Figure Skating: From the Boards

One down, five to go! October 25, 2010

After late nights turning into early mornings, a 6 a.m. wakeup call to catch the end of the Ladies competition on the way out of town, and 300 miles round trip ending just in time to see the final group of men take the ice, I was exhausted…but satisfied. The long wait was over.

In some ways, NHK Trophy set the standards miles high. In other ways, there’s not only room to improve, there’s not much room to fall. Let’s review, shall we?

First up, we have ice dance. I can’t say this lineup did lead to a predictable winner. Meryl Davis and Charlie White were more than clear cut winners. If anyone bet against the odds of them winning, well, they deserved their losses!

I’m making light of it, but in all seriousness, this was the Olympic Silver medalist’s competition to lose. And they didn’t disappoint!

This being the first year with the new Short Dance format, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. In some ways, I was left mourning the loss of the Original Dance. Many times that ended up being my favorite portion of the dance competition. However, I was also impressed with the dance quality shown by the top teams. Likewise, it quickly showed off the shortcomings of lesser teams.

The Free Dance is, as always, anyone’s game. And this being the first event, I was anxious to see the variety of themes we’d see! It was…interesting, to say the least!

Meryl and Charlie were clearly the class of the field. Their SD was strong, elegant, fast, sharp and clean – and their PCS marks proved that, as they were the only couple to get any kind of 8s in the SD.

Technically, Weaver and Poje from Canada were nearly even with the Americans. Just over a point separated them in the technical mark. But the SD, despite not being quite as rigid as the Compulsory Dances of “yesteryear,” are basically showing the same thing. I feel like the top teams should be close in the technical mark. In my notes for this dance, I wrote (and stared!) “Awesome lift!” So, kudos to them for being challenging themselves there.

The Russians, Ilinykh and Katsalapov, performed with the confidence earned by being Junior World Champs. The had clean lines, good posture and quality twizzles. The top N. American teams better watch out for these two!

Cappellini and Lanotte skated a clean program, but nothing that wowed me. They are, however, a team with a very smooth quality to their skating.

Perhaps the highlight of the SD was the Shibutanis. In fact, they may be my highlight not only of this SD, but also of the entire competition! I knew I liked these two from the first time I saw them, but I was more than impressed here. Yes, they had a strange, freak fall in the SD (Alex skated up onto Maia’s skirt and fell), but the overall quality, speed, and confidence was brilliant.

And where they faltered in the SD, they came back soaring in the Free Dance! Their approach to the FD this season is so light, cheery and relatable. Maia’s posture is stunning and her expression makes ever second interesting. They have a ways to go to match Meryl and Charlie in terms of technical difficulty as well as program components, but they’re the team to watch out for before long. They did enough to finish 2nd to the top American team in the FD, earning the bronze medal overall.

Overall, Weaver and Poje took home the silver, and Davis and White the gold.

I must say, I was looking forward to seeing Davis and White’s new FD, and what I saw didn’t necessarily blow me away, but it made me very excited for what could be by Nationals and Worlds. The tango seems to be a popular theme this season, but I really like the direction D/W’s team took this one. Plus, the actual tango elements incorporated into the program were brilliant. They’re continuing to work on new lifts, which is nice, and their twizzles are, in my opinion, the best in the world. They earned all positive GOEs for their elements, and nothing but 8s and 9s for PCS.

Funny thing is, I felt it was a little rough…lacking some spark, some connection to each other and the audience. I wasn’t alone. Meryl said as she stepped off the ice, “That was…a bit of a battle.”

I agreed.

Still, I get goosebumps thinking of all this program COULD be…and likely will be by Nationals!

The men’s competition saw a much anticipated match up between the reigning World Champ and the reigning US Champ. Jeremy Abbott skated a passionate Short Program (Tango anyone?) that should have had him closer to Takahashi at the end of the night, however, he did not get credit for one spin because he didn’t hold a position long enough. But the program overall has difficulty, creativity and passion…so I’m a fan!

