Figure Skating: From the Boards

Finally! December 15, 2010

Only a million years later, I’m back with final thoughts about the Grand Prix Final. I know, that was forever ago! But until I figure out a way to make figure skating analysis a full-time job, I sometimes have to put it aside to get other things done.

Nevertheless, I DO have final thoughts about the event, so I’m here to share. So, take a few minutes and relive these thoughts with me!

I’ll start out with the men. Now, if you paid attention to my Fantasy Picks this week, you know that I picked Patrick Chan to win here. I was feeling a little questionable about that choice after Nobu killed it in his Short program. But, knowing what kind of scores Chan is capable of pulling in, I knew he had the edge. I have to say, I was incredibly proud of him for putting out two basically clean programs. Yes, there was a little step out/turn out on the second triple axel in the long, but compared to his early season struggles, he did wonderfully! He’s still relatively young, and I believe he’ll only get stronger technically.

I actually thought he was a bit off as far as the expression, but perhaps he was so focused on hitting his jumps that his usual freedom throughout suffered a bit. Still, though, the best of the competition.

Oda was wonderful, too. His short program blew me away, so the struggles in the long were disappointing…mostly for him! He’s capable of such stunning jumps and artistry. If he can put it all together in back to back programs, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.

I did feel bad for Daisuke. He just seemed out of it throughout the competition. Perhaps the collision in practice did more damage than he wanted to admit, but he was clearly not himself. Kozuka took advantage of Takahashi’s weak performances, and was good enough for bronze.

I would have been very interested to see how the likes of Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon and Brandon Mroz would have fared here. I love me some Florent Amodio and Tomas Verner, but I feel there was a dramatic drop off in the level of competitiveness when we got to those two. I think Jeremy would have had a great shot for a medal for sure. World will be most interesting!

Meryl Davis and Charlie White were no surprise winners here. But what was surprising was how much I really enjoyed their Free Dance! I’ve always liked what these two put on the ice, but this year’s FD just didn’t quite seem to jive with their personalities or skating style…at least not in it’s original form. But now, they’ve polished up the choppiness and made every attempt to dive into the personality of the dance. And in Beijing, it was FABULOUS! I still see room for improvement, but that’s good. This isn’t the part of the season where they want to peak, so they still have room for that to happen by Nationals/Worlds.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are wonderful, too. They have such a charm about them and they’re just so easy to watch. Their personalities are naturally very likable, which plays into their Charlie Chaplin routine beautifully. They’ve set themselves up for success heading into Worlds as well, so I’ll be interested to see how they make minor adjustments to this program to make it more competitive. Well done, though!

I have to say, I was very proud of Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier. They’re skating a very tough program to “Eleanor Rigby.” The difficulty and intricacy of the choreography can easily make this program look heavy and labored, but in Beijing, I finally saw a sense of freedom and lightness to this free dance that was refreshing! They’re looking more and more comfortable competing at this level, and as they improve the program artistically, it improves technically as well. That’s a beautiful balance to have! (Side note: I’ve got to say, the dance event at Canadian Nationals may be the best event of the season! Although that same event in the US should be interesting as well…)

The Pairs competition wasn’t much of a surprise either. We all knew it would come down to Pang/Tong vs. Savchenko/Szolkowy. What we may not have known was that it would be a 21 point margin in favor of the Germans! Add S/S’s brilliant choreo and challenging – but well executed – technical elements to P/T’s mini meltdown (singled toe, singled axel, discredited spin), and you have an easy win for the former World Champs over the reigning champs.

Perhaps the bigger story, though, is the youngest Chinese team skating here, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han. They skated both on the junior and senior circuits this season, and it’s a wonder why they weren’t skating with the big kids before! They have a lot of maturing to do, but what is interesting to me about this team is how COP-friendly their programs are. I think we’re at the start of a new generation of skaters that, having been raised by the points system, will know how to use it fully, without having to over-think everything, who can then bring in their personality and creativity that some say has been missing as of late. Regardless, congrats to the kids for showing some of the veterans how it’s done!

For me, though, the entire event belonged to Alissa Czisny.

I have to say, I was worried about her after last season. I’ve always loved her, but she had always seemed to struggle when it mattered most. At some point, you begin to wonder what it is that’s holding an athlete back like that. Naturally, we start to think it’s in her head. Then it’s her technique. Then it’s her coach. Then it’s the coffee she drinks that my cousin’s best friend’s uncle’s boss’s husband says is bad for your stamina.

The reality is, we have no idea what goes through her head when she takes the ice, knowing it’s all on the line. We have no idea how much she fights for a performance, or how much she fears not doing well. So to see her struggle so at the end of last season was heartbreaking, because it seemed no one really, honestly knew.

Fast forward a few months, and  it’s been the ride of a lifetime to watch her rise from that, come into this season with that radiant smile, and a weight lifted off her shoulders – she seems to be skating for herself now, perhaps with a little bit of a chip on her shoulder for all those who said she’d never be back. Regardless of her motivation, she seems to be in a zone that has her locked in on every moment. She’s soaking it in, making it count…and sticking it to every person who ever wrote her off. And I love it!

Her programs this season are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in a long time. Her long program is my favorite ladies long of the year. She takes us on a journey with her, and the way she pulls off triple after triple…she soars, and so do we. She may not have had that perfect competition, but she has every single thing she needs to compete with anyone you put in her path. Her spins and most of her footwork can beat anyone in the world. If she keeps fine tuning her jump technique (which is a bit reworked), I can see even greater things to come. She just set herself up as the favorite at Nationals. (I know there are several contenders for the National title/podium, but I’m beyond excited to see a showdown between Alissa and Mirai. I love them both, so I don’t know who I’d choose…but I think they both have similar qualities to their skating as well as wonderful potential. It’s gonna be a fun one!)

What’s that, you say? Oh, other ladies skated in Beijing? My bad…back to the competition.

Italy’s Carolina Kostner took home the silver. She skated well for herself. I just don’t always understand where she pulls points out of, especially in her PCS scores. That’s a whole other debate, but her scores always boggle my mind, no matter where she places. I just don’t get it, most of the time. Still, though, she managed to finish 1 one hundredth of  a point ahead of Japan’s young star, Kanako Murakami.

Kanako is adorable. She has a fire in her, boy….she’s one to watch. She wants it, and she looks pretty determined to move up the ranks quickly so she can get it. The rest of the Japanese team better watch out, because she’s gunning for top honors at Japanese Nationals!

Honorable mention here to Miki Ando. She had a rough short program, but came back strong enough to actually win the long program in Beijing. However, the 4 girls in front of her skated well enough to hold their positions and Miki finished in 5th. She was my only Fantasy pick not to win here! (However, I did have Alissa Czisny, but she was in the B category…)

And there you have it, friends. Finally, Patrick Chan has a clean(ish) competition. Finally, Davis and White connected with their music, as did Crone and Poirier. Finally, Savchenko/Szolkowy took back their place at the top of the pairs world. Finally, Alissa Czisny can call herself the Grand Prix Final champion, knowing she earned every bit of that gold medal! And yes, finally, my review is done!

Looking forward to how the various nationals turn out. Some tight races for a few teams, for sure! Will try to keep you updated as those events take place.

Then, of course, there will be all sorts of action from US Nationals. I wish more than anything I could be there, but since I can’t, I’ll play the living room reporter role once again, and I hope you’ll all join me!

Until then…

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