Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or Bust: Bring on the boys! January 23, 2013

PrintBased on name recognition and resume, the mens title would seem to be easily in the hands of reigning champ, Jeremy Abbott. He has the pedigree. He has the experience. He’s won the title not once, not even just twice, but three times already. He comes to Omaha armed with extraordinarily complex choreography, emotionally engaging music, and the jumps, steps, and spins to rank him one of the world’s best.

But, he’s battled some physical setbacks this year that made those technical things quite difficult.

Meanwhile, Ross Miner made good strides on the international circuit, scoring the highest totals of any U.S. man in a Grand Prix event when he took bronze at NHK Trophy.

There’s also Richard Dornbush and Adam Rippon. Both have had their struggles. Both have had their moments to shine. Both would love to be on the World Team again. But, their path to a world spot isn’t simple.

Not only do they have to get past Abbott or Miner, but they have to hold off challengers like Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Brandon Mroz, Douglas Razzano, and young stars like Joshua Farris, Jason Brown, and perhaps the stiffest competition, Max Aaron.

Max presents a potentially large road block. His score of 231.27 at the Senior B event in Salt Lake City to start the year is higher than Abbott’s best Grand Prix score. That carries some weight.

Understand, though — that was a very well executed competition for Aaron. It was not Abbott’s best competition. Not by a long shot.

All that means is, Max Aaron is in play for a medal. But, he’ll have to be GREAT, while others have room for error.

Likewise, Mahbanoozadeh has a chance to make a splash. He was dealing with an ankle injury at Skate America (where he was a last minute replacement for Evan Lysacek), but is always a potential spoiler.

Razzano was 5th at Nationals last season after pulling up from 8th in the short to 4th in the long. Could he be this year’s upset?

Not that it means anything now, but, just for kicks, how different would this competition be if Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir had, indeed, come back and been able to compete?

Johnny attempted the comeback. His Grand Prix experiment didn’t go so well. Not that he didn’t make a valiant effort, but it appeared that he sorely underestimated how far he was from being a contender.

If he’d stuck it out, trained as hard as ever, and been scheduled to skate in Omaha, how would he have fared? It’s hard to say, of course, but based on what we saw out of him earlier this fall, he would have been a long shot.

And Evan? He couldn’t have been counted out, that’s for certain. If he’d been healthy enough to compete internationally earlier in the year, and if he was truly back in “fighting shape,” you’d be hard pressed to deny his chances.

Lysacek provided consistency for the American men for many years. Many hoped he’d be able to come back and help earn back that third World Team spot. Instead, he stares down a potential comeback during the Olympic season, instead of before it. That’s no easy task, to say the least.

Meanwhile, though, we have a handful of contenders who will be in Omaha. And I have a feeling they’re going to put on quite a show!

Who do you think makes the World Team? Who will fare the best against Evgeyni Plushenko, Patrick Chan, and the Japanese superstars?

Here are my predictions.

Gold: Abbott
Silver: Miner
Bronze: Aaron
Pewter: Dornbush

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter (@FromTheBoards) for updates from Omaha. And, if you’re an instagramer, follow me @TaraBethW for pictures throughout the week!

Advertisements
 

Do You Know The Way To San Jose: Men’s Preview January 18, 2012

“Boys, boys, boys …” are going to be front and center this week. As has been the case all season, the tense competition makes this one of the hottest events. There is also an interesting battle brewing — last year’s surprise medalists vs. last year’s predicted medalists. While they all have international experience this year, they want a little more … namely, a spot on the World team. But, that’s no easy task, especially with only two spots available.

The Break Down

Richard Dornbush — He made his name known last season when he nearly upstaged Ryan Bradley’s swan song. His personality is charming, and he carries that through every program. He has to hit the jumps, though, from start to finish. He doesn’t necessarily have the levels to keep up with the world’s best, but if he’s on and someone else is the slightest bit off, he’ll hold his own.

