Figure Skating: From the Boards

Summer Spotlight: Alissa Czisny July 15, 2011

“It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel.”

That one line in a seemingly unrelated Super Bowl commercial became the unspoken motto for Alissa Czisny last season.

Only, her fire didn’t come in the form of an economic disaster. It came, instead, with a shocking turn of events that cost her what many thought was her best chance at fulfilling a life-long dream –competing on Olympic ice.

After finishing 10th at the 2010 Nationals and missing that chance, Czisny had a decision to make.

Many assumed the result had made the decision for her. She would retire, right? Obviously, she didn’t have the “stuff” to hold up under the pressure of expectation. Her best competitive days were behind her, they claimed.

The thing is, Alissa didn’t see it that way. Not even close.

The season started filled with questions. Questions Alissa was determined to answer on the ice.

“I had almost quit skating after last season,” Czisny admitted. “But I chose to come back because I love to skate and because I wanted to reach my full potential. [I] felt that I hadn’t yet realized that.”

So, Czisny boldly decided to take charge of the next phase of her career, the phase that would likely be the most difficult: the comeback.

She changed her coaching team to Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato, hoping the change would give her new perspective, and most importantly, renewed confidence.

“They believed in me at a time when there weren’t many people who believed that I could accomplish anything more in my skating career,” Czisny said. ” They helped me technically with my jumps, they helped me with the everyday training, with competitions, they helped me completely change my perspective on skating.”

So, the dream team went to work. Alissa had come so close before — she won at Skate Canada in 2005, placed third at Nationals in 2007, won that title in 2009. But this season needed to be about the present, not the past, or even the future.

“This season meant a lot to me, not only in terms of placements, but also in terms of personal achievements and satisfaction,” Czisny dais. “This year, I was able to overcome so many things, and I felt as though I [became] a new skater.”

A skater committed to proving — to herself, first — that the best was yet to come.

Armed with two stunning programs, Alissa took on the first challenge of the season, despite still battling the newness of her training arrangement. Apparently “new” works well for her.

“To be completely honest, going into Skate Canada, I did not feel ready to compete yet,” she said. “I was still trying to adjust to new coaches, new technique and I was quite nervous to compete there.  However …  It was wonderful to win again, and to do it in Canada, where I had won my first Grand Prix competition. I was able to gain confidence from that competition, heading into the rest of the competitions of the season.” (more…)


Summer Spotlight — Meryl Davis and Charlie White June 29, 2011

In an American dance landscape desperate for consistency, Meryl Davis and Charlie White are a breath of fresh air.

The two have been together longer than any other American couple, having paired up in 1998. And after 13 years of grueling work, their patience has paid off. The three-time National champs have won seven Grand Prix series titles, and Olympic and World silver medals since their senior debut in 2006. This past season, though, they did something no US dancers have ever done — claim World gold.

Davis and White's tango experiment paid off as they peaked just in time for Worlds.

They displayed laser-like focus all season as they challenged themselves with the new short dance and a deliberately detailed free dance.

With the short dance, they were not alone.

The new dance was an attempt to blend the old-school technique of the compulsories with the expressiveness of original dance in an attempt to satisfy both skaters and judges. It shortens the competition, but keeps the focus on technique.

“We were excited,” White said, “because the obvious plus was only having two parts to the competition.”

But the new format presented its own dilemmas.

“The name itself  obviously makes it clear that it’s no longer trying to do something that’s extraordinarily unique,” Davis said comparing the SD to the OD. “My main problem with it is that the originality isn’t necessarily as accessible as it was during the original dance.

Now, both choreography and music have to mesh with compulsory steps.

“The original dance we did at the Olympics – the Indian one – there’s no compulsory dance that you can sort of put an Indian spin on, unfortunately,” Charlie said with a chuckle. But, in all seriousness added, “Everyone is going to be a little bit more similar, which, I think some of the judges really appreciate because it’s easier to compare, but it will take away from a more exciting competition.” (more…)


Ladies Short Program Recap April 29, 2011

We’ve arrived at the ever-prestigious Ladies event (appropriately on the same morning as the also prestigious Royal Wedding!) and the ladies took to the ice with much to prove.

Canadian Amelie Lacoste skated early, but had a nice Worlds debut that kept her in first place until Mae Berenice Miete had her turn. She included a triple-triple combination, followed by lovely a triple loop and double axel. She has a beautiful quality to her skating, and a great combination of power and presence. I was quite impressed!

