Figure Skating: From the Boards

Grand Prix Rewind: The Guys November 28, 2012

With all six “regular season” Grand Prix events nicely tucked in the past, and a week before the Final in Sochi, I thought it was as good a time as any to reflect on the season thus far. Each GP season creates new buzz for the up-and-comers or the comeback-kids; it provides some disappointments for long-time favorites; we see just who came into the year most prepared; and, if we’re lucky, there are a few magical moments along the way to make it all worth while.

Today, let’s talk about the guys of the GP series.

Boy, were there a lot of them to choose from this time around. So many guys, so few medals to go around. But, that’s kind of become the status quo of the men’s event in the last Olympic cycle. There’s just too much talent to choose favorites.

This year, though, it became strikingly obvious: the Japanese men have done what the Japanese women did a few years back. They’ve completely taken over.

Six of the top ten men after all six events are from Japan. The only man to compete for Japan and not finish in the top 10? Daisuke Murakami who withdrew from his only event after an injury in the short program. That’s some pretty good odds, if you’re betting on a Japanese man landing on the podium, no?

At least one Japanese man was on the podium in every event; four of the six events were won by a Japanese man, with no repeat winners; three of the six events had multiple Japanese medalists, including Skate America where Takahiko Kozuka, Yuzuru Hanyu, and Tatsuki Machida swept the medal stand.

Continuing the trend, six of the top ten international scores this season belong to those Japanese men, with Hanyu, of course, setting — then breaking — the world record short program score. Yes, those two skates are definitely two of those magical moments I referred to earlier. So, too, was Kozuka’s free skate at Skate America.

Holy dominance, Batman!

That just blows my mind. Oh, to be in the arena for Japanese Nationals to see these guys duke it out!

The only other men to make the GPF are Patrick Chan (no surprise there) and Javier Fernandez (who bested Chan at Skate Canada for his first GP gold).

A bit surprising was Chan’s start to the season. Four falls at the Japan Open, followed by a less-than-perfect Skate Canada had the skating world buzzing, wondering if the coaching shake up or the pressure of being the top-ranked man entering the season had gotten to his confidence. Rostelecom Cup, though, proved that he still has what it takes, as he posted the season’s highest total score (262.35, just over 1 point better than Hanyu’s best).

Considered Chan’s biggest competition last season, Daisuke Takahashi didn’t have the smashing success I, for one, was expecting after his stellar skate at the Japan Open. He changed some elements of his free skate that, from my perspective anyway, fail to do him justice and hurt the program overall. He didn’t win either of his GP events.

If I was to make a prediction now, based on GP results, of who would make the US World Team, it would have to be Jeremy Abbott and Ross Miner. Both had their share of rough spots so far as they tried to insert the quad into both programs. Miner landed his first quad salchow in competition en route to a bronze medal behind Hanyu and Takahashi at the NHK Trophy — not bad company, I’d say! He also tallied the top US men’s score of the season (235.37). Abbott, once again, has sensational programs, showcasing two very different sides to his skating. However, the free skate remains a bit of a bugaboo for him … especially when he’s locked in on the quad attempt.

I watched him in the practices at Skate America miss the quad time and time again. I had to wonder if the risk was worth it, seeing how little confidence there seemed to be in that jump. Without it, he has to be flawless and depend on his polished program components. With it, though, he risks falling — literally — out of contention before he ever has a chance. It will be interesting to see what he chooses to do with it the rest of the season.

Jeremy is the first alternate for the Final. Should anyone not be able to compete, he may have another shot yet.

That accounts for the most shocking and impressive results of the men’s season. Except, of course, for Johnny Weir’s comeback attempt.

There’s not much to say about it, really, except that this comeback is going to be harder than perhaps even he realized. I applaud him for the effort. But, if he really wants to be competitive, he has oodles of work to do.

The Final will be a preview of what the Japanese Championships could look like. But, the real question will be, can Chan or Fernandez throw a wrench in the sweep potential?

What was your favorite men’s moment of the series? Biggest surprise? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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

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

First up, Skate America.

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

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

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

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

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

Let the fireworks begin!

Skate Canada

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

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

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

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

 

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…

 

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…