. Qing PANG / Jian TONG    CHN
Group 6
19. Aliona SAVCHENKO / Robin SZOLKOWY    GER
21. Narumi Takahashi / Mervin TRAN    JPN
22. Yuko KAVAGUTI / Alexander SMIRNOV    RUS
See you bright and early for live tweeting @fromtheboards!!!

Taking on the World: Ice Dance April 20, 2011

If you think about it, the resurgence of the popularity of Ice Dance is quite remarkable. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always viewed the discipline through the eyes of an American figure skating fan as opposed to the more…cultured eyes of European fans. But there’s no doubt the popularity of the discipline has increased, perhaps thanks to the world-wide dance craze in general.

I’ve loved watching the discipline gain back some credibility, as well as watching the athletes take the challenges of the Code of Points system to heart. We’ve seen some truly remarkable dance teams in the last two Olympic cycles and there’s no room to take it easy — if the reigning champs aren’t willing to push the limits, there is always a young team nipping at their heals, ready to take the lead.

This year has proven itself to have some utter predictability mixed with some genuine surprises, and that’s a combination that makes the ice dance event a prime time show.

It’s no secret that Americans Davis and White are the team to beat. The expected free dance showdown with the Olympic Champions at 4 Continents didn’t happen, due to Tessa’s minor injury. Thus, Davis/White remain the hands down favorite, based on the proof they’ve offered this season — namely, the fact that they’re undefeated, and that by a large margin. They have also continued to improve as they go, which should have them in good position to peak at Worlds. Their international-leading score of 172.03 at 4CC has them nearly six points above the nearest competitors from France — Pechalat and Bourzat.

The French team has one of the best free dances of the season. Davis/White push the limits technically, for sure, but

Nathalie and Fabian's Charlie Chaplin inspired free dance earned them gold at the European Championships, setting them up for a podium run at Worlds.

Pechalat/Bourzat create something so special with the character of this dance. It’s charming and challenging, and it engages the audience (and, thereby, the judges) from beginning to end. Plus, they have challenged themselves to take Davis/White head on. They want to be considered gold medal contenders, and they’ve done well to prove it.

As we’ve seen in other disciplines, the push to Sochi in 2014 is evident in the serious resurgence from the Russian skaters. Ice dance, once upon a time completely dominated by Russian teams, is no different. Pulling in the 3rd highest scores of the season, Bobrova/Soloviev would love to turn their European silver medal into a spot on the podium, especially now skating at home in Russia. They’ve got some work to do if they want to overtake Davis/White or Virtue/Moir, but watch out for this team. They’re on their way.

Unfortunately, a team with a real shot at the podium has had their season cut short. The brother-sister team from Britan Sinead and John Kerr have officially withdrawn from the championships. Sinead suffered a shoulder injury early in the season, and there were rumors they had withdrawn prior to the tsunami in Japan. Those reports were never confirmed, however, and it became known that when it was evident the event would be postponed, the Kerrs chose to wait it out and see if Sinead’s injury would be better in time. Sadly, that is not the case. These two are always crowd favorites, so they will certainly be missed in Moscow.

One of the most pleasant surprises of the season is the successful senior debut of another brother sister team, Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani. If you follow my blog or my twitter feed, you’ve probably figured out that I love this team, so I’ll try not to turn into a gushy fan girl and maintain my journalistic credibility here! But this team brings a level of maturity in both their technique and their expression that is well beyond their years. Their carriage over the ice is stunning aesthetically, and their commitment to musicality is refreshing. They have plenty of room to grow, both technically and artistically, but judging by the rapid progress of their training mates Davis/White and Virtue/Moir, I’d say they’re in the perfect situation to do just that. This year will be great exposure for them and while a podium finish is unlikely, a top 5 finish isn’t entirely out of the question.

The Canadian teams have held their own yet again this season, producing perhaps more national competition than any other country. They send a world team lead by Crone and Poirier — a team with a free dance with Christopher Dean choreography that would challenge the best in the world. They’ve struggled to maintain consistency, but they want to be given credibility among the world’s best, and they’ve made good headway towards that this season.

They’ll be joined by Weaver and Poje who finished first in China and just behind Crone/Poirier in 4th at 4 Continents. This is a team that always seems to set themselves up brilliantly in their Short Dance, but their FD just doesn’t bring in the scores the other top teams are getting. That will likely hurt them here, as they have no room to slide in either portion of the event.