Takahashi’s Short Program is also the making of a masterpiece (however, I can’t hear this music without thinking of Ryan Bradley!). It certainly got the crowd going, and he has the fancy footwork to make this program dazzle! The judges rewarded him for that, as they continued to do in the Long Program.

Now, I’m another one who sneaked in and landed a podium spot is France’s Florent Amodio. He stole my heart last season, and he reminded me why here! He skated a clean Short, but he rocked the house with his crazy, mixed up playlist jam and his Michael Jackson on ice choreo. He’s just a showman and he loves the spotlight! But he came to play, and he skated two very good programs.

Not good enough, in my  mind, to out-score Jeremy Abbott’s Free Skate. That is a mistake, if you ask me (and they didn’t…but this is my blog, so I can say what I want!) Jeremy is simply a superior skater to Amodio at this point, and there’s no way his program should have outscored Jeremy’s, especially in PCS. Amodio stood at center ice, essentially “posing” for what seemed like an eternity (11 seconds, I believe @skating102 counted?). How does that earn more points than Jeremy’s seemingly effortless footwork that was just weaved into the fabric of this beautiful program? I don’t get it. But Jeremy promised via twitter that his PCS will be better at his next Grand Prix!

Although he didn’t maintain his third place position after the short, I want to give an honorable mention to Shawn Sawyer. He’s truly a “skater’s skater” in so many ways. He’s been on the scene for a while now, and I’m always impressed by his creativity and his overall quality. He reminds me of Jeff Buttle in several ways. But his “Alice in Wonderland” Free Skate has the potential to be SO magical. The music, the choreography, the transitions…if only he could get those jumps down! He’d be good to go. Still, I love his dedication to being creative in every moment of his programs.

The ladies competition, much like the ice dance, should have been easy to call. Mao Asada, reigning World Champ, Olympic Silver medalist, competing without “arch-rival,” Yu-Na Kim…her closest competitors should have been Rachael Flatt and Kanako Murakami. Turns out, her biggest competition was (excuse the over-used phrase) herself. And it was sad to see.

I think Mao has the makings of two really great programs for this season. She’s proven that she can earn points – and praise – for her artistry, but without the jumps that caught everyone’s eyes in the first part of her career, she will have a tough time finding the podium. Her FS was hard to watch…and I’m sure, for her, it was even harder to finish. I hope she can go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and figure out what went wrong, because this isn’t who she is as an athlete or as a performer.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the event was Carolina Kostner’s unexpected win. She’s been so hit and miss the last few years, no one expected her to come in and pull of the victory. Congrats to her for fighting for her jumps more than I’ve seen her do in a long time. She looked more comfortable, confident and happy, too.

That said, I can’t figure out how she manages to earn such high scores sometimes.

Rachael Flatt skated two very nice programs, skated, in my opinion, much cleaner than Kostner’s. And while Rachael did win the Free Skate, she still could only climb to second.

I’m not sure I agree with that judgement, but still, a nice showing for both of them, as well as for the bronze medalist, Japan’s Kanoko Murakami.

Now isn’t she a breath of fresh air! She struggled in her Long Program, but her Short was a delight! She’s a bundle of joy and I enjoyed her tremendously. She’s got a lot of talent…look for her to keep on moving up that podium before long!

Sadly, I was out of town and didn’t get to see most of the Pairs competition. However, I have watched the SPs and, once again, the clear favorite was Pang and Tong. They proved that. Their elements are just at another level. They relate to one another beautifully, they connect their elements, and there’s a polish and a complete-ness that is far above the other teams there this weekend.

The two American teams faired pretty well. Not quite able to bring home medals, but they both skated well and set up a good foundation to build from this year. Pairs is not a strong discipline in the US, so hopefully these two teams can help improve that standing before long.

And there you have it. Stop #1, in the books. Just in time for a quick Skate Canada preview, then another event to watch, analyze and discuss! Hooray!

Looking forward to the competition being on the same continent as I am, though!

Until then…

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