Figure Skating: From the Boards

No, thank YOU, Asian television – 4CC 2011 February 21, 2011

Another skating weekend is in the books, and another set of medalists has been crowned…and believe it or not, we’re just one month from the end of the season! That’s how it always goes. But before I go on getting nostalgic about how quickly this spectacular post-Olympic season has come to an end, I better take one last look at the events from Taipei.

No thanks to Universal Sports (my vent on their inexcusable “tease” of US coverage is another post entirely), I saw bits and pieces of the competition via YouTube and a few online streams of Asian TV broadcasts. Thus my opinions are limited. Nevertheless, the results are telling, especially heading into Worlds.

As expected, the men’s and women’s events came down to a national battle between Japan and the USA.

For the ladies, Miki Ando capped of her successful season with another title, this one, perhaps, the best yet. She skated a beautiful short program to “The Mission” that showcased not only textbook jumps, but also a new attention to detail and expression. She seems to really feel this music, and that bodes well for her. Her long program was all she needed – every element, clean, precise, and high in difficulty. She gained the highest levels on most of her elements, and while her component scores were lower than those of second place Mao Asada, her superior technique won her the title.

Asada, I have to say, deserves an enormous amount of credit. I admittedly haven’t been an over-the-top fan of hers, but her disastrous start to the season as she retooled her jumps was heartbreaking. She seemed to have lost every bit of joy she used to skate with, and I began to wonder if she’d ever get it back. Then came Japanese Nationals where, although not perfect, she skated her way back into the running. And in Taipei, she looked nearly like the Asada of old. And boy, is she determined to include that triple axel!  Hopefully the fact that she landed this one will give her the confidence she needs to not let that one element dictate the rest of her program at Worlds. As good old Uncle Dick (Button) would say, my hat is off to her! (And adore her LP dress. That shade of purple is ravishing on her, and the sparkle is just right!)

I just have to reiterate the point that it’s a crushing blow that the US can only send two girls to Worlds. Case in point, Mirai Nagasu’s bronze medal finish this weekend. I’ll also say again that this girl has it all, and if she can put all the pieces together, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with world wide. Some minor errors in her short program kept her from challenging for the top of the podium, but she, too, deserves some credit. She said herself that she didn’t want to go home and train after her disappointment at Nationals. But she did. And she came in ready to prove herself. And she did. That long program was fabulous. Her charm is irresistible, and those jumps are simply stunning when she hits them. She’s up there with the best spinners, too…unless she makes some silly mistake as she did more than once this season! I can only hope that, as her coach Frank Carroll said, missing the World team this year was exactly what she needed as she prepares for her (hopefully!) long future.

Kudos to Rachael Flatt for improving her personal best long program score – a great step for her heading into Worlds, despite finishing off the podium. As for Alissa, I tweeted just after her skate that, even with her much-discussed “track record,” I’m not worried about the mistakes she made here. She said herself that she didn’t feel trained like she would have wanted to be, and that for Worlds, she’ll be much more ready, more prepared. I fully expect that to be the case, thus, I’m not worried.

Another interesting match up came between Daisuke Takahashi and Jeremy Abbott. As you know, Jeremy just missed the World team, but, as none of the top three men from Nationals competed in Taipei, he was the top American in the event. Daisuke has had a rough season as he heads toward defense of his World title. Now, his “rough season” is one many skaters would love to have, but for him, it was a disappointment.

Battling injuries and inconsistencies, he  came back strong this weekend, making his bid for the World podium a bit stronger. I feel this was an important win for him, not only for his confidence, but for the rest of the world to take note – don’t underestimate him next month in Tokyo!

The youngster who has been impressive this season, Yuzuru Hanyu, made his own splash, pulling up from fourth after the short program to finish second overall. Keep an eye on this one, folks. He just might be the next big thing.

As for Jeremy, I think this is a solid end to his season. He put the quad in his long program, albeit he fell on the attempt, but he also saw two spins receive only Leve 2’s yet again. I think, if anything, this event gave him a lot to think about for next year, and a lot to build from. I do have to say, I’m sad to see his beautiful long program come to an end, for the season at least!

