Figure Skating: From the Boards

Grand Finale – Skate America wrap-up November 15, 2010

The first half of the long programs finished late last night, as champions were crowned in the men’s and pair’s events.

The men were up first, so we’ll start there.

What should have been, in many ways, the premiere event from Skate America 2010 ended up being a contest to find who could make the least mistakes. The final group set up to be a spectacular showdown, but was instead a bit of a letdown. Still, scores were given and medals received, and team Japan faired quite well.

Daisuke Takahashi took gold, as expected by many (myself included). However, he didn’t do so in usual “Dai-namic” fashion. He missed jumps, lacked a quad, eked out several landings, and even his always-impressive footwork lacked some polish. Still, with PCS scores in the 85 range (…a bit ridiculous, if you’re asking me!), he managed to fend off countryman Nobunari Oda who had all the chance in the world to win…if only he stuck to the game plan.

I always find it interesting when skaters try to make up for mistakes during the program. This time, the mental mistake cost more than the physical mistake, as Nobu either tried to make up for a missed combination or simply forgot that he’s only allowed 3! He put out two solid triple axels, but the rules state one has to be in combination (or you can’t repeat the jump). Since one wasn’t in combination, he was essentially marked for missing that element. The flip side of that, though, is that you’re only allowed three combinations (two 2-jump and one 3-jump)…which he completed on top of the miss axel combo. Confused? Yeah. Basically, I believe, he received no credit for the final combo which cost him dearly, especially with a fall on his quad-toe attempt. Tough break for Oda, but still, a strong silver medal.

Adam Rippon was in medal position after the short, but a rare off night cost him overall, as he slipped to 4th.

Sneaking into bronze position then, was fellow American Armin Mahbanoozadeh who had, by far, the performance of the night. Skating to music from “Avatar,” he delivered jump after jump, spin after spin, with great speed, and great execution and performance. He garnered the first (and only?) standing ovation of the night, and it was well deserved. Congrats, Armin, on your Skate American bronze!

Honorable mention to Shawn Sawyer who, despite finishing in 8th, has the best long program of the season thus far. His “Alice and Wonderland” theme is just stunning and he pulls it off better than anyone else ever could. I said it after his long, but he  really makes a believable mad hatter!

Final results:
1. Daisuke Takahashi JPN (227.07)
2. Nobunari Oda JPN (226.09)
3. Armin Mahbenoozadeh USA (211.17)
4. Adam Rippon USA (2o3.12)
5. Daisuke Murakami JPN (203.00)
6. Kevin Van Der Perren BEL (194.63)
7. Adrian Schultheiss SWE (188.20)
8. Shawn Sawyer CAN (186.62)
9. Stephen Carriere USA (184.20)
10. Nan Song CHN (180.10)
11. Denis Ten KAZ (176.11)
12. Viktor Pfeifer AUS (162.47)

The pairs free skate was an example of all the different things skating can be.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy were the class of the field, and may have had the performance of the event. They were clean, solid, expressive, strong…all while skating to “Pink Panther” (Yes, Aliona made that horrid bubblegum pink jumpsuit work just fine!). They showed the “cute” factor with personality expressed elegantly. The are the veterans, and that was evident in their control and consistency as well as in the overall quality of their execution and performance. Well earned win for them here!

The young Canadian stars are just something else. Talk about personality…they’ve got it all! Kristen is just a doll and the two play off each other so well, especially for the short amount of time they’ve skated together. Their long wasn’t as sharp and dramatic as at Skate Canada, but they still have something very special. Plus, they are young enough in this sport that they’re learning from the beginning to skate to the strengths of the COP system, and it does them well…as does their solid technique.

Sui/Han from China stepped in after a successful debut last week at Cup of China (contrary to the info the commentators for Icenetwork had, as they repeatedly called Skate America Sui/Han’s senior debut!) and had close to a repeat performance. They still look juniorish to me, despite the immense difficulty of most of their elements, including that terrifying throw quad salchow! But again, they are COP babies, so to speak, so every move is choreographed with the intent of gaining points, contrary to 6.0 skaters who sometimes have choreography for the sake of choreography. Kudos to these two, though, for keeping up with the big kids two weeks in a row.

The American champs, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett brought the maturity and smoothness to their long program. This is a bit of a new, more polished look for them this season and it works wonders for their lines, their control. I felt like this program just had a great pace for them that allowed them to complete their elements successfully, as well as reach out emotionally to the audience a bit more than last year. These two, also, have a great pairs presence for the short time they’ve competed together. If they can play to the system a little more (I see some areas that transitions could be helpful and step sequences that could be more challenging), they’ll be right up there internationally. Too bad about the missed throw or they would have been on the podium here.

