Figure Skating: From the Boards

Skate, Dance, and Dream all over again! May 13, 2013

Last November, I had the opportunity to share the story of Parker Pennington and his unique creation — Skate Dance Dream.

If you missed it then, go ahead and read it now. Trust me, you’ll want to read the story again, even just as a refresher, because, the show was such a hit that it’s back yet again! And, of course, it’s better than ever.

20121208_SkateDanceDream_I had the chance to ask Parker about last year’s final show in Clinton, NY. And, no surprise, all the participants had the time of their lives.

“We received great reviews from the public and media in attendance of the show; and all of the local performers had a truly memorable experience… Every performer had the chance to spend time with our Stars, learning from U.S. National Pewter Medalists, Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt and on the dance side, Ashleigh Di Lello & Ryan Di Lello, Top Finalists from Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” These local aspiring skaters and dancers really captured the moment, showcasing their passion in the Skate Dance Dream spotlights right alongside these Stars. For us behind the scenes, it was incredible to see all of the kids perform so well..and to see them beaming with smiles!! There is no greater reward for us than seeing them have the time of their lives! They inspired us and from this show, we look forward to bringing many more to skaters & dancers across the nation. Skate Dance Dream Clinton was truly a night that many of us will always remember!”

That was then. This is now. And Parker and company are hard at work setting the stage for yet another remarkable night filled with current and future stars from the worlds of dance and skating. Cleveland, Ohio will play host to a show on May 19, staring Gev Manoukian, Richard Dornbush, Sean Rabbitt, and up-and-comer Hannah Miller, as well as a whole crew of young skaters and dancers.

Here’s the information you’re going to need:

Skate Dance Dream 2013 flier

Well? What are you waiting for?! Get your tickets. Reserve your spot! See the stars and help encourage the youngest to the oldest to dream big!

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A look ahead: Pairs of the GP Series June 5, 2012

Now that we have the Shpilband news out in the open, we can get back to daydreaming about what the upcoming Grand Prix season will hold. Today, it’s all about the Pairs. So let’s jump right in, shall we?

First up, Skate America.

Jessica Dube & Sebastien Wolfe (CAN)
Qing Pang & Jian Tong (CHN)
Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres (FRA)

Stacy Kemp & David King (GBR)
Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov (RUS)
Caydee Denney & John Coughlin (USA)
Gretchen Dolan & Andrew Speroff (USA)
TBA (USA)

Pang/Tong and Volosozhar/Trankov look to be the pack leaders at the season opener. Of course, the Russians are coming off of a magnificent Free Skate at Worlds that would have crowned them champions, had they not crumbled in the Short Program. You know they want to prove that was a fluke!

Don’t take your eyes off Denney and Coughlin, though. Last season was their year to feel each other out, see how things would go, and what they were capable of. This year, they must add technical difficulty and depth to their choreography if they want to keep up with the big kids. They can do it. And if they can do it while maintaining their consistency, look for a handful of podium finishes for these two.

The rest of the field is packed with potential, too. Dube and Wolfe have beautiful elements and lines, but their technique sometimes fails them. Dolan and Speroff ooze talent, and Kemp/King and James/Cipres are pressing towards the Olympic games with growing fan bases.

Let the fireworks begin!

Skate Canada

Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford (CAN)
Paige Lawrence & Rudi Swiegers (CAN)
TBA (CAN)
Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy (GER)
Stefanie Berton & Ondrej Hotareck (ITA)
Katarina Gerboldt & Alexander Enbert (RUS)
Mary Beth Marley & Rockne Brubaker (USA)
Tiffany Vise & Don Baldwin (USA)

At first glance, it’s no surprise Savchenko and Szolkowy will enter this event as the gold medal favorites. They narrowly edged the Russian duo of Volosozhar and Trankov at Worlds, and they have oodles of experience to pull from at the beginning of the season.

However, the battle between Duhamel/Radford and Marley/Brubaker could be interesting. Sure, the Canadians have the edge based on last season. But we all know how much the young American team improved in just one off season together. If they make a similar leap this year, they could be right up there, likely gunning for a couple of GP medals themselves.

This event is, however, a great opportunity for the other teams on the schedule to step up their game and make a run at the podium early in the season. (more…)

 

Trouble in paradise: Shpilband out in Canton June 4, 2012

“Drama” and “Ice Dance.”

