Figure Skating: From the Boards

Do You Know The Way To San Jose: Dance Preview January 20, 2012

“I can’t keep up with your turning tables …” Or at least that’s how it’s felt, trying to keep track of the head-spinning game of musical partners! But, all the switcheroos are complete, and we’re left with a field full of promise. With ice dance becoming such a hotly contested international event, it’s a little odd to feel so confident in the gold medal hopefuls. But, when those hopefuls are *this close* to their second consecutive undefeated season, it’s understandable. That’s not to say we won’t have a strong event on our hands, though.

The Break Down

Meryl Davis & Charlie White — What else can you say about these two that hasn’t already been said? They are phenomenal. They are, however, coming off of a controversial win at the Grand Prix Final over training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Well, the win wasn’t controversial, I suppose. The difference after the Short Dance portion more than made up for the scoring error, courtesy of the ever-changing ISU code of points system. What that does say, though, is that their brilliant waltz Free Dance isn’t untouchable. They’ve determined to stay the course, though, and focus on quality (which is code for “Grades of Execution”). Here, though, their biggest competition is their own expectations.

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani — These two are undoubtedly the second-best American team this season. That said, there may be some unfair pressure on them, after their meteoric rise. They still need time to develop. They need polish. They need an “edge” that goes beyond elegance and good posture. I adore watching them skate, and they continue to improve, this season winning their first Grand Prix gold. They should be a lock for the podium (and likely one of the three World Team spots). *Knock on wood*

Madison Chock & Evan Bates
— This is, perhaps, the couple that benefited most from Pass-The-Partner. Evan came into this season after being sidelined with an achilles injury last year. He has the experience — and the required skills — of being an Olympian with former partner Emily Samuelson. Those two looked to be the anointed ones, coming up through the shadow of Tanith Belbin/Ben Agosto and David/White. But, when they split and Maddie’s partner Greg retired, there was uncertainty for a while. But only until Maddie and Evan stepped on the ice together. They are magical. They engage each other so deeply that you can’t help but be drawn in. They understand choreography (just go back and look at Chock/Zuerlein’s FD last year!), they pay attention to detail, and, oh yeah, they have pretty solid technique. They’ve picked up the partnering thing as quick as anyone, and blown me away all season long. Their FD is one of my favorites of the year. I fully expect them to push for the podium. (more…)

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A look ahead: Cup of China’s hottest couples November 3, 2011

The dance and pairs disciplines bring us another dose of fresh faces, but also a few couples looking to claim one one of the first spots in the Grand Prix Final. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Dancers spicing it up

The sambas and rumbas of this year’s short dance will bring an element all their own to the ice in China — heat. The ice dance event in has, in a handful of seasons, become one of the most popular among skating fans. The increased difficulty brought on by the Code of Points system, coupled with the intense competition spurred by the Shpilband/Zoueva camp has made it a highlight of every competition.

This weeks event features largely inexperienced teams, save the top two.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are fresh off of a second place finish at Finlandia Trophy earlier this season, as well as a surprise bronze medal at Worlds to end last season. The are good. Simple as that. And with their youth, they’ll continue to improve. The short dance is a stretch for them (brother/sister teams always have a challenge with the more sultry dances!), but if they manage that, they soar in the free dance.

Their biggest competition will come from the Russians, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev. These two had success on the Grand Prix circuit last season, but struggled at the end of the year. They tend to score well on some big elements, and they may have polished things up a bit since last year. They’ll need that to face the young Americans.

Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones will be pushing for a place on the medal stand. They finished in those “bubble” spots last season — 4th or 5th in the Grand Prix. But here, in a field without much experience, they should be pushing the top three.

Trying to be the next junior-to-senior phenoms, American’s Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely make their senior debut with a chance to impress. Also making their debut as a couple are Emily Samuelson and Todd Gilles. Of course, Emily made the 2010 Olympic team with Evan Bates (who debuted with his new partner last week). They will ahve work to do, but this is a good place to get their feet wet and see what they have going for them.

