Figure Skating: From the Boards

Halfway home and still hardly predictable November 8, 2010

As we’ve made it to the halfway point in the Grand Prix series (already?!?), we watched some favorites struggle, and some up-and-comers stake their claim for international glory, and this past weekend in Beijing was more of the same.

If you’ve been with me this far, you’ve seen my involvement in US Figure skating’s Fantasy Teams. As for this week…well, let’s just say the unpredictability of the event wrecking havoc on my position on the leaderboard! Better luck next week there…

If you’re just joining me for a Cup of China recap, then let’s begin!

One of the most anticipated season debuts may have been the American Mirai Nagasu. She’s had her competition struggles in the past, but she ended the season with solid finishes at the Olympics, and a chance to medal at Worlds. Here, though, she was coming off of a limited summer training program due to a stress fracture that kept her off the ice for weeks. Here, we would all get our first taste of just what she had in store.

Her short program was delightful. It needs some polish, and I saw hints of maybe what it should be once fully trained. But she was the best of the night. That all unraveled in the long, though. It looked like the unfocused Mirai of the past was back, but it also appeared she just wasn’t comfortable in the program. Things like footwork and spins that are usually her forte looked labored and simplistic.

I know she was disappointed in her drop to 4th from 1st, but I think she and Frank need to be more concerned with getting these programs trained to the point of being competition ready.

As for the other ladies, Miki Ando walked away the champion. She had perhaps the most consistent technical programs of the season so far, hitting her jumps beautifully. She completed a triple-triple in the short, but the second jump was under rotated, so she wisely eliminated it in the long.

Miki had a very underwhelming season last year, so it was good to see her shed her inhibitions and just go out and skate with joy. I’m not sure these programs do anything spectacular for her, but if she stays consistent, she’s got a lot to look forward to.

Akiko Suzuki is so committed to every move, and every ounce of character. She’s just so engaging when she skates. Like Patrick Chan, she never stops performing, regardless of her struggles technically. Speaking of…she did struggle a bit. However, her enthusiasm made up for it in a lot of ways. I know she had her sights set on gold here, but even without perfection, she was lovely to watch.

The boys of Cup of China certainly brought the drama!

Brandon Mroz came out to prove he deserves to be in the conversation with Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon for the top US men. His long program was stellar, not only technically, but I felt he matched the jumps with great choreography and character. Well done, Brandon!

Tomas Verner came out with a short program that fed off his boyish charm…and charming he was! “Singing in the Rain” is the perfect choice for a performer like Tomas. His long program, on the other hand, reminded me of Florent Amodio’s crazy mashup…only his performance didn’t thrill me. Now, this is purely my opinion, but I feel Tomas is better than this program. Still, thanks to the mistakes of Brian Joubert, he skated to bronze.

Speaking of Joubert, we saw a completely reinvented version of the French quad king. He also had a disappointing Olympic season, and he’s changed just about everything in an attempt to get back to his winning ways.

Let’s pause for a completely biased, opinionated reflection on Brian Joubert – I might possibly have a gigantic crush on him in the past, and seeing his renewed dedication reminded me why that is!

Okay. Back to the recap.

I saw a lot of people tearing him apart for his flamenco choreography in his short program. While it might not be the most natural movement for him, I applaud him for attempting to move himself beyond the repetative Matrix choreo that he’s done for so many years.

Then to come out with a long program to Beethoven that was not only different, but impressive…well, I was very excited.

Now, he is going to have to attempt to understand the value of PCS, or he’ll never top the Kozuka’s, Abbott’s, Chan’s and Takahashi’s of the world. But, I have to give credit where credit is due, and he deserves credit for coming out with these programs as well as excellent quad jumps to boot.

Takahiko Kozuka is a bit of a mystery to me. He might have the softest knees I’ve ever seen in skating, and his basic skills are wonderful. But as good as he is, his programs tend to leave me feeling nothing. I just always find myself wanting more out of him than we every see. Still, he did enough in Beijing to land at the top of the medal stand.

The pairs competition wasn’t supposed to be filled with dramatics. Pang and Tong were clearly the favorites, and no one was expected to come close to upsetting them. But, the veterans were far from perfect, and while they were still unmatched in their polish and confidence, they have a lot of improvements to make.

Now, their mini-me countrymen, SUI and HAN did their best to upstage them by standing up on a throw QUAD salchow in the long. It was severely two-footed, but still…impressive. They’re still very junior-ish in a whole lot of ways, but they were a flash forward of what’s to come in the world of pairs skating.

I do have to say, I wonder how far into the future this will be if they keep going with the big tricks. I found myself actually worried for her safety as she launched into those throws and came down with an intensity that made MY knees hurt.

Even with the big quad throw, the night belonged to Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin from the US. If any pairs team ever had the look and the “it” factor, this one does. Their short program had me from the moment they took the ice. And the long was the same. It was a shame she fell on the second throw, because it really did “break the spell” of that moment. But they did their best to get it back, and I can’t wait to see more of them as they continue to improve.

The ice dance events this season have provided some excellent entertainment. Here, it was the battle between France and Italy, and whether you blame it on the skirt incidents of the Italians or the competition readiness of the French team, it was all Pechalat and Bourzat in China. They skated with character and passion, not to mention technical difficulty and fineness. Faiella/Scali will likely get to this polished point, but it just wasn’t there this time.

And there you have it. Skate America is next as once again, the competition returns to North America and, therefore, a much less sleep-depriving time zone! Check out my Fantasy Skating pics later this week, and then follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the weekend. With some of the best in the world, Portland is likely to bring on one great competition!

Until then…

 

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