Adam Rippon — Sometimes — actually, far more often than we like to admit — we see a skater with the all the right pieces who can’t seem to put them together all at once. Just last year, Rippon started the season strong, but failed to bring it at Nationals. This season, he once again has challenged himself artistically with choreography and music, as well as technically with a quad lutz. No, he hasn’t hit it. And yes, he still struggles with the triple axels sometimes. But he’s had some time to gel with both the programs and the jumps. After missing Worlds last year, he’ll be hungry for a spot.

Jeremy Abbott — Talk about hungry for some redemption. Jeremy is, undoubtedly, the best skater in America. However, there are times where he lets the nerves, the pressure, the expectations, or whatever else it may be, get in his head and he struggles. This season, his programs are nothing short of brilliant. The challenge of balancing creative choreography, emotional depth, and technical prowess is massive. Through the Grand Prix, he was almost there. If he gets all the way there, this could even top his first National title performance. Yes, they’re that good.

Ross Miner — Not willing to easily give up his own chance at a repeat medal, Miner will be an interesting piece of this puzzle. Like so many inexperienced young skaters, when he’s on, he’s great. But the consistency isn’t quite there. He has a great long program this year that, I think, highlights his strengths. There’s not a lot of wiggle room at the top, but he’ll be vying for one of those spots.

Brandon Mroz  and Armin Mahbanoozadeh stand an outside chance at breaking up the top-four party. Mroz, of course, started the season with a ratified quad lutz. Mahbanoozadeh had as good a chance as any last year at Nationals. These are two skaters who have good moments, but tend to not have good skates. That’s a problem when the stakes are high all around.

Don’t forget about some of the younger guys who have impressed — Joshua Farris, Keegan Messing, Douglas Razzano, Stephen Carriere, Johnathan Cassar, Max Aaron … the list goes on!

The fact is, the US men have depth. They may not all be able to compete against the Chans and Plushenkos of the world, but they’ll compete in San Jose. They’ll make memorable moments, and they’ll put themselves in position to make a move next year. That’s what I love about Nationals. You not only get the chance to see the country’s best, but the country’s future. With that list of names, the future is bright, for certain.

For now, though, the “future” entails a handful of minutes to determine who moves on and who goes home. Those top four guys? You better believe they all want their shot at Nice.

The Prediction

We’ve seen how the predictable can fall through entirely. However, I don’t expect that to happen again. I’m going to go with the likeliest scenario for this one.

1. Jeremy Abbott
2. Adam Rippon
3. Richard Dornbush

For my “bold” prediction, I’m going to say Max Aaron surprises some people and finishes well.

Feel free to let me know what you think! Who is your pick for an upset?


 

Moments that made memories — 2011 Year In Review December 31, 2011

Most years on December 31 I sit and wonder, “How is the year over already?!” This year, however, when I started to look back, I found myself thinking, “That was really all this year?”

Maybe I kept myself busy enough that the accomplishments seem too great for one year. Or, maybe, I just have a terrible memory and forgot half the things that really happened! (The latter is not entirely unlikely, I assure you…)

Regardless, I was looking back. And in looking back, I tried to come up with the top 10 skating stories or moments of the year. Again, there were a lot to choose from. Narrowing it down seemed daunting. But, I’ve come up with a lists that, to me, defines this year in skating.

From technical wonders to emotional triumphs and all the little moments in between, 2011 was quite the year for the world of figure skating.

Here’s my list.

10. Brandon Mroz  and the first ever ratified quad lutz.
I know many US skating fans want to see guys focusing on consistency and artistry before adding new elements, but that move is impressive. I have to give the kid props for even trying the trick!

9. Meagan Duhamel’s “Is it enough?!” moment at TEB ’11 & Rudi Swiegers saves Mark Ladwig at 4CC.
Every season has its off-ice moments that melt your heart. These two stand out for me, although there are plenty of others I could pull up and recall. These are the moments you see the person, not just the competitor. I love those moments.