Kanako Murakami is the young fireball from Japan, and she came out with the usual energy and vivaciousness! She hit a big triple toe-triple toe combination, a solid triple flip, then had an unfortunate step put on the double axel, but her interpretation of this music is impeccable. She has oodles of energy and this program is great for her. I do miss her polka dot dress, though!

The first of the Russian hopefuls took the ice in an unfortunate, clown-like dress. However, as Irina Slutskya sat nervously with clenched fists on the sidelines, Elena Leonova skated a wonderful short program. She, too, hit a triple toe-triple toe, a triple flip, and a double axel. Everything was on cue and strong. The reaction from the crowd didn’t hurt, and she easily took the lead.

Carolina Kostner has the unfortunate reputation of skating poorly and being overly rewarded in the scores. She started out strong with a triple toe-triple toe combo, hit the double axel, then fell on the triple flip. She skates with great speed, but her transitions are average as are some of the other elements. Still, she ended up tied with Leonova after the short. And still, I don’t understand 8s for her components. (more…)


That’s a Wrap: Pairs Even Recap April 28, 2011

Filed under: 2010-2011 Season News — Tara Wellman @ 11:16 am
Tags: ,

With former World Champions going head to head, the pairs competition was bound to be intense. It did not disapoint.

Before we got to the Pang/Tong vs. Savchenko/Szolkowy faceoff, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford took the ice, despite his broken nose after the short, and they were wonderful! I can’t imagine skating at all after the hit he took, but they came out and did a beautiful — high! — triple twist, and sailed from there. I was very proud of them, as was Meagan. At the end, she said to Eric, “I’m so proud of us!”

The other Canadians skated well, also, hitting both throws beautifully to finish just behind Duhamel and Radford.

Americans Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig had a rough go of it. He fell on the side-by-side triple toe, and she fell on on throw. They had a strong second half, though, but the mistakes were too much to overcome.

Russians Kavaguti and Smirnov skated their magical free skate with an elegance that very few ever master. But, a fall on one of their throws kept them from gaining much ground.

The American champs Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin skated their “Ava Maria” program for the final time, and I was once again moved to tears. There is something so much greater than elements to this program. It means something, and that is worth more than any component mark can explain. Of course, it helps that they hit their elements in superb fashion, the only mistake being a slight hand down on the second throw. They moved up to fiinish 6th overall — the best showing for US pairs since 2006. I’m already excited about what they can do next season. (more…)


Pairs Short Program Recap April 27, 2011

I finally had the chance to watch the final two groups of the Pairs competition and now feel capable of posting my recap!

First, and likely most dramatic, was the performance by Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. They started strong, but on the triple twist, she nailed him in the nose with her elbow on the way down. He’s lucky he wasn’t knocked out cold…she hit him hard. Hard enough, in fact, that his nose was quite visibly broken and bleeding through the rest of the skate. But, to his great credit, he wouldn’t stop. Even telling her when she tried to tell him they should, that he would be fine. Clearly, he was not fine. But they managed to hit each element and go on to hold the 1st place position for quite some time!

His nose was reset by a team doctor afterwards and Eric said he’d wait to see how he felt in the practice session before the free tomorrow. Wishing them the best!

Also skating early on was the potential spoiler team from Russia of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. These two are a nearly brand new team, but they stepped up at Russian Nationals and beat both Kavaguti/Smirnov and Bazarova/Larionov who have competed well internationally all season.

Boy, did V/T make a statement here!

They not only hit every element, but they skated with passion, attention to detail, and an awareness of each other that defies their short partnership. I must say, I was quite impressed…as were the judges.

The American teams skated near the end, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig in the second to last group. This is only the second time they’ve competed with their new short program to “Sing, sing, sing” and I must say, it is MUCH improved since 4 Continents. They looked much more comfortable and confident in each move. Unfortunately, she fell on the side-by-side triple toe which cost them. But their lifts are still spectacular, and she hit the throw. Although not enough to compete with the big guns, E/L earned their own season’s best score and have much to be proud of.

