Figure Skating: From the Boards

Oh, Canada! November 1, 2010

Oh, to be a Canadian skating in Canada! And no, I’m not referring to what some have deemed the “Skating while Canadian” bonus that occasionally seems to appear in the scores for Canadians skating at home.

I’m referring to the intensity of the support for the home team as seen all week long in Kingston.

Even the simplest bit of choreography, executed to the music and theme, received heartfelt cheers. It reminded me of watching Shen and Zhao skate in China. Every moment was epic, every skate memorable, thanks to the endless, boisterous support of the Canadian faithful.

And while this event didn’t feature many of the biggest names in the sport, the competition was tight as ever, and anything but predictable. Let’s start with the ladies, shall we?

For me, the most impressive moment of the whole event belongs to American sweetheart, Alissa Czisny. This is an athlete who has come so close so many times, making her name internationally, but sometimes struggling to put it all on the line at home. She’s been a National Champ before, but struggled last year, and, I’ll be honest, I had my doubts about where she’d be coming into Kingston.

Thanks to a pre-event article from Figure Skating Online, I started to think maybe Alissa was in just the right place for this competition. While her short program wasn’t without error, I saw so much improvement and confidence that led me to believe she had all she needed to pull off a “Chan-like” rebound in the free skate. And what a free skate it was! She’s clearly worked on her jump technique, and her program components are as strong as ever. She’s by far the best spinner in the field, and she just radiates grace and elegance throughout every moment of her “Winter to Spring” long program.

The girl’s got the goods, and it seems she’s got the confidence to match, so far this season. Congrats to Alissa on stealing the show! (Canada’s good to this girl…2005 Skate Canada anyone?)

Speaking of newfound confidence, in the absence of Joannie Rochette, Cynthia Phanuef has taken over as Canada’s golden girl. And she, too, had a new sense of confidence this week. She hit a few speed bumps in the long, but, as someone pointed out on twitter, the look of fear and uncertainty in her eyes was no where to be found as she took the ice to the applause of the crowd. Good for her.

Another ladies highlight was the young American, Agnes Zawadzki. This girl’s got it goin’ on! She needs some mileage on that long program, but she’s got the personality and the nerves of steel to make her into a great competitor. A lot of people thought she might play spoiler here and win the whole ordeal, and it’s clear why they felt that way. It was a very nice senior debut for Agnes!

Now let’s talk pairs.

The young Russian pair of Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Naisuradze was thrilled with their win…and that says something! These two are very classically Russian in their lyrical, elegant style. However, they’re anything but typically Russian in the size of their personalities! They’re adorable! We’re used to seeing Russian skaters much more demure and refined. These two just ooze character and I found myself wishing I knew Russian so I could listen to their post-program thoughts in the Kiss and Cry! These two have some roughness to smooth out on the ice, but look out for them, if not this season, in those to come!

The Americans, Castelli and Shnapir had it going for them after the short, but a tough long program bumped them just off the podium. Still, one highlight of the pairs competition for me was their daring “Avatar” long program. Such unique choreography, skated to very difficult music to live up to! I found myself imagining how this program will come off when they skate it clean – throw triple axel and all! – perhaps at Nationals. It could be spectacular.

The real highlight of the Pairs event, however, belonged to the last minute replacements for Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison – Kristen Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. Fifth after the short program, they came out for the long and blew the roof off the K-Rock Center! Skating to music from Les Mis, the fed off the energy of the crowd and built the program from beginning to end in a way that was so captivating, so magical…*sigh* It was truly wonderful. They won the free skate by roughly 7 points and ended up with the silver medal. Not bad for a team that wasn’t even supposed to be there! Way to be prepared, kids!

Ice dance is probably more popular in Canada than anywhere else in the world. Of course, it helps that they boast the reigning Olympic Dance champs in Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, but even when the starlets are out of the competition due to injury, the fans still show up in droves to cheer on their beloved ice dancers.

This was far from an exception.

Thanks to Twitter, I heard that it was standing room only for the free dance on Sunday. And the Canadian skaters, under the pressure of the home-town crowd, didn’t disappoint.

Let’s start with the team that ended up 4th overall – Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam. These two are making a bid for the title of “Virtue/Moir 2.0.” In their free dance to “As Time Goes By”, it was especially hard to remember that I wasn’t watching a young Tessa and Scott, and while they’ve got a ways to go to match some of the Olympic Champs’ elements, they’ve certainly figured out how to charm an audience like Tessa and Scott. One particular standout for me was the smoothness as they exited their lifts. Seamless! The teams above them in the national standings better watch out – these two have a fabulous future ahead of them!

The brother/sister team of Sinead Kerr and John Kerr were probably the favorites to win this event, and with only a .01 lead after the short dance (What?!? .01, really? NICE!) it was still anyone’s game in the free dance. The Kerrs skated a GORGEOUS program to “Exogenesis: Symphony Pt 3 Redemption” with such a smoothness and elegance. These two are so watchable because they bring the audience in to every second of their programs. It’s always more about telling the story, relating to the audience and being memorable than it is catering to the judges, which, if you ask me, is very refreshing (but not always rewarded). An unfortunate bobble on a lift kind of broke the magic of the moment and things were a little rocky the rest of the way. Still, an excellent program early on in the season.