8. Exciting rivalries
This year has had its share of exciting rivalries, and that’s what makes competitions so much fun. This year featured three big ones, starting with the obvious: Meryl Davis and Charlie White vs. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Training mates make the fiercest competitors. Then there is the former champ chasing the current champ, Daisuke Takahashi vs. Patrick Chan. (I know, I know. Everyone thinks it won’t matter what Dai does because of Patrick’s “two-fall cushion.” I happen to think it’s made Takahashi better, and the rivalry fascinating to watch.) Last but not least, the dynamic pack of pairs who have battled through this year’s Grand Prix Series — Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy vs. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov vs. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov.

Can I just say, I can’t wait for Worlds?! (more…)

 

Skating for Gold – Nationals 2011: the Men January 6, 2011

Every year since 2006, January brings a flood of memories to my mind. Early mornings, cold, rink-side arena seats, and the smell of freshly Zamboni-ed ice (Yes, the smell). But most of all, January makes me remember the anticipation and excitement of being at my first Nationals. Walking in that first night is as fresh in my mind as what I ate for breakfast this morning (a delightful blueberry scone, courtesy of my favorite Starbucks location!).

So the closer we get to the start of the 2011 National Championships in Greensboro, NC, the stronger those excited feelings become. And, thanks to my wonderful Twitter followers, I know I’m not alone!

Nationals seems later this year than normal, but for me that’s a good thing – a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have had time to even think about a preview blog! So, I suppose I should thank US Figure Skating for conveniently fitting Nationals into my 2011 schedule! Now, if only I could figure out a way to actually be in Greensboro for the week…

Daydreaming aside, it’s time for some Nationals chatter! But, oh, where to begin!

Knowing my constant challenge with being concise, I’ve decided to post separate blogs for my thoughts about the Men, Ladies, Ice Dance, and Pairs events, all of which present some pretty intense competition!

I’ve been asked a lot about my thoughts on the Men’s competition, so that is where we will begin.

All season long, I’ve been saying the men’s competition is by far the most competitive internationally, and I have a feeling that may be the case at the Coliseum, too. With the top guys from the last few years (Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir) not skating in NC, the door is wide open for some long-time challengers as well as some “fresh blood” to take a shot at the podium. First off, let’s take a look at the guys I feel are top contenders, and then I’ll tell you why.

  • Jeremy Abbott
  • Adam Rippon
  • Brandon Mroz
  • Armin Mahbanoozadeh
  • Ryan Bradley

Obviously, Jeremy has to be considered the favorite. He’s the two-time and reigning champ, and he’s got all the confidence in the world. Plus, he has great programs, great jumps, great fan support, and great coaches. If he puts it all on the ice like we all know he can, I believe he can leave Greensboro as the three-time champion. However, if the pressure of defending gets to him, or his past consistency issues come back to haunt him, he could be in trouble because there are plenty of other guys hungry for the chance to be American’s #1 man.

Adam Rippon is, also without a doubt, the #2 guy right now. He’s the heir apparent to the American thrown, and for good reason. The guy has a depth of artistry and a level of emotion in his skating that surpasses anyone else on the US scene right now, as far as I’m concerned. He’s matured a lot in this last year, and you can tell that he really wants to not only skate well, but tell a story, and that is what makes figure skating so magical. You can also tell, though, that he wants to be considered among the best in the world, and Nationals is a great chance for him to show how well he can keep up with the Jeremy Abbotts of the skating world. He will need to hit it big technically, especially if others bring the quad (which Adam can do, as well…). I expect him to compete well, but his last competition of the Grand Prix series didn’t go as planned, so hopefully he’s moved past that and is full strength and ready to bring it!

Brandon rounds out the trio of men that, on paper, should make up the top three. Now, we all know what’s “on paper” doesn’t often translate accurately to the ice. That said, Brandon has made some big strides this year that make me really want to see him do well. His artistry is sill no where near that of Adam and Jeremy, but he does seem to be establishing more of a connection between the music and the movements. Technically, he’s got all the big tricks in his arsenal. It’ll be a matter of putting all the pieces together at the right time…and holding it together mid-program if something goes wrong.