The other American team of Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin had the challenge — and honor! — of skating after China’s Pang and Tong (who I will get to momentarily!). Talk about a tough act to follow! However, John and Caitlin skated strong. They had a great triple twist (I think improved from Nationals, even), a stunning throw triple salchow, and a sultry, demure character that perfectly portrayed the maturity of the tango selections. However, a bobble by Caitlin on the side-by-side triple toe that was followed by a fluke toe-pick kind of fall by John cost them critical Grade of Execution points. Plus, I think they were more nervous than they let on! John felt terrible afterwards. Again, they don’t have the base technical content to match up with the top teams, but with the execution they’re capable of, they should have been a few places higher. Look for them to really lay it all on the line in the free skate — it’s the “final goodbye” so to speak, to the Ave Maria program in honor of John’s mother. If they could somehow recreate US Nationals, they could move back up the standings. Most importantly, as John said afterwards, “Don’t fall down!”

Now. Back to Pang and Tong.

I’ve said all season that they looked a bit flat. The elements were mostly there, but that was it. Nothing went any deeper. Today, they found it. And the result? Magic. This short program was absolutely stunning. Every technical element was executed with control and perfection. Every component to the choreography was meaningful and complete.

I fully expected the Germans to come in and take this title with a fair amount of ease. But Pang and Tong decided they weren’t quite ready for that, and they proved it.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy also had a beautiful skate. They were mostly clean. There elements are big. But little things started to add up quickly: a pitch forward here, a scratchy landing there, and a small collision on the twist later one. The Russian crowd seemed to adore their Russian-folk themed short program, but the judges didn’t love it enough to ignore the imperfect execution. They weren’t happy with their scores, but (unlike the men’s short program!) I was in complete agreement with their 2nd place finish.

Expected to compete for a top spot on the podium was the veteran Russian team of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov. They also started well. Similar to the Germans, they had a few minor issues. Still, big elements, and bigger crowd responses. Then the bizarre fall series continued and Smirnov went down just after they’d started their step sequence. Whether it was the fall, the lost points on the footwork, or the small errors all over, they fell to a fifth place finish just behind the other two Russian teams. Clearly, not what they were hoping for, and not what anyone expected. They sit roughly 11 points out of first, and nearly 8 points off the podium. They’ll have plenty of ground to make up in the Long.

I expect the free skate event to be quite the battle. The top three are separated by less than 4 points, while roughly 8points separate 4-10.

Here are the complete standings after the short programs.

  1. Pang/Tong (CHN)   74.00
  2. Savchenko/Szolkowy (GER)    72.98
  3. Volosozhar/Trankov (RUS)    70.35
  4. Bazarova/Larionov (RUS) 64.64
  5. Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)    62.54
  6. Takahashi/Tran (JPN)    59.16
  7. Duhamel/Radford (CAN)    58.83
  8. Yankowskas/Coughlin (USA)    58.76
  9. Berton/Hotarek (ITA)    57.63
  10. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch (CAN)    56.86
  11. Evora/Ladwig (USA)    54.64
  12. Hausch/Wende (GER)    53.90
  13. Zhang/Wang (CHN)    52.25
  14. Dong/WU (CHN)    49.29
  15. Kadlecova/Bidar (CZE)    45.20
  16. Zabijako/Kulbach (EST)    44.35
  17. Kemp/King (GBR)*    44.14
  18. Canac/Bonheur (FRA)*    43.92
  19. Bakirova/Kamianchuk (BLR)*    38.20
  20. Montalbano/Krasnopolski (ISR)*    37.43
  21. Martini/Kiefer (AUT)*    35.34
  22. Malakhova/Kenchadze (BUL)*    30.10
*did not qualify for the free skate
See you all again before the sun comes up for the free skates!!

Men’s Short Program Recap

One short program event down, three to go. While waking up at 4 a.m. wasn’t the ideal situation, the men’s short program competition was worth it, I must say. Even from the first group, there were highlights. Of course, the real fireworks came later on when the favorites hit the ice and they did not disappoint!

Not much was expected of the inexperienced American team in Moscow. Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner are at their first Worlds, and Ryan Bradley, who has been there twice before — unsuccessfully — has said this is the first time he feels like he belongs.

Dornbush and Miner both skated in the first group and were more than clean — they were quite lovely to watch! I felt Miner’s PCS scores were a bit low, but they both hit the 70+ mark and had a lot to be proud of.

Bradley skated first in the third group, and from the get go, I could tell he was nervous. He hit two quad toe-triple toe combinations in the warm up, but in the program, it was a quad-double. Still, he hit a HUGE triple axel and a nice triple flip. The crowd wasn’t eating him up like normal, so it felt a little flatter than it should have. But it was a good, strong, clean skate. He was underscored, in my ever so humble opinion.