Podium predictions (no particular order):

Shibutani/Shibutani
Carron/Jones
Bobrova/Soloviev (more…)

 

News, news and more news! October 16, 2010

Oh boy, so much news to discuss, people to thank, and interesting issues to chatter about! Where do I begin? We’ve got Junior Grand Prix standings set for the final, NHK Trophy less than a week away, a new Dancing with the Stars spin off show, loads of new season programs to discuss, and one interesting bit of news that’s less about skating and more about something I tend to give “soapbox” speeches about – women and sports. I can’t possibly get it all in one post. *sigh*

I suppose, to get it off my chest, I’ll start by stepping up on my soapbox and sharing, so bear with me. Growing up with a sports fanatic father and a basketball-star mother, it would have been nearly impossible to somehow end up NOT being a sports fan. Some of my earliest baby pictures show me in a far-too-large baseball cap bearing the logo of the best team in baseball – the St. Louis Cardinals! (Okay, okay, I may be a little biased. But every good sports fan is!) Thanksgiving has always been more of an excuse to watch loads of football than even to eat tons of food, and “playoffs” have always meant non-stop ESPN, along with the endless conversations about who would step up, or who I liked even if my team didn’t make it.

I say all of that to say, I’m as much of a sports fan as the next guy. Yes, the next guy. Why am I jumping on this age-old battle again? And why here? Well, here because I can. Here, I can say what I mean and be taken at face value for what I say. The anonymity of the internet gives me the opportunity to be taken for my knowledge, my intelligence, my capabilities, rather than my appearance, my interests, or the simple fact that, yes, I am a female, and yes, I am a crazed sports fan. And why now? Because the “world-wide leader in sports” decided that they had a brilliant idea for all of us female sports nuts – an ESPN “sub-station” that’s just for women! Sounds great, right? Like ESPN is finally recognizing that there are multitudes of woman’s sports that aren’t being covered (or at least that’s their claim) and that woman watch sports differently enough that they need their own version – both online and potentially on air.

There’s the back story. Now for the soapbox. …ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! How is this not supposed to feel like a slap in the face to those of us who have worked our entire lives to “keep up” with the boys in the business? How are we supposed to feel when ESPN – the “it” network in sports media – decides that, instead of working to achieve more equality at the parent network, let’s make it easier on ourselves by separating women all together? And if that’s not enough, let’s make it REALLY obvious (not to mention lame) and call it “espnW,” because that’s original, and certainly not limiting. Nothing like slapping a bandaid on the problem instead of actually fixing it, eh?

Well, ESPN, here’s a newsflash for you – not all of us girls want our sports to be girlie-fied. We kind of like them rough and tough, or fast and sharp, or competitive and edgy, just the way they are.

In a recent post by a fellow female sports blogger (@ALeagueofHerOwn on twitter), Julie DiCaro explains perfectly why I think this is a terrible idea:

“The idea that sports need to somehow be feminized to attract women is completely off-base. Like the Jennie Finches, Julie Foudys, and Lindsay Vonns of the world, women today are the daughters of Title IX. We grew up playing sports, just like the guys, and we still love sports, just like the guys. We don’t need pink jerseys to buy sports merchandise and we don’t need espnW to cajole us into watching sports programming.”

I  may write a blog about figure skating which tends to fall in line with the “women-sanctioned sports” idea, but don’t let the music and the sparkles fool you – I can spend a Saturday watching college football with the best of ’em. I love skating for the competitiveness and the athleticism as much as the artistry and performance. I have sports apps on my phone. I talk football with the guys more easily than I talk fashion with the girls. I would choose a basketball game over a day at the spa.  And I most certainly don’t need a special network to “girl down” my October baseball. I like it just the way it is, thank you very much. It’s about time the “powers that be” recognized it.

*Deep breath*

Okay. Moving on. Let’s get back to skating, shall we?