Are there two more synonymous words?

None that I know. Yet, typically the drama plays out on the ice in superfluous arm movements, over-the-top music selections, and gaudy costume embelishments.

Occasionally the drama comes in the form of hotly contested competition results, based on the long-standing history of biased judging. In the wake of the skewed numbers, the drama sometimes spills over into press conferences, interviews, and direct quotes, stirring the pot even more visciously … particularly in the social media age.

Drama is just a part of the game. But when the theatrics shock even those on the inside? That’s when we’ve hit an all-time drama high.

Where does this rank on the list of “Most Shocking Coaching Splits” in skating history?

Need an example? How about Igor Shpilband The Great being fired from his own rink because, according to the Detroit Free Press, the top three teams in the world gave their club an ultimatum — he goes, or we go? How’s that for insider drama?

Certainly we can’t think this is the story in its entirety. For a coaching team as flawless as Shpilband/Zoueva to split in such blind-siding fashion, there has to be something more going on.

For both of the world’s top two teams to, at different times, say the coaching situation worked because both Igor and Marina gave each team 100% and never played one against the other, then refuse to even come back to the rink until their once-fearless leader was sent on his way, tells more than the words themselves express.

Now, I’m not about to speculate on what happened or when. But Shpilband was admittedly working with a handful of other skaters, perhaps doing more on his own than within the tight-knit group that has rocketed to the top of the food chain. Surely there’s more to it than three elite teams feeling slighted.

According to the 24-hour news cycle (a.k.a. “Twitter”), Charlie White’s mother made mention that the skaters are stuck in the middle of a coaches’ feud, rather than being the instigators of the split themselves.

Not sure that makes any of this better. How unfortunate that the world’s best ice dance coaches and the world’s best ice dancers could lose something that has been pure magic over conflicting ideas, regardless of whose decision it ultimately was!

The decision, nevertheless, shakes up the rock-solid Canton Dynasty, if in no other way than that, for the first time since Davis/White and Virtue/Moir began training together, there is uncertainty.

The unknown is enough to unerve the strongest minds. And depending on how the chips fall, the commradere and chemistry of the club will likely be disrupted.

How will it impact the training atmosphere? What will be “missing” that was there with both coaches? Can the streak continue sans-Igor? Do the skaters all stick with Marina in Canton? Which younger skaters or other teams venture off to Igor’s new rink (wherever that might be) and how much does the speculation weigh on the shoulders of the current and former world champs?

… see? Who said the off season would be boring?!

What do you think happens in Detroit as we speed towards the season’s start?

 

A Look Ahead: The Ladies of the GP Series May 24, 2012

Let’s hear it for the ladies!

Last year, the women made this event ever-unpredictable and, as always, a premiere event to watch. Looking at the lineup this season, I expect to see much of the same! Here’s how it breaks down.

Skate America: 

Mae Bernice Meite (FRA)
Sarah Hecken (GER)
Valentine Marchei (ITA)
Haruka Imai (JPN)
Alena Leonova (RUS)
Adelina Sotnikova (RUS)
Viktoria Helgesson (SWE)
Rachael Flatt (USA)
Christina Gao (USA)
Ashley Wagner (USA)

Okay, lots of goodies here. First, we see US and Four Continents champ Ashley Wagner’s Skate America debut. We all know the season she put together last year, but this will be an even bigger test — living up to these new expectations.

Speaking of expectations, Rachael Flatt will be interesting to watch this year. There’s no doubt she adores the sport and the challenge of training to compete. But, will she be able to shake off last season’s disappointments and the weight of college academics to be competitive again?

Personally, I adore Christina Gao. Her carriage over the ice is almost regal. If she can stay healthy, look for a much better GP season from her in 2012.

The Russian return to the top in ladies skating has been coming on for some time now. Many think Adelina Sotnikova is the strongest hope for the podium in Sochi. If that’s the case, she needs to make great use of the next two years in order to build her stamina and consistency to compete with the best of the best.

Don’t overlook Alena Leonova, though. She’s not quite ready to give in to the budding youngsters — and you don’t have to look further than her World medal for proof of that! (more…)

 

A Look Ahead: Men of the GP Series May 22, 2012

Yesterday was the day. Where you surprised by the Grand Prix assignments? If you’re an Evan Lysacek fan, you were likely disappointed. Conversely, if you’ve been anticipating a Johnny Weir comeback, you may have squealed to see his name on the list twice.