Of course, not to be left out of the Canadian ice dance discussion are reigning Olympic Champs, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Out all of the season thus far because of surgery on both of Virtue’s legs, they’re coming in expected to rival Davis/White once again for gold. Those who’ve seen the free dance in progress say it is perhaps the best free dance the sport has ever seen. The bit we saw at 4CC looks pretty strong, and very different. Their coaches have said that Tessa is the only female skater that could pull off the character and movement required by their sassy samba dance. Those are strong praises for a program that has yet to be completed in competition. But if there is a team that can debut at Worlds and rain on the Davis/White parade, I wouldn’t be afraid to put my money on this one.

Rounding out my list of the potential top ten are Americans Chock/Zuerlein, Hungarians Hoffmann/Zavozin, and the French Carron/Jones. All have had their moments of success this season, and have the potential to be major players in the run towards Sochi.

Some have wondered what the extra time before Worlds would do to impact performances. My thought is, those who were working on a “come back” from injury or lack of competition may benefit (i.e. Virtue/Moir in dance, Yuna Kim in ladies). Those who were ready to peak may have a bigger challenge as they try to come down from that, only to peak again in a months time (i.e. Davis/White in dance, Chan or Oda in mens).

Regardless, as Meryl Davis said last week, they are athletes. They train to work under challenging situations. This is simply another such situation.

So let the games begin.



Taking on the World: the Pairs April 18, 2011

Unlike the Ladies competition this season, the Pairs field for Worlds is much easier to define, and in a sense, to predict.

The overwhelming favorite will be the German team of Savchenko and Szolkowy. They own the top score this season, posting a 210.72 at the Grand Prix Final, and they’ve looked the most polished and prepared, as well as the most determined to win all season long. They have a maturity to not only their programs, but to their approach to competition that has served them well, and should continue to do so. This team always does something that’s a little different; they push creativity to a new level. And this year, the seem to have found programs that work for their own sense of originality and for the judges watching their every move.

Yuko and Alexanders free skate gave them the victory at Cup of Russia early in the season.

Coming into the event a bit under the radar, the Russian team of Kavaguti and Smirnov have a good chance to take home a medal. This team has been on the rise for a couple seasons now, but never really broken through to the top. Having seen what they had to offer this year, however, that could be about to change. They only competed at one Grand Prix event (Russia), but there they won gold. Their long program is stunning. It is one of my favorite pairs programs of the season. With the time they’ve had since coming in second to the Germans at Europeans (with the second highest score of the season — 203.61), they’ll have had time to improve as well.

Joining them with newly acquired “home ice advantage” are fellow Russians Bazarova/Larionov, and Volosozhar/Trankhov. Bazarova/Larionov posted the fourth best score this season, while Voloszhar/Trankhov topped the field at Russian Nationals, wining the title over the favorites. They have little international experience, but they have all the talent in the world. They could be a surprise. Russian Pairs teams are once again on the rise, and they’ll be represented strongly here before the hometown crowd (with thoughts, no doubt, of being podium-ready by Sochi in 2014).

The early season co-favorites with Savchenko/Szolkowy are the Chinese team of Pang and Tong. They have had a strong season in their own right, although they’ve looked a little shaky throughout. First place finishes at both of their Grand Prix events got them to the Final where they were edged out by the Germans to take home the silver. They came back strong, however, at 4 Continents for gold there. Their season best score of 199.45 has them in third on the list, but we all know that doesn’t necessarily translate to results at Worlds. It’ll be a battle between the top three here, for sure.

Joining the Japanese contingent is the young team of Takahashi/Tran. They squeeze into the top ten international scores this season, but competing on both the Junior and Senior level this season could result in fatigue, especially now that the season has been lengthened by a month.

Then things get a little less obvious and a bit more sentimental. The US and Canadian teams have been nice surprises on the international scene, and they all boast stories that make them great storylines. Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin have been skating very well, of course, in the shadow of the program dedicated to John’s late mom. They skate with such raw passion and they’re driven by something greater than sport — life. They also have their sights set on earning back three spots for the US at next year’s Worlds.

Joining them in that quest are Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig. They debuted a new short program at US Nationals, and I feel they may be one of the few who will have benefited from the extra month to train. That way, they’ll be quite sure of this program and its intricacies, which could serve them well. Of course, Amanda is also recently engaged to Jeremy Barrett — the bronze medalist from US Nationals with then-partner Caydee Denney. The two have since split and Jeremy has retired.

Canadians Moore-Towers/Moscovich, and Duhamel/Radford have both medaled this season internationally, so they’ll likely be duking it out with the Americans and Russians to fill out the top five or six spots. Kirsten and Dylan were the last minute replacements for Jessica Dube and Brice Davison at Skate America who shocked the field by taking silver. Not bad for last minute substitutions! Meagan and Eric are on a mission of their own. Meagan had retired after last season, but that was short lived. Now she’s trying to take her new partnership with Eric to their best Worlds finish yet.

