Figure Skating: From the Boards

Breaking it down: Rostelecom Cup November 28, 2011

It seems impossible, but the Grand Prix series for 2011 is over, save the Final in a few weeks. We’ve seen a little bit of everything this year, so I continue to expect the unexpected as we go forward through the GPF, Nationals, Europeans, Worlds, Four Continents … they’re really not as far off as they seem! In fact, the US Nationals competitors list was just released, if you’re interested.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s take one last look back at the sixth and final GP event of the season.

Meryl and Charlie … and everyone else

One of the more tender moments of their FD.

To be fair, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were fantastic. But there’s just no comparison to what the World Champs are doing.

Their free dance this year is, in its purest form, exactly what ice dance should be. It’s a waltz. And while there are times it could have a more waltz-y feel, what they do in this program is brilliant. I’ve said I don’t believe Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s FD shows off their strengths, but the opposite is true of Davis and White. Their polish is evident despite the complexity of this skate. And the crazy thing? There’s still room for improvement. I expect come Worlds, this program will be stunning. I’m excited to watch it develop. (And that’s not even mentioning their sizzling short dance! Charlie stumbled in this event, but they have the samba mood down pat.)

Weaver and Poje have one of my favorite free dances of the year. Yes, the falling strap can be a tad distracting, but you’d be hard pressed to find any dance team who pours as much emotion into a dance as these two. You almost feel like your heart is breaking along with Kaitlyn’s by the end! That’s powerful stuff. Plus, they skated it really well. They have always seemed to struggle to get the high marks from the judges, but they’re coming into their own and their confidence shows.

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev were quite the home crowd pleasers, but finished a distant third.

Nix the triple axel, take the gold

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy got me again. In their first match up with Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (at NHK Trophy), I figured they had the upper hand. Problem was, they were determined to try their latest trick — that

Every element is sharp and clean and, well, perfect.

throw triple axel. It cost them when they couldn’t hit it cleanly.

I assumed they would continue that daring here, thus I picked Kavaguti and Smirnov. But no. The reigning World Champs went the “safe” route and stuck to more manageable throws. (You know, like the lutz and loop. “Easy” stuff!) The result?

Gold.

Good for them. They skated a fantastic free skate that gave them the top international score of the season from the other Russian stars, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.

When these three end up at the same event (like the GPF), watch out. There will be fireworks! (more…)

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A quick look back: Trophee Eric Bompard November 21, 2011

Before you say it, I know. I missed NHK Trophy all together here at From the Boards. I hate that it happened that way, but last week was simply one of those weeks. Too many things on my white boards “to-do list,” and not enough hours in the day to get them all done. Something had to give. I’m sorry that it was here, but hopefully you caught my Fantasy preview at icenetwork.com or usfigureskating.org.

I promise to always at least have that updated before events! 

Since I can’t go back to NHK now, we’ll just take a glance back and this weekend’s even in Paris — Trophee Eric Bompard.

I always loved this event (especially when it was Lalique) because of the fancy Kiss and Cry designs. Nothing too extraordinary this year, though. However, the trophy given to the winners was pretty spectacular!

But I digress…

The Pairs and Dance events went off mostly as predicted.

Russian stars Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov proved themselves human with errors in both the short and the long, but the overall quality of their skating and the non-jump elements pulled them through. They’re going to need to regain the element of perfection, though, in the Final and as they head on to Worlds.

Their teammates Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov snagged the silver after the cleanest of the free skates. There seems to be something missing from them, though. The spark from the other top couples is greater, despite B/L’s strong, classic lines. Most times I just don’t feel, well, anything from them as they skate through well choreographed programs (albeit, to overused music!).

Duhamel/Radford skated another strong short program in Paris.

One of the highlights of the entire event was Meagan Duhamel’s reaction to their scores after a well presented but poorly performed free skate. See, Duhamel and Radford are on that Grand Prix Final bubble. They needed to finish no lower than third with a score of 113.58 to give themselves a chance. She had her fingers crossed, watching the scores go up.

“Is it enough? Is it enough? I’m not getting too excited yet…”

But she knew it was enough. Despite three falls.

“115 with three falls, Eric?” she added.

These two improve with every event. I’m looking forward to seeing how they stack up at Worlds.

Again, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig were haunted by the side-by-side jumps. Their programs are stunning, but she just can’t seem to stand up on those jumps. Another fourth place finish isn’t what they were looking for, but here’s hoping we see these programs skated cleanly at Nationals. (more…)

 

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…)

 

Breaking it down: Skate Canada October 31, 2011

Two down, four to go, friends!