Over the next few days, we’ll take a look at each discipline separately and how the assignments line up for each event.

Since the men have been the talk of the town (my “town,” anyway!) we’ll give them the first shake.

Here’s the Skate America lineup:

Michal Brezina (CZE)
Tomas Verner (CZE)
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)
Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Konstantin Menshov (RUS)
Alexandra Majorov (SWE)
Jeremy Abbott (USA)
Douglas Razzano (USA)
TBA (USA)

Not too shabby, eh?

As has become the norm, the biggest competition will come from the Japanese contingent, although it’ll be the Abbot — competing at Skate America for the first time in his career — who will have the support of the hometown crowd.

Last season proved we can’t count out quad-master Michael Brezina, and when he’s at his best, Tomas Verner is a force to be reckoned with as well.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see Douglas Razzano along side Abbott for Team USA. He’s a real “skater’s skater” with the elegance and musicality that can bring an entire arena to its feet. If he can match that artistry with technical difficulty, he’ll be well on his way!

Then there’s that haunting “TBA.”

What — or should I say who — is that spot for? Naturally, the rumor mill would lean naturally toward that spot being for reigning Olympic Champ Evan Lysacek who has made no secret about his wish to compete in Sochi. However, there have been more than a couple roadblocks along the way.

Last season, there was the “contractual issues” with the USFS that kept him from returning to competition. While the details of that conflict were not made public, it has been reported that it wasn’t simply “Evan wanting more money” like it came across the first time, but far more complicated than that.

With that assumed to be resolved, it was a bit surprising to NOT see Evan’s name on the assignment list. However, there are plenty of explanations (read: “assumptions!”) that don’t involve him not staging a comeback.

Perhaps he didn’t want the GP spot. He’s made mention of wanting to compete at Senior B events to ease back onto the international scene. He’s a proven champion, so maybe he simply feels it a better option to start small and work his way back up towards Nationals and Worlds, sans the fall series. Or maybe, he’s scheduled to compete on the Dancing With The Stars All-Star season this fall. Who knows, save Frank Carroll and Lysacek. But, perhaps that TBA spot is reserved should he choose to accept it after all.

How’s that for drama surrounding the first event of the season, eh?! (more…)

 

The early signs of the season! May 18, 2012

Filed under: Off season News — Tara Wellman @ 2:44 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The off season can get really long. But it always makes things a little more bearable when things like schedules, team envelopes, and even Grand Prix assignments make their way through the interwebs!

Fortunately for us, that’s where we are!

First, the schedule. For a complete international schedule, check out usfigureskating.com. The page will be updated with assignments as they are announced.

As for the ISU Grand Prix series, the schedule looks like this: 

SKATE AMERICA — October 19-21, 2012 (Seattle/Kent, Washington)

SKATE CANADA INTERNATIONAL — October 26-28, 2012 (Windsor, Ontario)

CUP OF CHINA November 2-4, 2012 (Shanghai, China)

ROSTELECOM CUP — November 9-12, 2012 (Moscow, Russia)

TROPHEE BOMPARD — November 16-18, 2012 (Paris, France)

NHK TROPHY — November 23-25, 2012 (Sendai, Japan)

GRAND PRIX FINAL — December 5-9, 2012 (Sochi, Russia)

Following the GP Series, we’ll get a whole host of national championships, including Canadian Nationals (Missisagua, ON, Jan. 13-20, 2013) and US Nationals (Omaha, NE, Jan. 20-27, 2013).

Then, the attention shifts to Osaka, Japan for the Four Continents Championships (Feb. 6-11, 2013) before heading to the World Championships March 10-17 in London, Ontario.

But, before we get to all that, there’s the Junior Grand Prix circuit to focus on! That kicks off the season with the JGP in Courchevel, France on August 22, 2012.

So, who might we see once the whirlwind begins? Well, for the US, the team envelopes are a good place to start! Here’s where we stand.