Not to be overlooked (and looking to cement his status at the top of the US ranks) is, perhaps, the biggest surprise medalist of the Grand Prix season, Armin Mahbanoozadeh. This kid is something else. He skated to bronze in champion-like fashion, looking completely un-phased by the pressure that comes with opportunity. That, and he has a brilliant long program to music from “Avatar.” I love it. And I truly believe that he has a great chance to play spoiler and earn a spot on the World team.

Finally, the biggest question mark of the event, one of my long-time favorites, Ryan Bradley. If you read the latest blog from Sarah and Drew on icenetwork.com about his decision to compete, you know that he’s in it because YOU asked for it! You’ve got to love a guy who responds that way to his fans. I won’t lie, I was actually surprised when I saw him listed to compete in Greensboro. I hadn’t seen confirmation of his decision for this year, and coming back from foot surgery is hard enough, but to do it on comparatively short preparation time? He’s got guts, that’s for sure. But he’s also skating with a refreshed mindset this season; one in which he’s determined to enjoy skating for all of the simple, pure reasons that made him love it in the first place. And that, my friends, could be just the mindset that propels him to the podium. He has quite the challenge ahead of him, but I know a world of skating fans who would be thrilled to see him get his moment (including me!).

You know, the great thing about US Nationals – and any nationals, for that matter – is that you get a chance to see not only  the best the nation has to offer, but those who will be the best in the future. And this year, the list of guys hoping to make a big splash of their own, medal or no medal, is just as competitive as the competition for gold. Take a look:

  • Ross Miner
  • Josh Farris
  • Jason Brown
  • Douglass Razzano
  • Parker Pennington
  • Grant Hochstein
  • Keegan messing
  • Richard Dornbush
  • Johnathan Cassar

Boy, will this competition be good! I wish NBC would show more than the final group, but thank God for icenetwork’s additional coverage, whatever it actually amounts to, so that we get to see all these guys pull out their best.

I hope the fans in Greensboro pack the Coliseum, and that these men really, really bring it…there is certainly the potential for some “skate of a lifetime” moments that Nationals has the tendency to draw out of people.

And that excited feeling is back. Full force, giving me chills…come on, January 22nd, get here faster!

Who are your picks for the podium? I’d love to know.

Stay tuned; other previews coming soon.

Until then…

 

Finally! December 15, 2010

Only a million years later, I’m back with final thoughts about the Grand Prix Final. I know, that was forever ago! But until I figure out a way to make figure skating analysis a full-time job, I sometimes have to put it aside to get other things done.

Nevertheless, I DO have final thoughts about the event, so I’m here to share. So, take a few minutes and relive these thoughts with me!

I’ll start out with the men. Now, if you paid attention to my Fantasy Picks this week, you know that I picked Patrick Chan to win here. I was feeling a little questionable about that choice after Nobu killed it in his Short program. But, knowing what kind of scores Chan is capable of pulling in, I knew he had the edge. I have to say, I was incredibly proud of him for putting out two basically clean programs. Yes, there was a little step out/turn out on the second triple axel in the long, but compared to his early season struggles, he did wonderfully! He’s still relatively young, and I believe he’ll only get stronger technically.

I actually thought he was a bit off as far as the expression, but perhaps he was so focused on hitting his jumps that his usual freedom throughout suffered a bit. Still, though, the best of the competition.

Oda was wonderful, too. His short program blew me away, so the struggles in the long were disappointing…mostly for him! He’s capable of such stunning jumps and artistry. If he can put it all together in back to back programs, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.

I did feel bad for Daisuke. He just seemed out of it throughout the competition. Perhaps the collision in practice did more damage than he wanted to admit, but he was clearly not himself. Kozuka took advantage of Takahashi’s weak performances, and was good enough for bronze.

I would have been very interested to see how the likes of Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon and Brandon Mroz would have fared here. I love me some Florent Amodio and Tomas Verner, but I feel there was a dramatic drop off in the level of competitiveness when we got to those two. I think Jeremy would have had a great shot for a medal for sure. World will be most interesting!