Skate Canada presented another series of season debuts this past weekend. Some hit, some missed. And now that it’s over and Cup of China is on the horizon, we have a few minutes to glance back in the rear view mirror and reflect. Shall we?

“Funny” how some things never change

Virtue and Moir -- Short Dance

Canadian royalty. That’s how Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were received in Missassauga, as well they should be. Like their American counterparts, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, they are the class of a deep Canadian field, and the cream of the crop here. They seem to be one constant in a sport that has so few.

Their spicy short dance won over the crowd instantly … and that’s no surprise. These two thrive on strong character dances and though they only performed it fully one time, last season’s samba free dance was the perfect preparation. Tessa oozes Latin flavor. It will be fun to see this up next to Davis/White’s SD at the Final.

Their free dance is a totally different take on classic dance. Their “Funny Face” program is charming and challenging. While this isn’t my favorite look for them (at first glance, I feel it takes away from some of their best qualities — posture, line, depth of edges, emotional maturity), it’s already better than it was at Finlandia, and I expect it to continue on that path. Scott alluded to his “Fred-like-ness” in the Kiss and Cry, and that he definitely has going for him. Fred Astaire would be proud.

Fellow Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated back to back strong programs. Both need more polish, but for their first event, I’m impressed by their improvements. The emotional depth they’ve added — especially in their free dance — is impressive.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte have a gorgeous short dance. Their free dance didn’t impress me quite as much. They’re still a little rough around the edges, to be sure. But they are making great strides.

Despite a silly stumble at the end of their well-skated short dance, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates added themselves to my list of teams to watch — and the list of new teams that had stellar debuts! Their free dance was one of my favorites of the entire event. Madison is the perfect ice dancer — her expressions come from every inch of her body. And Evan, well, it was so good to see him back on competitive ice. Welcome back, Evan! (more…)

 

Skate Canada: It’s anybody’s game! October 28, 2011

After an afternoon watching the practice sessions from Skate Canada (thanks, skatebuzz!), I can say I’m fully ready to see how this event goes down. Let me just say, it could go any which way!

The ladies event continues to be unpredictable, this time with the added impact of a 14-year-old Russian phenom who might just steal the show.

Mirai Nagasu is the skater who should have the edge. She’s been close to the top before, and when she is right mentally, she has all the pieces to be one of the best in the world. At the end of last season, her coach Frank Carroll said she was the best she’d ever been mentally. If that has continued, she could be in for her best season yet. Of course, that is always qualified by her lack of consistency in the past.

Elizaveta comes to Canada armed with a stellar triple lutz-triple toe combination.

Canadian Cynthia Phaneuf is still looking to put herself back in the talk of the top ladies in the world. Generally speaking, she’ll have a strong short program, but lose it in the free skate. Plus, the pressure of skating at home sometimes works against her, rather than in her favor.

Akiko Suzuki won a Grand Prix gold last season, but she, too, has some free skate consistency issues to work around.

The real fireworks, though, could come from Russian Elizaveta Tuktamisheva. She is the 2011 World Junior silver medalist, but more importantly, the 2011 Japan Open champion where she posted a 118+ in her free skate. She’s a jumping bean with a very traditional style, but she’s been impressive. Look out for her!

Don’t forget about the other Americans — Rachael Flatt and Ashley Wagner. They’ll always be in a fight for the podium.

The men’s event seems fairly predictable, at least for gold — it’s a faceoff between Patrick Chan and Daisuke Takahashi, who both looked strong in yesterday’s practice. Patrick looked to be better off from the quad stand point — Dai fell quite hard on his quad toe attempts.

Before everyone goes off trying to say which skater is better, I think it’s important to realize — they are BOTH fabulous, just in different ways. Patrick gives us all the thrill of something that’s larger than life. He sweeps across the ice with speed and flow that is unmatched, and his choreography tells a beautiful story.

Daisuke, on the other hand, shows excellence in the details. His musicality is second to none, and he highlights every little accent throughout his programs. He really believes in his music and choreography and melds them together to hit every note, right on cue. (more…)

 

Halfway home and still hardly predictable November 8, 2010

As we’ve made it to the halfway point in the Grand Prix series (already?!?), we watched some favorites struggle, and some up-and-comers stake their claim for international glory, and this past weekend in Beijing was more of the same.

If you’ve been with me this far, you’ve seen my involvement in US Figure skating’s Fantasy Teams. As for this week…well, let’s just say the unpredictability of the event wrecking havoc on my position on the leaderboard! Better luck next week there…

If you’re just joining me for a Cup of China recap, then let’s begin!