TEAM A

Ladies: Ashley Wagner

Men: Jeremy Abbott

Pairs: Mary Beth Marley & Rockne Brubaker, Caydee Denney & John Coughlin

Dance: Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue

TEAM B

Ladies: Alissa Czisny, Mirai Nagasu, Agnes Zawadzki, Caroline Zhang, Christina Gao, Gracie Gold

Men: Douglass Razzano, Adam Rippon, Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Ross Miner, Jason Brown, Nathan Chen, Josh Farris

Pairs: Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir, Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier, Gretchen Dolan & Andrew Speroff, Britney Simpson & Matthew Blackmer

Dance: Lynn Kriengkraiut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, Madison Chock & Evan Bates, Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton

TEAM C

Ladies: Rachael Flatt, Samantha Cesario, Vanessa Lam, Mariah Bell, Hannah Miller, Amanda Gleb, Ashley Wang, Ashley Cain, Courtney Hicks, Barbie Long, Karen Chen, Amber Glenn

Men: Richard Dornbush, Stephen Carriere, Keegan Messing, Max Aaron, Timothy Dolensky, Harrison Choate, Philip Warren, Spencer Howe, Lukas Kaugar, James Schetelich, Vincent Zhou

Pairs: Kylie Duarte & Colin Grafton, Madeline Aaron & Max Settlage, Caitlin Fields & Jason Pacini, Jessica Pfund & AJ Reiss, Jessica Noelle Calalang & Zack Sidhu, Chelsea Liu & Devin Perini, Alexandria Shaughnessy & James Morgan

Dance: Emily Samuelson & Todd Gilles, Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, Rachael Parsons & Michael Parsons, Madeline Heritage & Nathaniel Fast, Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter, Holly Moore & Daniel Klaber, Hannah Rosinski & Jacob Jaffe, Whitney Miller & Kyle MacMillan

Click HERE for the full breakdown, including the reserve teams.

Also, check the list of the complete US International Selection Pool, including skaters like Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir who are attempting comebacks this season to prepare for the Olympics in Sochi. These athletes are also eligible to be selected for international events.

The Grand Prix assignments are announced Monday, so keep your eyes peeled!

But until then, who are YOU most looking forward to seeing compete this year?

 

A Walk To Remember: Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig April 10, 2012

I can’t say it was unexpected. But, seeing the official announcement that 2010 Olympians Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have ended their 10-year-long partnership is bound to make you stop and reminisce.

These two have been through the ultimate gamut of emotions in an elite athletic career. From 12th in the US at their first Nationals together in 2003, to fourth in 2007, to the climax of claiming one of the two spots on the 2010 Olympic team, to the disappointment of missing the World team this past March … they’ve had high highs and low lows. But, through it all, they’ve maintained a level of class and integrity that make them true champions.

Since making the Olympic team in 2010, they became one of America’s best, putting their “veteran” status to good use and presenting themselves as medal threats throughout the Grand Prix series.

And, like any roller coaster, there were elements of surprise and momentary panic! Who could forget the 2011 Four Continents episode where Mark’s boot came apart mid-skate and the boot-swap from Rudi Swiegers that followed? That incident was just one of many that showed off Evora and Ladwig’s composure and complete faith in one another.

There were plenty of beautiful moments, too. Like sharing the Olympic experience with training mates (and for Evora, with her fiance) Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett. Or skating to a 10th place finish there in Vancouver.

There was this: their first Grand Prix medal-winning performance in Moscow, Russia.

Add to that their elegant style, unique music choices, creative choreography, and first-rate lifts, and they gave skating fans something special every time.

According to the official announcement, Amanda will retire from competitive skating, while Mark intends to continue his career.

“Thank you to Amanda, my fellow Olympian, for partnering with me and for sharing in so many amazing experiences over the last decade,” Ladwig said. “Thank you to our coaches, fans and U.S. Figure Skating for their constant support and belief in Amanda and me.”

[snip]

“I’d like to thank Mark for living our skating dreams together. With a steady rise, we enjoyed a decorated career. As Mark furthers his skating career, I am supportive of his endeavors,” Evora said. “I’d like to thank our coaches for continual guidance and direction, U.S. Figure Skating for giving us the opportunity to represent Team USA for past 10 years and, last but not least, I’d like to thank God, my family, friends and the skating community for their overwhelming support. If not for them, my career would be meaningless.”

Thank  YOU, Amanda and Mark for representing yourselves, your sport, and your country with grace and integrity throughout your world-class career. Your path was a pleasure to follow, and I’m sure your next steps will be filled with the same quality and passion.

All the best as you continue on to the next phases of your lives.