Meryl Davis and Charlie White were no surprise winners here. But what was surprising was how much I really enjoyed their Free Dance! I’ve always liked what these two put on the ice, but this year’s FD just didn’t quite seem to jive with their personalities or skating style…at least not in it’s original form. But now, they’ve polished up the choppiness and made every attempt to dive into the personality of the dance. And in Beijing, it was FABULOUS! I still see room for improvement, but that’s good. This isn’t the part of the season where they want to peak, so they still have room for that to happen by Nationals/Worlds.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are wonderful, too. They have such a charm about them and they’re just so easy to watch. Their personalities are naturally very likable, which plays into their Charlie Chaplin routine beautifully. They’ve set themselves up for success heading into Worlds as well, so I’ll be interested to see how they make minor adjustments to this program to make it more competitive. Well done, though!

I have to say, I was very proud of Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier. They’re skating a very tough program to “Eleanor Rigby.” The difficulty and intricacy of the choreography can easily make this program look heavy and labored, but in Beijing, I finally saw a sense of freedom and lightness to this free dance that was refreshing! They’re looking more and more comfortable competing at this level, and as they improve the program artistically, it improves technically as well. That’s a beautiful balance to have! (Side note: I’ve got to say, the dance event at Canadian Nationals may be the best event of the season! Although that same event in the US should be interesting as well…)

The Pairs competition wasn’t much of a surprise either. We all knew it would come down to Pang/Tong vs. Savchenko/Szolkowy. What we may not have known was that it would be a 21 point margin in favor of the Germans! Add S/S’s brilliant choreo and challenging – but well executed – technical elements to P/T’s mini meltdown (singled toe, singled axel, discredited spin), and you have an easy win for the former World Champs over the reigning champs.

Perhaps the bigger story, though, is the youngest Chinese team skating here, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han. They skated both on the junior and senior circuits this season, and it’s a wonder why they weren’t skating with the big kids before! They have a lot of maturing to do, but what is interesting to me about this team is how COP-friendly their programs are. I think we’re at the start of a new generation of skaters that, having been raised by the points system, will know how to use it fully, without having to over-think everything, who can then bring in their personality and creativity that some say has been missing as of late. Regardless, congrats to the kids for showing some of the veterans how it’s done!

For me, though, the entire event belonged to Alissa Czisny.

I have to say, I was worried about her after last season. I’ve always loved her, but she had always seemed to struggle when it mattered most. At some point, you begin to wonder what it is that’s holding an athlete back like that. Naturally, we start to think it’s in her head. Then it’s her technique. Then it’s her coach. Then it’s the coffee she drinks that my cousin’s best friend’s uncle’s boss’s husband says is bad for your stamina.

The reality is, we have no idea what goes through her head when she takes the ice, knowing it’s all on the line. We have no idea how much she fights for a performance, or how much she fears not doing well. So to see her struggle so at the end of last season was heartbreaking, because it seemed no one really, honestly knew.

Fast forward a few months, and  it’s been the ride of a lifetime to watch her rise from that, come into this season with that radiant smile, and a weight lifted off her shoulders – she seems to be skating for herself now, perhaps with a little bit of a chip on her shoulder for all those who said she’d never be back. Regardless of her motivation, she seems to be in a zone that has her locked in on every moment. She’s soaking it in, making it count…and sticking it to every person who ever wrote her off. And I love it!

Her programs this season are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in a long time. Her long program is my favorite ladies long of the year. She takes us on a journey with her, and the way she pulls off triple after triple…she soars, and so do we. She may not have had that perfect competition, but she has every single thing she needs to compete with anyone you put in her path. Her spins and most of her footwork can beat anyone in the world. If she keeps fine tuning her jump technique (which is a bit reworked), I can see even greater things to come. She just set herself up as the favorite at Nationals. (I know there are several contenders for the National title/podium, but I’m beyond excited to see a showdown between Alissa and Mirai. I love them both, so I don’t know who I’d choose…but I think they both have similar qualities to their skating as well as wonderful potential. It’s gonna be a fun one!)