Denis Ten was quite a pleasant surprise. He led the field from the first group up until the second-to-last group with a solid 71+ score. He’s made some dramatic improvements with Frank Carroll. I wonder, though, if he can hold it together for a long program.

The Frenchmen Florent Amodio and Brian Joubert skated back to back.

Amodio was cool, calm, controlled…and explosive. He laid down a great skate. No quad, but he easily took the lead.

Joubert was good…not great. And while he had a quad (that he turned out of), he had no combination. This should have been a serious deduction. His technical elements score was lower than Bradley, but his components score was higher by about 5 points. As much as I love Brian, that was not right. I would have Brian/Ryan’s programs about equal. Brian with perhaps a slight edge in PCS — but slight. That is, if Brian has all the elements. Without a combo, he shouldn’t have led. I feel the international judges don’t take Bradley seriously, probably partly due to his comedic routines. But that doesn’t make his skills any less significant.

But I digress.

Takahiko Kozuka skated after winning the Qualifying Round and proved that he’s quite a contender. I still cringe at this short program, but he skated it well with only a minor error on his triple axel.

Daisuke Takahashi and Patrick Chan stole the night, though. These two have been the co-favorites all along, and they proved why.

Chan skated first, and he laid down the gauntlet with a textbook quad toe-triple toe, triple axel, and a triple lutz. Add that to his impeccable basic skating, creative transitions and best-in-the-world footwork, and we have a winner! He set the new world record short program score, taking down that of previous record-holder Plushenko (who was in the building to see it go down!).  It was truly something special. And one of the few programs I felt deserved the scores it received!

Takahashi was wonderful as well. He didn’t have a quad, but what he had was heart. People were moved by his performance, and not just because he skated it well. To come through the trials his country is coming through and to skate with that much focus and skill…just brilliant. His scores didn’t reflect the quality of his skate, and he finds himself some 13 points behind Chan (who is rightfully in first, but Dai was incredible as well).

Michal Brezina’s scores baffled me a bit, as did Artur Gachinski’s…and even Tomas Verner’s. It almost appeared like the old 6.0 system that because these three skated later in the event, the judges scored them higher. Now, in the old system, they had to save scores for the later groups. Not so anymore. Or so it is supposed to be.

These three compared to the three Americans (and Denis Ten) weren’t all that impressive. Certainly not 7 points more impressive. Brezina struggled on his combo and lacked some polish and quality throughout. Gachinski’s quad-triple combo was impressive, but the rest was just average. Verner’s short program is to die for, but even “Singing in the Rain” couldn’t mask the fall on his quad attempt or the struggle with his combination. And yet, there they are, all at least 6 points higher than those with comparable skates early on. *sigh* Maybe the judges will never learn.

Nobunari Oda was the last to skate, and he had some demons to fight. Last year at worlds he had a disastrous  short program and ended up 28th overall in the event. He certainly made up for that here. But yet again, the scores baffled me. His program shouldn’t have compared to Takahashi’s, and yet he found himself between Patrick and Daisuke and in second place headed to the free skate.

I must say, this was a very entertaining event thanks to the athletes. It was quite frustrating and even confounding thanks to the judges. I’m obviously  not a judge. But I think I know good skating when I see it, and the placements after the shorts don’t reflect the best skates of the night (err, early morning here!).

Regardless, the stage is set. Chan looks to have a comfortable enough lead that he should skate with less pressure. Takahashi, Oda and Kozuka will be battling it out for medals, but they won’t be alone. Less than 5 points separate 2nd-6th. Plus, there are just over 5.5 points difference from 8th-13th.

Oh, the games are just beginning!

Here are your complete results after the Short Programs.

  1. Patrick Chan (CAN)    93.02
  2. Nobunari Oda (JPN)    81.81
  3. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN)    80.25
  4. Artur Gachinski (RUS)    78.34
  5. Florent Amodio (FRA)    77.64
  6. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)    77.62
  7. Michal Brezina (CZE)    77.50
  8. Tomas Verner (CZE)    75.94
  9. Brian Joubert (FRA)    71.29
  10. Denis Ten (KAZ)    71.00
  11. Richard Dornbush (USA)    70.54
  12. Ryan Bradley (USA)    70.45
  13. Ross Miner (USA)    70.40
  14. Javier Fernandez (ESP)    69.16
  15. Kevin Van Der Perren (BEL)    68.34
  16. Peter Liebers (GER)    67.73
  17. Anton Kovalevski (UKR)    65.16
  18. Samuel Contesti (ITA)    64.59
  19. Kevin Reynolds (CAN)    64.36
  20. Nan Song (CHN)    64.78
  21. Joey Russell (CAN)    61.69
  22. Jorik Hendrickx (BEL)    60.74
  23. Paolo Bacchini (ITA)    58.96
  24. Kim Lucine (MON)    58.81
  25. Adrian Schultheiss (SWE)    58.41*
  26. Viktor Pfeifer (AUT)    56.68*
  27. Min-Seok Kim (KOR)    56.19*
  28. Alexander Majorov (SWE)    54.24*
  29. Maxim Shipov (ISR)    50.10*
  30. Misha Ge (UZB)    49.61*
*Only the top 24 move on to the long programs.
Pairs up next today!

