Figure Skating: From the Boards

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…)

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Nice — Two Stars, One Champion April 1, 2012

 

InterNATIONALS Round Up January 5, 2012

He’s baaaack! That could be the theme for the recent run of men’s national champs. In France, it was Joubert. In Russia, Plushenko. And in the Czech Republic, Verner. But it wasn’t just the men in action. So, since we’re in that lull before Canadian/American Nationals and Europeans, here’s a quick round up of the latest results, complete with video links.

France

Men

1. Brian Joubert (230.97)
2. Florent Amodio (210.42)
3. Chafik Besseghier (183.67)

Ladies

1. Yrétha Silété (152.21)
2. Maé Bérénice Méité (149.33)
3. Anaïs Ventard (143.74)

Pairs

1. Daria Popova/Bruno Massot (137.75)
2.Vanessa James/Morgan Ciprès (128.83)
3. Anne-Laure Letscher / Artem Patlasov (104.06)

Dance

1. Nathalie Péchalat/Fabian Bourzat (173.75)
2. Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones (142.69)
3. Tiffany Zahorski/Alexis Miart (120.49)

  (more…)

 

Men’s Short Program Recap April 27, 2011

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 Preview April 14, 2011

All season long, I’ve been talking up the men’s event. With good reason, mind you! There have not been quite as many twists and turns as the ladies, but there has been  every bit as much competition, if not more.

Making the World Team this year was, perhaps, the biggest challenge for several countries, due to the competition from within. The US Nationals were brutal. The Japanese team could have gone any which way. But all of that sets up one of the best on-paper World events in a while. And that’s saying a lot because the last few have all been stellar.

This year, team Japan has quite the podium potential, featuring the reigning World and 4 Continents Champ Daisuke Takahashi, Grand Prix Final silver medalists Nobunari Oda, and two-time Grand Prix champion (Paris, China) Takahiko Kozuka. These three hold the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest international scores this season, and the combination of the three could be very strong in holding off the competition.

Now that they’re competing with the weight of the tragedy in Japan on their shoulders, they will, along with their teammates, be the story of the event.

I believe that this could go one of two ways — either they will put so much pressure on themselves to live up to the expectations of a nation in dire need of hope that they will falter. Or, they will skate, bearing the support and hope of their countrymen, and truly be a story of tragedy becoming triumph — the human spirit prevailing in the face of defeat — to take at least two of the three podium spots, including the top step.

With the strength these guys bring to the table, I think the second option is most likely.

Chan said of his Nationals performance that it wasn't just lucky -- he was trained to skate that well, and prepared to do it again at Worlds.

They’ll have to find some way, however, to take over the guy in the #1 spot at the moment – Canada’s darling, Patrick Chan. He posted a leading total score of 259.75 in his Grand Prix Final win earlier in the season, and he topped that skate at Nationals with his best skate of the season by far. Now, I know there is quite the debate about how he rakes in such astronomical scores even when he falls all over the ice, and in some ways, I feel those concerns are justified. But the fact remains: Patrick knows how to work the system, and he takes full advantage of that. I wish the system rewarded perfection in a higher way, but it doesn’t. That’s the reality. So, when Patrick does what he’s capable of — including the quads, the triple axels, the unmatched footwork sequences —  I’m not sure there’s a man this season with a program that can beat him. The question then becomes, can he deliver under pressure? If not, there are plenty of others who will, and his chance at the title could disappear quickly.

Interestingly, the 5th highest score in my “top 12” list (those that I’m considering contenders of some kind) had to be drawn from Nationals: Ryan Bradley‘s 231.90 from Greensboro squeaks into the top five. Now, before you jump me with the “Nationals scores are inflated! You can’t use that!” comments, let me just say, I know. But, because there’s no international score to judge from this season, I had to take what I could get. Do I really think Ryan will get such high scores on the world stage? Probably not. He needs to work on the lack of transitions in his programs. But if he skates his short program like he did in North Carolina, he will likely put himself in a position to place very well, even if a medal is out of reach.

Tomas Verner is not to be overlooked here, either. Despite having some rough patches in his season, he did win in Russia earlier in the season, and after placing third in China, surprised even himself by qualifying for the Final. However, he struggled there, and only placed 3rd at Europeans behind a developing Amodio and a rebuilding Joubert. I adore his short program this season, but his long is, in my opinion, one of the worst in the entire event. I feel for him, because I think he’s far better than this program allows him to be. Not good when you’re competing against the likes of Chan’s “Phantom” or Takahashi’s tango.

Speaking of Florent Amodio, he comes in with the 7th highest score – a 229.38 from his silver medal skate in Paris. He is coming off of a win at Europeans, but he’s been a bit inconsistent at times late in the season. I’m concerned that he may have peaked too early and that he simply won’t have enough to give come Worlds.

Brian Joubert is a curious case. Way back in 2003, I was a big fan. Then I lost a little interest as he tried to make himself into Yagudin 2.0. Then I felt a twinge of compassion for him as he got caught in a strange, complex battle trying to find himself and a system that worked for his skating. I watched him rise back tot he top, looking like the guy to beat heading into the Olympics, only to be crushed by a melt down when it mattered most. Finally, I find myself quite interested in his skating again. Many people have given his new “artistry” a big thumbs down this year for seeming a little awkward, but I’m quite certain anyone trying to transform themselves from The Matrix into Swan Lake is going to needs some time to break in the new moves! He’s making progress, and, more importantly, seems to be in a good place mentally. I hope he gets back to the top some day. I don’t, however, expect it to be here.