What’s that, you say? Oh, other ladies skated in Beijing? My bad…back to the competition.

Italy’s Carolina Kostner took home the silver. She skated well for herself. I just don’t always understand where she pulls points out of, especially in her PCS scores. That’s a whole other debate, but her scores always boggle my mind, no matter where she places. I just don’t get it, most of the time. Still, though, she managed to finish 1 one hundredth of  a point ahead of Japan’s young star, Kanako Murakami.

Kanako is adorable. She has a fire in her, boy….she’s one to watch. She wants it, and she looks pretty determined to move up the ranks quickly so she can get it. The rest of the Japanese team better watch out, because she’s gunning for top honors at Japanese Nationals!

Honorable mention here to Miki Ando. She had a rough short program, but came back strong enough to actually win the long program in Beijing. However, the 4 girls in front of her skated well enough to hold their positions and Miki finished in 5th. She was my only Fantasy pick not to win here! (However, I did have Alissa Czisny, but she was in the B category…)

And there you have it, friends. Finally, Patrick Chan has a clean(ish) competition. Finally, Davis and White connected with their music, as did Crone and Poirier. Finally, Savchenko/Szolkowy took back their place at the top of the pairs world. Finally, Alissa Czisny can call herself the Grand Prix Final champion, knowing she earned every bit of that gold medal! And yes, finally, my review is done!

Looking forward to how the various nationals turn out. Some tight races for a few teams, for sure! Will try to keep you updated as those events take place.

Then, of course, there will be all sorts of action from US Nationals. I wish more than anything I could be there, but since I can’t, I’ll play the living room reporter role once again, and I hope you’ll all join me!

Until then…

 

Eric Bompard – High hopes and Heartbreaks November 29, 2010

Well we made it. Paris brought thrilling victories, and  bitter disappointments, but we have, at last, reached the end of the “regular season” in the international skating world.

The men’s competition was again the most exciting.

Prior to the final group, it was announced that the French veteran, Brian Joubert, had withdrawn (due to illness). The gasp in the crowd was obvious, even via the icenetwork live stream!  I have to say, I was a bit disappointed as well. However, the show must go on, and fellow Frenchman Florent Amodio was up for the challenge.

Takahiko Kozuka led after the short program, but Amodio was hot on his heals with a free skate that lit up the crowd and the scoreboard alike! But never fear – calm as a cucumber, Kozuka threw down possibly his best free skate ever, quad and all. He just checked the jumps off, one-by-one, and the softness of his knees made his footwork soar. By far the champion here, and Taka has a chance at giving his countryman – reigning World Champ Daisuke Takahashi – a run for his money at Japanese Nationals.

But first, the Grand Prix Final.

For the men, it will be:

1. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)
2. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN)
3. Patrick Chan (CAN)
4. Tomas Verner (CZE)
5. Nobunari Oda (JPN)
6. Florent Amodio (FRA)

Unfortunately, all three US men (who did well in their own right this GP season!) just missed out. Jeremy Abbott is the 1st alternate, followed by Brandon Mroz and Adam Rippon, should one or more of the top six not be able to compete in Beijing.

This competition could be very interesting…but what else would we expect from this year’s men?

The ladies were predictably unpredictable. Actually, though, things shaped up a little more like they were “supposed to” in Paris.

Mao Asada is still quite a mess by her own standards, but compared to her first outing, things went better. She stayed on her feet in the long, however she popped a few jumps, including both planned triple axels. I know that’s her “trademark” move, but I wish she’d drop it to a regular old double axel, at least until she gets her new technique worked out. That way she would have less to fret about and could give more focus to the other jumps.

Regardless, she finished 5th, which was an improvement over her 8th place finish at NHK Trophy.