Taking on the World: Men’s, Pairs SP Start Orders April 26, 2011

The qualifying rounds are complete, and the stage is set for the short programs to begin first thing tomorrow morning (for those of us in the US!). There was a bit of confusion regarding this qualifying round (including a few questions I had!), so here’s a quick recap:

  • Based on each country’s team finishes last year, “direct entries” were awarded for this year’s teams. For example, in the singles events, if a country ended up with all of their skaters in the top 18 last year, they earned 3 direct entries (i.e. team USA). If a skater finished lower than that, (such as Oda for team Japan) they are given two direct entries…meaning the third member of their team must compete in the preliminary round to qualify.
  • The skater who then as to make it through the “Q-round” is determined by the ISU world rankings. Therefore, although Takahiko Kozuka won Japanese nationals, he had to skate in the preliminary round due to the fact that he was the lowest ranked Japanese man on the team.
  • The top 12 in the Men’s/Ladies Q-round, and the top 10 in Ice Dance move on to the short program (there was no qualifying round for Pairs this year, as there are only 22 teams to begin with).
Now, here are the qualifiers/skate orders for the Short Programs tomorrow.
*skaters who qualified through the preliminary round are marked with an asterisk
Men’s SP start order
Group 1
1. Viktor PFEIFER*    AUT
2. Min-Seok KIM*    KOR
3. Richard DORNBUSH    USA
4. Nan SONG    CHN
5. Denis TEN    KAZ
6. Ross MINER    USA
Group 2
7. Joey RUSSELL*    CAN
8. Paolo BACCHINI*    ITA
9. Maxim SHIPOV*    ISR
10. Peter LIEBERS*    GER
11. Misha GE*    UZB
12. Jorik HENDRICKX*    BEL
Group 3
13. Ryan BRADLEY    USA
14. Kim LUCINE*    MON
16. Kevin REYNOLDS    CAN
17. Alexander MAJOROV*    SWE
18. Javier FERNANDEZ    ESP
Group 4
19. Florent AMODIO    FRA
20. Brian JOUBERT    FRA
22. Patrick CHAN    CAN
23. Takahiko KOZUKA*    JPN
Group 5
25. Michal BREZNIA*    CZE
26. Daisuke TAKAHASHI    JPN
27. Tomas VERNER    CZE
28. Artur GACHINSKI    RUS
29. Samuel CONTESTI    ITA
30. Nobunari ODA    JPN
Pairs SP start order
Group 1
2. Meagan DUHAMEL / Eric RADFORD    CAN
3. Stina MARTINI / Severin KIEFER    AUT
Group 2
4. Yue ZHANG / Lei WANG    CHN
5. Huibo DONG / Yiming WU    CHN
6. Natalja ZABIJAKO / Sergei KULBACH    EST
Group 3
7. Klara KADLECOVA / Petr BIDAR    CZE
8. Tatiana VOLOSOZHAR / Maxim TRANKOV    RUS
9. Adeline CANAC / Yannick BONHEUR    FRA
10. Alexandra MALAKHOVA / Leri KENCHADZE    BUL
Group 4
11. Lubov BAKIROVA / Mikalai KAMIANCHUK    BLR
12. Amanda EVORA / Mark LADWIG    USA
14. Stacey KEMP / David KING    GBR
Group 5
16. Stefania BERTON / Ondrej HOTAREK    ITA
17. Maylin HAUSCH / Daniel WENDE    GER
18. Qing PANG / Jian TONG    CHN
Group 6
19. Aliona SAVCHENKO / Robin SZOLKOWY    GER
21. Narumi Takahashi / Mervin TRAN    JPN
22. Yuko KAVAGUTI / Alexander SMIRNOV    RUS
See you bright and early for live tweeting @fromtheboards!!!