The pairs even was less competitive due to extreme favorites and bizarre mishaps.

The soon-to-be-married Pang and Tong of China easily took gold, as expected. Perhaps in a more unexpected twist, Canadians Megan Duhamel and Eric Radford out-dueled their countrymen Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers to take silver and bronze respectively.

Rudi won the “fan-favorite” award, however, when he rescued American Mark Ladwig after the heel of his boot ripped free of his skate on the landing of a jump in the short program. Ladwig and partner Amanda Evora stopped, and were given three minutes to fix the problem and retake the ice. Without tools or extra parts, it looked pretty hopeless until Rudi swept in with his own boots – conveniently the size 9 Mark needed – and offered to let the pair finish with Mark wearing one of Swiegers’ skates!

Unfortunately for Evora and Ladwig, there was just one mishap too many here. But they have time now to step back from Nationals and push, once again, towards Worlds.

New national champs Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin finished just off the podium in fourth after missing the throw in their short program and struggling through their long. These uncharacteristic mistakes are hopefully out of the way now and they can improve upon their Nationals performances next month at Worlds. They, along with Evora and Ladwig hope to regain three World spots for the US with their performances in Tokyo.

The ice dance event should have been the climax – the showdown between training mates and rivals, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – fresh off an injury – and Meryl Davis and Charlie White – fresh off an unbeaten season. After the short dance, it looked like Virtue and Moir, despite the injury, hadn’t lost any ground on Davis and White.

Then came the free dance – the real main event. Rumor had it, Tessa and Scott’s program was likely to be the best ice dance had ever seen (okay, that sounds a bit dramatic, but just go with me here…). Samba and ice dance? Can it be done? And in the first 45 seconds of their skate, it looked like, YES, it can. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Tessa skated away from Scott, and it was over. Turns out, she pulled a muscle and decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I don’t know if I feel like that’s the whole story, though. Call me crazy, a conspiracy theorist, or what have you, but something about this just seems strange. Regardless, they withdrew from the event, leaving the another title to Meryl and Charlie.

And they didn’t disappoint, either. Their tango may be the most technically demanding free dance I’ve ever seen (at least until I get to see V/M’s entirely). They did a much better job here connecting with the emotion of the tango, but I still feel like something’s missing. Perhaps it’s just so tiring that they are too exhausted at the end to show any emotion, but for the season they’ve had, I feel like they should be having more fun. They don’t ever seem pleased with the performance…or the result, for that matter. I know their focus is a World Title, so maybe they’ve just got laser focus on that one goal, but I hope, should they win in Tokyo, that they at least look a tiny bit excited about it! Give me something, here!

I risk sounding like a broken record here, but the Shibutani’s free dance is one of my top two favorite programs of the season (the other being Alissa Czisny’s long program). They have more potential in one finger than many dance teams ever dream of. And, in the hands of Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva, I think they’ll reach it.

Which brings me to my final point, and the question of the blog – Can Igor and Marina be classified as the best ice dance coaches in the world? Think, for a minute, that Tessa and Scott didn’t withdraw. The podium would be owned by Igor/Marina teams. If you answered yes, what do you think makes them pull the best out of skaters? And if no, why not? And who is?

I can’t believe all the time we have to wait until Worlds, but I hope that gives the athletes enough time to regroup and refocus so that we witness a spectacular competition in Tokyo. It, once again, promises to be a good one!

Until then…

(P.S. – Universal Sports, if you’re reading this, you disappointed a whole “twiterverse” of skating fans this week. I hope you realize that your delayed coverage now would be a sad excuse for “coverage” at all, seeing how we’ve been able to catch up all weekend with videos posted online elsewhere. I try not to be too hard a critic, because I know much of these things aren’t up to you. But you shouldn’t have offered the hope of coverage if you had no intent of truly keeping us informed, as you said you would. It’s really too bad…you could have been the hero.)

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