All of these teams have posted scores this season capable of putting them in the top 10 in Moscow. It ultimately comes down to who leaves it all on the ice when it counts.


Taking on the World: Ladies Preview April 16, 2011

Ah, the ladies event. The ever lovely, every turbulent staple to the figure skating world. What would we do without it? (I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’d spend a lot less time scratching my head, that’s for sure!)

Heading into Worlds, yet again, the strength lies in the Japanese team, as they boast the top two international scores this season.

Four Continents Champ Miki Ando holds the top spot, and also the honor of being the only woman to break 200 this season. Her 201.34 from 4CC, as well as her strong Grand Prix gold medals in both Russia and China set her up as potentially the favorite here. She had a mini-collapse at the Final, but she was battling back troubles that have haunted here here and there. If a healthy Ando shows up to Worlds, she has all the momentum in her favor.

Nipping at her heals, though, and on a comeback trail of her own, is her countrywoman and the reigning World Champ, Mao Asada. I won’t lie — when I saw Mao at the beginning of the season, I feared for the worst. Certainly, this season was done for. And by the look on her face when she skated off the ice, I wondered if it would be even worse. To her credit, though, and that of her coaches, she managed to continue reworking nearly every aspect of her skating, while gaining momentum, ending up making the World team, and 2nd place behind Ando at 4cc. She’s put herself back in the hunt. Now she just has to keep moving forward.

As with the men, the circumstances surrounding the Japanese skaters is anything but ideal. While the skating world debated what to do about the World Championships, these Japanese skaters mourned the enormous loss of so much in their country. They will be the story of the event, and how they handle the situation will be very based on the emotions they’re battling. The question becomes, will they rise to the occasion and bring home a World title? Or will the intensity be too much to let them really shine? Either one would be totally understandable…

Interestingly, the 3rd highest score this season belongs to a skater who won’t have the chance to take on the world’s best: American Mirai Nagasu. Her 189.46 puts her in the hunt for a World medal, but her lack of confidence and

Czisny's newfound confidence lead her straight to her second US title.

execution at Nationals means she won’t have that chance. Not this year, anyway.

That does, however, put Alissa Czisny‘s 180.75 from the Grand Prix Final win into serious contention. I love this girl, and want more than anything to see her succeed. It’s not too often that I find myself pulling for someone without any reservation, willing them to succeed. But she brings that out of me. And now more than ever, I believe in her, and I think she does, too. The girl’s got the goods. Her components are to die for, her spins the best in the business. Her long program is probably in my top two overall this season. It’s one of those feel-good, makes you sigh in contentment, can’t wait to see it again kind of programs. If she skates it like she’s capable of, she’s got a real shot here.

Rachael Flatt doesn’t want to be left out of the party. She comes in right behind Czisny in the score department with a 180.31. She’s had her ups and downs this year, trying to figure out what the international judges are looking for. I think she’s found it in her new “East of Eden” short program. Now, if only her injuries will allow her to put the triple-triple back into her long, she has a chance to really contend.

As much as it baffles me, we can’t have a conversation about medal contenders without bringing up Carolina Kostner. There’s something about her that judges can’t deny, and despite her seriously watered-down technical elements, she manages to score well on a fairly regular basis. She’s battled her share of injuries this year as well, but managed to come in 2nd to Czisny at the Final, and 2nd at Europeans. She’ll need to have a pretty spectacular event to take down the top two, but a medal’s never out of reach.

Six through nine on my top 10 contenders list are Kanako Murakami, Kiira Korpi, Ksenia Makarova, and Cynthia Phaneuf. All have had moments of brilliance this season, but never managed to put it all together at once. As with the men, these aren’t necessarily skaters with a chance at the podium, but they do have the opportunity to make a splash, and to end their season knowing they put it all out there among the best in the world.

So what about #10? Well, if you’re observant at all, you’ll notice that Olympic Champ Yu-Na Kim has eluded my list thus far. Reason being, she doesn’t have any kind of score to compare to the others this year. That in no way, however, eliminates her from contention for the title. It’s hard to say what kind of shape she’ll be in, or how well polished her programs will be. But I feel quite confident saying that she will be ready. She will be fierce. And she will fight for the right to once again stand atop the medal stand. She’s the best in the world when she’s on. It’s all a matter of how she will handle the unfamiliarity of competing two brand new programs for the very first time at the World Championships.

As for the medalists, I fully expect it to be something unexpected. But that may, in fact, be what is most logically predictable. You just never know, especially with this field. No matter what, though, it will be fun to watch.



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