Also a surprising addition to the top group here is the surprise US silver medalist, Ricky Dornbush. Despite not competing on the senior level, he’s still posted a strong 219.56 total score in his Junior Grand Prix Final win. He was brilliant at Nationals, and if it wasn’t for Bradley’s equally-brilliant short program, he would likely be headed to Japan as the US Champ. Now, the senior international stage is completely different, but he’s something special, and certainly one to watch in the years to come. This is a great opportunity for Ricky to make a statement as he launches his senior career.

Rounding out the most likely top 12 are Samuel Contesti, Michal Brezina, and Ross Miner. None have a realistic shot at the podium, but all have a very strong opportunity to make their presence known. They’ve all had brilliant skates at one point or another, but this is a chance to lay in all on the line when nothing really significant is at stake.

As for the podium, I say gold likely comes down to Chan and Takahashi, although Kozuka could make a push for it, too. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised to see two Japanese flags and one Canadian flag raised at the medal ceremony. But, you know what they say — the ice is slippery! Anything can happen.

Until then…

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! December 8, 2010

We had the most wonderful snow storm this past weekend. And yes, I think snow is wonderful. In December, at least. My back yard was like a wonderland…and I was like a kid in a candy store when it started snowing. Moving from a real live “winter wonderland” into a land of cold-but-dry midwest winters is rough, especially when winter means skating season in its peak!

We’re in for another big storm this weekend, but the biggest storm is headed for Beijing, as the top 6 skaters/teams in each discipline take to the ice to prove their “regular season” successes were more than just luck. The competition will be tougher than it has been all season, so these athletes know they better be prepared.

Here’s how things break down.

Men: World Champ Daisuke Takahashi seems the likely choice for “favorite.” However, he hasn’t had the most spectacular of Grand Prix seasons. He has just the 4th highest season best of the Final competitors –  234.79 (Kozuka – 248.07, Chan – 239.52, Oda – 236.52), and he’s looked a bit off more than once so far. With his countrymen hot on his heels and Chan anxious to skate two programs worthy of his monumental scores, Dai better up his game. Don’t forget the impending “Battle of the MJs” between Amodio and Verner. Florent got his in first this season, and the impression was created with raving reactions from the audience (albeit not-quite-so-raving reviews from skating fans who saw too much standing and not enough skating). However, Verner’s attempt paled in comparison. Tomas still had a very solid GP season, and his short program is simply divine. But that long…well, I just hope he doesn’t have to skate right after Amodio this weekend.

Ladies: Miki Ando has the best score this season – 174.47 – over fellow Japanese skater Akiko Suzuki (172.74) and Alissa Czisny (172.37). Carolina Kostner and Kanako Murakami have the same season best score of 164.93. Yet again, the only constant for this event is that no one has had a spectacular season. In fact, despite some wonderful moments (Alissa’s gold at Skate Canada, Ando’s jump clinic at Cup of China, Murakami’s delightful short program), the ladies season has been a bit of a mess. Very few clean programs, and many cases of “she who falls the least wins.” There are some unlikely names on this Final list for that very reason! There’s just truly no way of guessing what will happen here.

Pairs: Savchenko and Szolkowy have the edge in season best score over Pang and Tong, 197.88 to 189.37. The other four couples are competing in the Final for the first time. Don’t forget the kids from China, though. Sui and Han made a big splash on the senior circuit, proving they can hang with the big kids. They are passing on the Junior Grand Prix final to compete at the senior level, so no doubt they’ll be eying a spot on that podium…Moore-Towers/Moscovitch and Bazarova/Larionov better watch their backs!

Ice dance: Davis and White looked to be the runaway favorites all season long, and they are certainly still highly favored here. But their season best is only 3.39 higher than that of the French team of Pechalat and Bourzat (165.21, 161.82 respectively.) The French team has gained ground, and they may have the best free dance of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing Meryl and Charlie skate their free dance to it’s full potential, and they will likely have an edge in the short dance. But they won’t be able to take this one without a fight, that’s for sure. Beyond that, however, it would appear to be a battle for bronze between several teams that have looked good at times this year, but don’t quite have the fire power to play with Davis and White just yet. Still, it should be a very competitive event, as usual!

 

My Fantasy picks have been made, and as always, a vlog with those picks is coming soon.

 

What are your thoughts heading into this weekend? These should be the best 6 competitors in their disciplines…do you agree? Who are you most surprised to see in Beijing? Who do you think will make the biggest splash? Let me know!

 

Next week I hope to look a little closer at the not-so-new-but-reemerging Code of Points debate. Hopefully this weekend will paint a clear picture of how the system is really working…and we’ll go from there.

 

My Twitter presence this weekend may be limited due to a heavy work schedule (hate it when “real work” gets in the way of my skating work!) but we shall see. I will certainly be letting you know how much live play-by-play I’ll be available for, so check twitter.com/FromTheBoards for all the info!

 

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…