The battle between the top three was interesting. Alissa Czisny pulled up to third overall after a less-than-perfect free skate. However, her component marks and the technical markks she gets for her footwork and spins gave her an advantage that held her in position for a medal – and for a spot in the Final.

Mirai Nagasu – not skating from 1st after the short – skated a beautiful long that was marred by a rare error on a layback spin – normally one of Mirai’s highest scoring elements! A few underrotations and low levels on her footwork cost her the title, but it was just barely, as she was just two points shy of the champion.

Kiira Korpi skated away with gold after her own les-than-stellar free skate. But her three point lead in the short and a slight edges on the program component scores gave her the win. She is the first alternate for the Final.

The other qualifiers are:

1. Miki Ando (JPN)
2. Alissa Czisny (USA)
3. Carolina Kostner (ITA)
4. Kanako Murakami (JPN)
5. Akiko Suzuki (JPN)
6. Rachael Flatt (USA)

The other alternates are the Americans, Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner.

The pairs competition from France also played out as expected.

The world champs, Savchenko and Szolkowy skated brilliantly once again (although I felt it wasn’t as good as at Skate America).  They far out-classed the field, and earned their second gold of the season.

Skating to silver was the Russian team of Bazarova and Larionov. They have a classically Russian style and elegance that serves them well. They don’t have the spark of some of the other teams, but they skate well, and were well above the rest of the field (although there was a significant gap between them and the Germans).

The pairs that will be going to Beijing are:

1. Savchenko/Szolkowy (GER)
2. Pang/Tong (JPN)
3. Bazarova/Larionov (RUS)
4. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch (CAN)
5. Iliushechkina/Maisuradze (RUS)
6. Sui/Han (CHN)

And the alternates:

Takahashi/Tran (JPN)
Yankowskas/Coughlin (USA)
Lawrence/Swiegers (CAN)

Perhaps the skate of the competition belonged to the French ice dance team of Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat. Skating at home in front of a crowd that shrieked at the smallest hand motion, they skated a classic, timeless, elegant, sophisticated performance to a Chaplin Medley that stole the hearts of all who saw it. Their lines were stunning, their technique unmatched, and the character and expression they maintained throughout was the cherry on top of their Grand Prix sundae! It was fabulous. They will be competitive with the top teams at the Final, for sure.

Speaking of the Final, the dance line up:

1. Davis/White (USA)
2. Pechalat/Bourzat (FRA)
3. Crone/Poirier (CAN)
4. Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)
5. Weaver/Poje (CAN)
6. Noffmann/Zavozin (HUN)

The alternates (again, some unlucky Americans who just missed it after skating wonderfully this season!)

Shibutani/Shibutani (USA)
Chock/Zuerlein (USA)
Riazanova/Tkachenko (RUS)

Without some of the top North American dance teams on the scene (Virtue/Moir, Belbin/Agosto) the competition is a bit more diverse compared to recent years of so much North American dominance! That said, it will likely be a very competitive event, with Davis and White the early favorites.

And there you have it, friends! Another Grand Prix series nearly complete.

Anyone brave enough to make predictions for the Final?

 

In other news, the second episode of Skating with the Stars airs tonight…as I said, I reserve my judgement until after this show. I did see on Twitter that Tanith will have some kind of additional role tonight, as she said she’d be coming down from the “nest.” Can I just say that makes me MUCH happier? How much that helps, we shall see.

Then, on to Beijing!

Until then…

 

Americans in Paris (along with some Canadians, Italians, Hungarians…) November 24, 2010

Just a few short weeks ago, we were all bouncing off the walls with excitement as the Grand Prix series got underway. And now? It’s just about over. I won’t lie…I’m even a little bit exhausted keeping up with it all! It’s a trip just trying to watch as much as possible via icenetwork between work schedules (and, perhaps more importantly, sleep schedules!)…I can only imagine the skaters are feeling the cries for rest as well. But with just one more weekend to determine Grand Prix Final line ups, there’s no rest for the weary!