Let’s begin with the recent announcement of a new skating show, produced by the same crew that’s made Dancing with the Stars the #1 show in America. “Skating with the Stars” will follow the course of the popular ballroom dancing show, only with, well, skaters. Skating professionals will be paired with a celebrity and the team will compete live in front of judges and the television viewer. Judging will work the same way as well – the judges give a score, and the viewers cast their own vote. Each week, a couple will be voted off, until ultimately, we have a winner!

If you’re thinking this sounds frighteningly familiar, you’re not losing your mind. FOX tried to do something similar a while back and…well, yeah. “Tried” is probably the best thing that can be said about that show. However, this kind of thing is becoming extremely popular in other countries, so it can be done.

At first, I reacted like many did – Oh boy. Here comes another reason for people to see skating as less than it really is. However, I remembered something I said in a blog a few weeks ago about US skating becoming popular prior to the Civil War dance craze, thanks to Jackson Haines (Father of Modern Figure Skating, anyone? Check the quiz from a few posts back for more!). Haines was inspired by the dance trend and incorporated what he saw into skating. At the same time, skating grew in popularity along with dance. I noted that perhaps the current dance craze would lead to another increase in skating popularity in American, and the next thing I know, SWTS is announced! Not only that, but it’s being produced by ABC and some of the executive producers and directors from DWTS, which, to me, is the best thing about this announcement. This team took ballroom dancing – something NOT popular in the US – and turned it into the biggest show on television. They know how to make it work. While I think it’s harder to get celebrities to look good on ice, I think the production value will at least be something to look forward to.

The line ups will be announced during the November 2 DWTS results show. Needless to say, I’ll be checking in on that for sure!

Since this post is getting long, I’ll keep my JGP comments brief for now. But never fear, I’ll be back soon with the extended version!

In short, congratulations to the 10 US competitors who will compete at the Final in Bejing!

The four men who made the top eight are Joshua Farris, Keegan Messing, Richard Dornbush, and Max Aaron. Four ladies will be joining them: Christina Gao, Yasmin Siraj, Kristiene Gong, and Kiri Baga. One pairs team – Ashley Cain and Josh Reagan – and one dance team – Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely – will make the trip as well.

Great work by the US juniors this season. I would, however, like to say one thing about pairs and dance: one team?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that Cain/Reagan and Lichtman/Copely will be representing the US in China, but only one other dance team in the top 8 is NOT Russian. North American ice dance has been on the rise in recent years, but from the looks of this, that dominance is about to end. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, about European dancers and Japanese and Chinese pairs (well, maybe I do know what it is about Chinese pairs, but that’s a post in and of itself!), but the American teams better watch their backs or we’ll really be in trouble in those disciplines. Maybe it’s time for the USFS to invest a little bit into their athletes and their futures.

Lastly, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to the Korean skating fans who made my blog a popular visit in the past week or so. They love their skating, and they love their girl, Yu-Na Kim! You all are fabulous, and thank you for including me in your many posts and reposts of reports from All That Skate LA. You’re the best!

Next time, I’ll take a look at some of the skaters who are heading to Japan for the NHK Trophy, and break down some of the early season program debuts that have made their way to YouTube.

Skating season is upon us, friends!

P.S. – heard this week that the wonderful Terry Gannon will be joining the NBC team for TV coverage of the Grand Prix series! I always loved his insight into the sport, not to mention his quality and class as a sports broadcaster. He never intended to be a figure skating announcer, but once he was there, he took full advantage of it, and made the viewers at home – as well as the skaters themselves – know that he was the real deal. He’s actually one of my own sportscasting inspirations, so I am thrilled to welcome him back to the skating world! Welcome back, Terry – we’ve missed you!

Until then…

 

And the 2010-2011 Comeback Kid is…. October 9, 2010

With the Senior Grand Prix series just around the corner (13 days, for those of you counting down with me!), things are quickly picking up in the skating world. The Junior Grand Prix is flying by, this week stopping in Dresden, Germany as the juniors battle it out for a place in the Grand Prix Final.

