Figure Skating: From the Boards

A look ahead: The Grand Prix Final December 7, 2011

Earlier this week, I posted my icenetwork.com Fantasy Skating column in preparation for the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City. Fantasy, though, is a whole different competition than, well, the competition! So, how ’bout a complete preview?

Yes?

Okay, good.

We’ll start with the Ladies and the Gentlemen. Pairs and Dance later.

Ladies

The thing about these ladies’ events compared to ladies events of the past is there’s no clear-cut favorite. No Michelle Kwan. No Yu-Na Kim.

Five of the six ladies have won a Grand Prix event this season. Six of six have programs that accentuate their strengths.

Asada's Free Skate from NHK Trophy

Akiko Suzuki‘s free skate scores are nearly identical in her two events on the season. For her, (much like Alissa who I’ll get to in a moment) it is a matter of two clean programs back to back. She skates with more joy than any other lady on the ice. This year, she seems to have more attack as well, which bodes well for her completing the jumps.

Battling her way back to championship form, Mao Asada has proven herself quite the ray of sunshine, too! The smile she skates with this year is one I haven’t seen in … I can’t even say how long. I adore her short program and the character she brings to it (plus, what a great costume!), and her long, though recycled from last season, is a beauty. But those jumps have to be clean if she wants to win here. UPDATE: Sadly, Mao has withdrawn from the Final, due to the severity of her mother’s illness back home in Japan. She has flown home to be with her mom. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.

Speaking of comebacks, Carolina Kostner is in the midst of one of her own. In the past, I’ve been quite vocal about judges’ tendency to over-mark her. This year, though, she has packaged her skating in a way that better justifies her scores. Now, she still isn’t doing the “hard” jumps (lutz/flip), but the jumps she does do are strong. Plus, she genuinely believes in her choreography this year — something I’ve never seen from her before.

Alissa Czisny had her reinvention last  year. This time around, she is trying to continue on. Her short program is one of my favorites of the season. It absolutely fits her to a “T.” She just needs to hit the jumps. She’s certainly capable, as proven by her free skate in Paris (only Asada brings a better LP score to Canada). If she skates clean, she has a great shot at gold.

Then come the Russians. Aleona Leonova is trying her best to keep her young teammates from stealing all of the spotlight. This girl has more energy than I would know what to do with! Her short program is great. Her free skate, though, just hasn’t been up to par with the top tier ladies this season.

And then there was one. Elizaveta Tuktamisheva. I hate buying into hype early in on a season — a career, even. We’ve seen far too many “flash in the pan” phenoms for me to get too excited too fast. This little darling, however, has me singing her praises just two competitions into her senior career. I have no idea where she will go after this season. (Not to Worlds, though, because she’s still a baby!) But for now, she’s the only lady in the event to have two GP golds. She’s for real … at least for now.

Podium:
(no particular order)

Czisny
Tuktamisheva
Asada 

Men

Prepare for some fireworks. We haven’t seen a whole heap of clean performances this season. But, I’m desperately hoping these guys lay it all on the line in Canada. Because, if they do, it will be spectacular.

Really, how can you not love this?

Javier Fernandez is my 2011-2012 skating crush. He is absolutely adorable, super confident, undeniably capable, and, we get to see Brian Orser “skate” along the boards through each performance. Total win. I love what this kid brings to the ice, and the world’s best better watch their backs. Javier’s coming fast.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu (aka the Japanese Johnny Weir) is fabulous. But he gets a little wild sometimes, and things start to fall apart. It’s like he flies too fast through his programs and can’t control the timing of jumps throughout. What he does is great, though.

There’s always that one surprise each year — one skater who you would never have called “consistent” who does well enough to be considered a “contender.” This year, that’s Michal Brezina. He came into this season ready to medal, wherever, whenever, and however he could. And he did. He isn’t going to hold up against the Chans and Takahashis of the world, but that doesn’t take away from the programs he’s put on the ice thus far. He’s a wild card here.

Jeremy Abbott has put together two fantastic programs this year. I believe they highlight two very different, yet very accurate sides of both his personality and his skating. His short is energetic, crowd-pleasing and complex. His long is eerily quiet, passionate and detailed. His challenge will be to skate both to their full capacity — meaning, complete with clean jumps. He’s tried the quad in both free skates, but not yet landed. When he misses it, he tends to have other problems as well.

And then we have Chan and Takahashi.

Splitting the difference is like splitting hairs. I’ve compared the two before this season, so I won’t go too far into this…

Patrick Chan has an easy, a larger-than-life, sweeping impact when he skates. He takes you on a journey with him. Sometimes (more often than not, actually), that journey includes a stumble or two. Fortunately for him, everything else he does is complex and well done, and he is rewarded abundantly for the footwork, transitions, spins, etc. That bugs some people. I’ve even called it “Chanflation.” But, the reality is, he works the system the way it’s designed to be worked. If the results are wrong, it’s the system that’s wrong. Not Patrick.

However, this year he seems a bit off. Perhaps this has something to do with it. He’s not feeling it. And apparently Canadian fans aren’t feeling him (at least in his mind … I can’t imagine what he’d say of fans if he was skating for the US!).

Diasuke Takahashi, however, is feeling it. In my observation and comparisions, he has the better programs this year. The complexity within each section of choreography is just ridiculous. I can honestly say, I finish watching his programs and just think, “WOW.” If he stands up, he has a great chance of upstaging Chan — even on Canadian ice.

Podium:
(yes, in a particular order!)

1. Takahashi
2. Chan
3. Fernandez

*Fingers crossed* for the cleanest event of the season! It’s about time for skaters to be heading for the peak. They don’t want to be there just yet, but they’ll be closer, and hopefully, more consistent!

Pairs and Dance later…

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