Trophy Eric Bombard (um…can I say I miss “Lalique?”) might have the weakest ice dance field thus far. The only “big name” team is the hometeam – French skaters Pechalat and Bourzat. They’re the obvious favorites here, and barring some crazy circumstances like last weekend, this is their time to shine.

Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein from the US will be hoping to one-up their bronze medal from Canada.

Several other teams are coming off of 5th place finishes in their first GP events, so they’ll be battling it out to move up to podium position here.

The pairs event features Savchenko and Szolkowy from Germany who won Skate America quite easily. They are also the odds-on favorites in France, and should really only face competition from one team – Bazarova and Larionov from Russia who placed 2nd at NHK Trophy at the start of the season. However, they placed 2nd with a score of 173.83 and S/S of Germany won Skate Canada with a score of 197.70. So there still should be no contest for gold.

If the Russians hang on for silver, there will be a trio of young teams looking to improve from their earlier assignments: Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth (USA), Mylene Brodeur and John Mattatall (CAN), and Maylin Hausch and Daniel Wende (GER). All three finished 6th or 7th at their respective first events and have a shot at the podium here.

The ladies event remains as unpredictable as any thus far. We’ve got Mao Asada trying to make a comeback from a disastrous season debut and Alissa Czisny trying to repeat in her own comeback season of sorts…and that’s just the beginning.

Cynthia Phaneuf of Canada will be looking to make amends for her long program meltdown that kept her from winning at home, Haruka Imai of Japan will try to desperately keep her GPF hopes alive, and Mirai Nagasu will look to be more trained in her long program, as well as fighting off the demons that haunt her free skate, should she win the short program.

I refuse to make any sort of predictions, because the only thing predictable about the ladies events this year is that there’s no possible way to make an educated guess about what will happen!

On the men’s side, however, we once again see likely the best competition of the event.

France’s Brian Joubert is looking for more than just clean quads after even his new-and-much-improved choreography and style left him 4th in China. Kevin Reynolds of Canada will look to repeat his stellar 2-quad short program, but better his own 4th place finish from Canada.

Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka comes in as the best candidate for “the favorite” after winning Cup of China, defeating Brian Joubert and the American Brandon Mroz.

Mroz, as well as the other Frenchman Florent Amodio, are both hoping for Grand Prix miracles after medaling in their early events.

The best part is, on any given day, any one of these guys could throw down back-to-back performances that can’t be beat. The question is…who’s day will it be?

This will determine who’s in and who’s out. And as anxious as the competitors in France will be, some (like Jeremy Abbott) who are already done will be just as anxious waiting at home to see if they did enough to book a trip to Beijing!

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I may or may  not be able to tweet live this weekend. It all depends on the family activities! But regardless, I’ll be checking in and posting my thoughts throughout.

Speaking of thoughts…

I just read an “open letter” from Plushenko about how he should be reinstated by the ISU. (If you didn’t know, he was banned for competing in a non-sanctioned event that coincided with Worlds, I believe.) As much as there is a part of me that feels sorry for him, it’s only a very small piece. I had a hard time digesting his actions and comments post-Vancouver, and even if he was upset, physically and emotionally hurt, he was wrong to react as he did. Then to go out and compete in an event he knew wasn’t approved (this isn’t his first rodeo, kids…he’s been around long enough he should have known better), fail to submit his appeal by the required deadline, wait several months, then make claims like “You haven’t seen the last of me” and “I will compete in Sochi”…I’m sorry, but rules are in place for a reason. And, fair or not, he violated them. Just because he’s Russia’s star doesn’t mean he should get special permission to get around the rules. …just my thoughts.

As for the thoughts about ABC’s “Skating with the Stars” I said I’d share, well, I’ve decided to reserve my judgement for one more week. It could improve, or it could collapse…we’ll just have to wait and see after next week. I will say, however, that it sounds unfortunately (but not unexpectedly) bad from non-skating fans. Too few real celebrities, and too much cheesiness. But we shall see…

And now for my TEB Fantasy picks:

Until then…