(Speaking of the JGP in Germany, I want to say congrats to Richard Dornbush on his gold medal performances, Christina Gao on her second Grand Prix silver, and to Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely for their third place finish! Find complete results of the event here.)

Also happening this week, skaters are in Finland for the 2010 Finlandia Trophy. The US has been well represented – Johnathan Cassar and Grant Hochstein competed for the men, Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell in ice dance, and Amanda Dobbs for the ladies. Grant came *this close* to the bronze…only a difference of .01 separated the 3rd place finisher, Samuel Contesti from Italy! He was second in the Free Skate though, so congrats Grant! Also, check out Grant’s blog/diary posts for Icenetwork from the event in Finland – a fun read!

And with all the international buzz, there’s even more to keep an eye on nationally! Regional competitions going on around the US, and many skaters already have their eyes set on Nationals in Greensboro, NC. But to get there, they’ve got to take it one step at a time. One pair looking to do just that is none other than two-time National Champ, Rockne Brubaker.

Now, if you’ve been keeping up with posts here at From the Boards, you know this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Rockne. He’s been in the news often in the last few months, sadly, not because he’s gearing up for the GP series, but because he’s been on the lookout for a new partner. Well, as I said in a previous post, he’s found one in Mary Beth Marley. She’s only 15, but in this article from Icenetwork.com, Brubaker says the age is not even a small factor. He says she’s the hardest worker he’s ever known, and from the sounds of things, I have to agree! She was landing a throw triple on the second day of the new team’s tryout, and here’s the kicker – she’d had no pairs experience before….ever! Looks like she’s as hungry for that top spot as her 24-year-0ld partner!

But skating in the pairs discipline is a bit more complicated than, say, singles, because not only do two people have to be able to do the pairs tricks, but they have to be able to do them together, and learning how to be a team, a couple on the ice, doesn’t often come too quickly. So, when I heard in June that Rockne’s former partner, Keauna McLaughlin, was leaving the sport, I (like Rockne himself) figured his season was over.

Enter, Mary Beth Marley.

And after just a few months and several skills tests passed, the two have their sights set on the international spotlight. They were hoping if they showed enough promise, USFS would give them one of the open spots at Skate America in November, but they weren’t quite that lucky. Still, their plan is to blow us all away at Nationals, make it back to that podium, and on to Worlds.

I tell ya, I just love a comeback story. (Okay, so I loved Rockne anyway! But still…) I could only imagine how Rockne must have felt in June, thinking his season was done and he wouldn’t have the chance to come back from a disappointing finish at Nationals that led to not making the Olympic team. And yet, he never gave up. Good thing. If he had, we may have missed out on the story of the year! (Okay, okay! I know it’s not really much of a story yet. But I can’t help it, I’m really excited to see things work out for him and Mary Beth.)

So as we make our way to the NHK Trophy in just under two weeks, keep an eye out, come nationals, for those who may not have had their day internationally. I have a feeling it’s going to be exciting!

Speaking of comebacks, as I was scouring YouTube for any video evidence of Rockne and Mary Beth (which you can find here, by the way), I found another interesting video of another interesting pair: Lindsey Davis and Themi Leftheris. Themi skated with Naomi Nari Nam when she came back to the sport as a pairs skater, and the two of them were cuter than cute…I was so sad when Naomi’s injury struggles came back to haunt them, because I felt they had something really special. Well, looks like half the team is back, this time with Lindsey Davis. And they have some potential. The video shows some interesting elements. She looks to be a strong singles skater, which should help as they progress. Anyway, thought I’d share this find with you! Enjoy!

Don’t forget!! Check your local listings for NBC’s airing of “All that Skate LA” TOMORROW, 10/10/10. (I knew all those 10’s was a good sign – skating on TV, must be good luck!)

Until then…