Final Results:
1. Savchenko/Szolkowy GER (197.70)
2. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch CAN (175.48)
3. Sui/Han CHN (170.07)
4. Denney/Barrett USA (166.42)
5. Stolbova/Klimov RUS (159.49)
6. Castelli/Shnapir USA (153.33)
7. Zhang/Toth USA (126.70)
8. Kemp/King GRB (115.92)

The final group of the ice dance event was something special, to say the least.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White were more than favorites here…it would have been an enormous upset if they even finished close to the top Canadian teams. Good thing, though, because they were not perfect in either portion, with Charlie’s miss on the twizzles in the Short (according to him he was simply trying to break light speed when physics got in his way!) and an awkward fall by the both of them as they got a little tangled in a footwork sequence in the free dance. Still, the amount of difficulty in their elements and the quality in their performance has they head and shoulders above the rest, thus the win here.

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier had loads of expectations on their shoulders here after debuting a fabulous free dance to “Eleanor Rigby” as interpreted by Chris Dean…and winning with it, brilliantly, in Canada. It just didn’t go quite their way here, even though they skated to silver. Someone on twitter observed, as did I, that they just looked off. I felt they skated cautiously, which translated into making the difficult choreography look heavy and a tad clumsy, instead of inspiring and smooth. That said, this is a wonderful free dance and when they skate it with more freedom, it’ll be spectacular.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani stamped their name in the “best in the world” list with a free dance that was as technically difficult as it was artistically brilliant. I sound like a broken record here, but there’s just something very special about this team that starts from their edge work, through their posture, culminating in the exquisite completion of every element – not just in getting it done, but fully stretching out every move for the greatest impact. It’s unusual in such a young team, but these two have it down pat. And training with the best in the world at the Shpilband camp? They’re set for stardom, for sure.

Final Results:
!. Davis/White USA (156.68)
2. Crone/Poirier CAN (149.08)
3. Shibutani/Shibutani USA (144.81)
4. Weaver/Poje CAN (142.34)
5. Riazanova/Tkachenko RUS (137.14)
6. Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt USA (130.72)
7. Reed/Reed JPN (113.39)
8. Coomes/Buckland GRB (111.29)
9. Frohberg/Giesen GER (104.18)

Then there were ladies.

First of all, I want to thank NBC for enlisting the services of Terry Gannon. I was always impressed with his professionalism, but perhaps more impressed with his introduction to and eventual involvement in the skating world. The guy’s a basketball player…he’s a “sports guy” and that doesn’t usually translate to a heartfelt interest in the skating world. But he took his job seriously, learned all he could, and really found a love for the sport and its athletes. He’s an inspiration to me in my own career, and a wonderful piece of figure skating broadcast history. Welcome back, Terry!

Now, the skating.

If anyone wonders about the future of ladies skating, look no further than Kanako Murakami. This girl has more spunk than many senior ladies can dream of, she skates with the purest essence of joy, and she’s got a fab triple-triple to boot! She wasn’t flawless, but she’s growing. She has a wonderful future ahead of her, and she may have jump-started it here by taking advantage of the mistakes of those ahead of her. If she works on the maturity in her presentation, she’ll fit right in with the top level of skaters in the world.

Rachael Flatt skated with a bit of an injury – tendinitis in her ankle – but other than the absence of her planned triple-triple, you never would have known. She skated her long program to the fullest, and you could tell how pleased she was with her clean skate. This program still needs some work, some polish, and she’s got to fully rotate those triples, but this was a nice come-from-behind silver for her after missing a jump in the short. She has a lot of determination, so she will only get better as the season progresses. But I feel this was a success for her.

Carolina Kostner is also skating with a knee injury that could require surgery some time soon. Because of that, she’s limited in her jump content (she can’t do the flip or lutz) which just increases the importance of every jump she can complete…and that didn’t happen here. Admittedly, I didn’t get to see her skate. But from the sounds of things, it wasn’t pretty. And when Carolina’s off, she’s really off. Still, she always gains points for things that may or may not deserve them, so she managed to hang on for a medal…other than that, I’ll reserve judgement until I actually see the program!

A quick congratulations to the Helgesson girls for skating well in the long (and Joshi for skating well overall…as a last minute replacement, nonetheless!). It’s great to see young talent skate without the pressure of expectation, and they delivered! Their mom (and coach) should be quite proud.

Final Results:
1. Kanako Murakami JPN (164.93)
2. Rachael Flatt USA (162.86)
3. Carolina Kostner ITA (1154.87)
4. Joshi Helgesson SWE (146.90)
5. Amelie Lacoste CAN (146.68)
6. Viktoria Helgesson SWE (142.26)
7. Elene Gedevanishvili GEO (1139.36)
8. Mae Bernice Meite FRA (137.05)
9. Carolin Zhang USA (132.49)
10. Jenna McCorkell GBR (1127.76)
11. Min-Jeong Kwak KOR (125.21)
12 Alexe Gilles USA (122.46)

Time for a quick breather before moving on to Moscow. There may be a something special coming up later this week, but until I have the details worked out, I’ll hold off promoting it…

But regardless, I’ll be back soon enough with thoughts on Cup of Russia and of course, my picks for my Fantasy Team! (Speaking of fantasy team…this week my pairs picks set me off on a great start! But, unfortunately it was down hill from there. I will never make any  money on accurate predictions, that’s become very evident!)

Until then…

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