Figure Skating: From the Boards

Breaking it down: Skate Canada October 31, 2011

Two down, four to go, friends!

Skate Canada presented another series of season debuts this past weekend. Some hit, some missed. And now that it’s over and Cup of China is on the horizon, we have a few minutes to glance back in the rear view mirror and reflect. Shall we?

“Funny” how some things never change

Virtue and Moir -- Short Dance

Canadian royalty. That’s how Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were received in Missassauga, as well they should be. Like their American counterparts, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, they are the class of a deep Canadian field, and the cream of the crop here. They seem to be one constant in a sport that has so few.

Their spicy short dance won over the crowd instantly … and that’s no surprise. These two thrive on strong character dances and though they only performed it fully one time, last season’s samba free dance was the perfect preparation. Tessa oozes Latin flavor. It will be fun to see this up next to Davis/White’s SD at the Final.

Their free dance is a totally different take on classic dance. Their “Funny Face” program is charming and challenging. While this isn’t my favorite look for them (at first glance, I feel it takes away from some of their best qualities — posture, line, depth of edges, emotional maturity), it’s already better than it was at Finlandia, and I expect it to continue on that path. Scott alluded to his “Fred-like-ness” in the Kiss and Cry, and that he definitely has going for him. Fred Astaire would be proud.

Fellow Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated back to back strong programs. Both need more polish, but for their first event, I’m impressed by their improvements. The emotional depth they’ve added — especially in their free dance — is impressive.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte have a gorgeous short dance. Their free dance didn’t impress me quite as much. They’re still a little rough around the edges, to be sure. But they are making great strides.

Despite a silly stumble at the end of their well-skated short dance, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates added themselves to my list of teams to watch — and the list of new teams that had stellar debuts! Their free dance was one of my favorites of the entire event. Madison is the perfect ice dancer — her expressions come from every inch of her body. And Evan, well, it was so good to see him back on competitive ice. Welcome back, Evan!

New competition at the top

Patrick Chan -- Free Skate

The men’s event set itself up to be a battle. We just may have missed a little on the players. I mean, really, how many people had Javier Fernandez skating last in the free skate with the chance to top Patrick Chan and Daisuke Takahashi? But that’s exactly what he did.

Patrick Chan was not a surprise champion to anyone but perhaps himself. He was third in the short program after taking a tumble, and had some issues in the long — including a fall on the first quad-toe, and yet another death-by-toe-pick trip in the footwork leading up to a triple lutz. But, of course, the jumps are only an accent in a Chan program, and the rest of this free skate is spectacular. Every second is accounted for and important. His goal was to improve presentation and he’s well on his way (but he really needs to stop marring these gorgeous programs with silly mistakes!).

After the short, Fernandez had taken the world by storm, although it may not have been a complete surprise. He looked strong all week in practice and the Canadian commentators were thoroughly impressed. As was I. He skated a strong long program, complete with quad-toe and quad-salchow. That would not be the end of the quads in the event, either! With a little more work on the other elements, and a dose of consistency, he will be a factor all season long.

Daisuke Takahashi has a pair of beautiful programs. I made mention of it before, but he differs from Patrick in that his programs are about the intricacies of each musical moment, while Chan’s programs tend to be more about the feeling of flight — being larger than life. Dai’s free skate was riddled with mistakes, and that took away from the overall interpretation of the piece. But, if skated cleanly, this will be brilliant.

Honorable mentions: Adam Rippon may not have medaled, but I’d like to give him a virtual standing ovation for his efforts to improve his technical arsenal. He attempted a quad lutz and, while not clean, that’s a brave thing to do. He’s still struggling with his triple axel, but all of this is coming out of a new program. Sometimes, the timing of jumps gets easier with miles on the program. I fully expect that for Adam. Also, Ross Miner skated a stellar long program to pull up to sixth. This could be a masterpiece for him later on in the season.

Russia’s notice to the pairs world: “We’re back!!”

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov: a match made in heaven. These two blew me away at last year’s Worlds, and they reminded me why here. Their pairs elements are stunning. Their lines are classic and strong, with a hint of youth and

Volosozhar/Trankov -- post-free skate (Seriously, how can you not love them?!)

daring. They skate with an elegance in unity that surpasses their short time together, and their confidence is contagious. And the best part for them? This wasn’t a perfect competition. There were miscues and mistakes. Right now, that’s almost a good thing — they have room to improve. That will be fun to watch.

The youngins from China did their thing again. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han have a strange combination of a child-like short combined with a almost-grownup long. The free skate works much better in establishing them as serious senior competitors, but their tricks are the same, either way — big. (Aside: want the dream team of pairs? Combine Sui/Han’s tricks with Japan’s Takahashi/Tran’s polish. Bam: dream team on ice.)

Then there’s Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford — one of the most likable couples on ice. Only in their second season together, they still need to gel. But they skated two strong programs and, again, early in the season they have plenty of room to grow. I look forward to watching them this season.

Speaking of Russian arrivals…

The tiny girl with the way-too-long name. Best get used to spelling it now, because she is set to make a name for herself in this business! Elizaveta Tuktamisheva nailed jump after jump after jump … after jump, and filled the inbetween with character and charm. Sometimes her spin positions leave something to be desired, but at fourteen, I think she has time to improve. She was second in the free skate, but won overall, becoming the first lady ever to win gold in her senior Grand Prix debut. Not too shabby!

Tuktamisheva -- post-free skate

Akiko Suzuki delivered a free skate full of everything the skating world loves about her. She is, perhaps, the lightest on her feet of any lady out there, and her presentation of the choreography is so believable. Plus, she truly skates with joy and elegance. When she hits the jumps like she did here, there aren’t many better to watch!

Out of the American trio, at least one was expected to land on the podium. Not many, however, had it being anyone but Mirai Nagasu. That is, until Ashley Wagner happened.

This girl wants it. When she moved to train with John Nicks, she took the reinvention of herself seriously, and it shows. She nailed a beautiful, mature short program that put her in contention. Then, when her American counterparts fell apart before her, she skated a beautiful Black Swan program that shook off some of last season’s demons and landed her on the podium. From one who was beginning to be skeptical, WELL DONE, Ashley!

Other notes: Mirai Nagasu has got to get it together. Her short program is a delight. She sells it. Her long? Not so much. It doesn’t seem like she is buying into the choreography or the music. Or the jumps … and that’s a problem. Yes, Rachael Flatt struggled, big time. But I’m not going to write her off or tell her to hang up the skates. She’s the one out there, not me! If she’s happy, I’m content to let her be!

Oh, and for you keeping up with my Fantasy Skating column at icenetwork.com, here’s a look at how I did this week!

Ladies picks: Finished 1st, 5th and 6th
Men’s picks: Finished 1st, 2nd and 6th
Pairs picks: Finished 1st, 3rd and 4th
Ice Dance picks: 1st, 3rd and 4th

Skate Canada ranking: 15th (2194)
Overall: 67th (4165)

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