I’d just like to pause and say, Christopher Dean is pure genius.

What he did with “Eleanor Rigby” for Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier is just fabulous. That’s a program that you have to watch several times to get the full effect. I’ve watched it 2 or 3 times so far and every time it’s like there’s another little piece of the story that falls into place. It will be interesting to see how these two stack up against the Virtue/Moirs and Davis/Whites of the world, but good for them to come out here at home and put that performance out there.

What’s left? Oh, that’s right. The men. Oh boy. This got pretty dicey as the probable favorite, Patrick Chan, had a very messy short program in a lot of ways, yet he pulled in the (questionable?) scores to stay within reach for the long. Then when the top three had some sketchy  moments in their long programs, Chan’s quad, despite a fall on the axel, along with his incomparable program components vaulted him to gold.

Here’s how I saw it.

In the short, Kevin Reynolds stole the show by becoming the first to land two quads in a short program. Not only that, but his character and performance was stellar, too. In the long, however, his technique failed him and his performance suffered for it.

Nobunari Oda could have been considered a co-favorite in this competition. He has a tendency to kill it or get killed by his programs. Here, he put together a nice short, good enough for the lead, thanks to PCS better than Reynolds. His long was kind of strange for me…moments were good, but it was, overall, less polished than Chan’s, with enough technical mistakes to knock down his score.

Adam Rippon is just a delight. There’s not much I love more than his “Rippon lutz.” He’s on a great roll so far this season, first with the Japan Open and now this. He’s got to shore up that triple axel and maybe rework a few things components-wise, but I have no doubt that he’ll be a major player this season.

Okay. Now for what some have deemed “Chanflation.” While I’ve tended to agree in the past that Patrick, as good as he is, sometimes pulls in marks that make me go, “Huh?!” However, at the risk of being flamed for it, I’m actually going to stand by the judges on this one!

No one was perfect in Canada. Everyone made mistakes, everyone had their moments, good and bad.

What sets Chan apart from everyone else in the world is the very elements that make up that controversial program components score. So let’s check those out.

Skating Skills: For me, one key to look for here is the quality of the edges and control. Patrick’s edges and turns and every step in the footwork is built on a solid foundation of clean, strong, and smooth basic edges. Jeremy Abbott is another great example, in my mind, of stellar basic skating skills.

Transitions: If you watch Chan’s long program in particular, there is something connecting every move to the next – and that “something” is always harder than it appears. He has a way of using connecting steps as a more than just a way to get from point A to point B, they’re part of the story. It’s incredible.

Performance/Execution: The execution element should drop a bit when there are technical mistakes, IMO, but the thing about Chan is that, despite mistakes, he never stops performing his heart out. Don’t think the judges don’t notice that.

Choreography: As far as I’m concerned, Chan’s footwork is second to none, at least thus far this season. There are skaters who are better jumpers, better spinners, etc., but his footwork is simply remarkable. Again, every step is so complex, so creative, so much an integral part of the story, and (most of the time) executed brilliantly. Granted, the footwork is a part of the technical elements, but it’s moments like his footwork that are the climax of brilliant choreography that punctuate the music and challenge his technique.

Interpretation: This is, perhaps, the most subjective of the PCS elements. But Chan’s musicality is always evident, and he really skates up to the power of the music he chooses. In his short, he was full of personality and joy. In the long, he was expressive and passionate and everything built with the music.

Bottom line is, he does all of these things SO well. I know it’s hard to understand how someone with several technical mistakes (read: jumps/falls) could vault to the top with such high scores. But we have to understand the difficulty of every element in his programs.

I’ve referenced Patrick several times in conversations about my slow conversion to not only accepting but believing in the Code of Points system. The key is, Chan is a child of CoP, not 6.0. He was, essentially, born into this system, so he hasn’t struggled with the transition. He works the system to perfection and is rewarded – justifiably – for it.

Crucify me now, if you must! But my congrats to Patrick for skating a program that is well rounded and beautiful.

And there you have it! The second stop of the series is in the books, and the controversy is already brewing! Now it’s on.

Oh, and for those of you wondering how I made out in Fantasy Skating, see below!

FANTASY RESULTS:

Ladies: 1 for 3 (Group B: Imai over Marchei)

Men: 2 for 3 (Group A: Chan, Group B: Reynolds)

Pairs: 2 for 3 (Group A: Iliushechkina/Maisuradze, Group B: Duhamel/Radford Note: Castelli/Shnapir almost had me 3 for 3!)

Dance: 2 for 3 (Group B: Chock/Zuerlein, Group C: Paul/Islam)

SC ranking: tied for 93rd

Current ranking: tied for 73rd (up from 183 last week!)

See you in a few days with more in preparation for Cup of China!

Until then…

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