One of the most anticipated season debuts may have been the American Mirai Nagasu. She’s had her competition struggles in the past, but she ended the season with solid finishes at the Olympics, and a chance to medal at Worlds. Here, though, she was coming off of a limited summer training program due to a stress fracture that kept her off the ice for weeks. Here, we would all get our first taste of just what she had in store.

Her short program was delightful. It needs some polish, and I saw hints of maybe what it should be once fully trained. But she was the best of the night. That all unraveled in the long, though. It looked like the unfocused Mirai of the past was back, but it also appeared she just wasn’t comfortable in the program. Things like footwork and spins that are usually her forte looked labored and simplistic.

I know she was disappointed in her drop to 4th from 1st, but I think she and Frank need to be more concerned with getting these programs trained to the point of being competition ready.

As for the other ladies, Miki Ando walked away the champion. She had perhaps the most consistent technical programs of the season so far, hitting her jumps beautifully. She completed a triple-triple in the short, but the second jump was under rotated, so she wisely eliminated it in the long.

Miki had a very underwhelming season last year, so it was good to see her shed her inhibitions and just go out and skate with joy. I’m not sure these programs do anything spectacular for her, but if she stays consistent, she’s got a lot to look forward to.

Akiko Suzuki is so committed to every move, and every ounce of character. She’s just so engaging when she skates. Like Patrick Chan, she never stops performing, regardless of her struggles technically. Speaking of…she did struggle a bit. However, her enthusiasm made up for it in a lot of ways. I know she had her sights set on gold here, but even without perfection, she was lovely to watch.

The boys of Cup of China certainly brought the drama!

Brandon Mroz came out to prove he deserves to be in the conversation with Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon for the top US men. His long program was stellar, not only technically, but I felt he matched the jumps with great choreography and character. Well done, Brandon!

Tomas Verner came out with a short program that fed off his boyish charm…and charming he was! “Singing in the Rain” is the perfect choice for a performer like Tomas. His long program, on the other hand, reminded me of Florent Amodio’s crazy mashup…only his performance didn’t thrill me. Now, this is purely my opinion, but I feel Tomas is better than this program. Still, thanks to the mistakes of Brian Joubert, he skated to bronze.

Speaking of Joubert, we saw a completely reinvented version of the French quad king. He also had a disappointing Olympic season, and he’s changed just about everything in an attempt to get back to his winning ways.

Let’s pause for a completely biased, opinionated reflection on Brian Joubert – I might possibly have a gigantic crush on him in the past, and seeing his renewed dedication reminded me why that is!

Okay. Back to the recap.

I saw a lot of people tearing him apart for his flamenco choreography in his short program. While it might not be the most natural movement for him, I applaud him for attempting to move himself beyond the repetative Matrix choreo that he’s done for so many years.

Then to come out with a long program to Beethoven that was not only different, but impressive…well, I was very excited.

Now, he is going to have to attempt to understand the value of PCS, or he’ll never top the Kozuka’s, Abbott’s, Chan’s and Takahashi’s of the world. But, I have to give credit where credit is due, and he deserves credit for coming out with these programs as well as excellent quad jumps to boot.

Takahiko Kozuka is a bit of a mystery to me. He might have the softest knees I’ve ever seen in skating, and his basic skills are wonderful. But as good as he is, his programs tend to leave me feeling nothing. I just always find myself wanting more out of him than we every see. Still, he did enough in Beijing to land at the top of the medal stand.

The pairs competition wasn’t supposed to be filled with dramatics. Pang and Tong were clearly the favorites, and no one was expected to come close to upsetting them. But, the veterans were far from perfect, and while they were still unmatched in their polish and confidence, they have a lot of improvements to make.

Now, their mini-me countrymen, SUI and HAN did their best to upstage them by standing up on a throw QUAD salchow in the long. It was severely two-footed, but still…impressive. They’re still very junior-ish in a whole lot of ways, but they were a flash forward of what’s to come in the world of pairs skating.

I do have to say, I wonder how far into the future this will be if they keep going with the big tricks. I found myself actually worried for her safety as she launched into those throws and came down with an intensity that made MY knees hurt.

Even with the big quad throw, the night belonged to Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin from the US. If any pairs team ever had the look and the “it” factor, this one does. Their short program had me from the moment they took the ice. And the long was the same. It was a shame she fell on the second throw, because it really did “break the spell” of that moment. But they did their best to get it back, and I can’t wait to see more of them as they continue to improve.

The ice dance events this season have provided some excellent entertainment. Here, it was the battle between France and Italy, and whether you blame it on the skirt incidents of the Italians or the competition readiness of the French team, it was all Pechalat and Bourzat in China. They skated with character and passion, not to mention technical difficulty and fineness. Faiella/Scali will likely get to this polished point, but it just wasn’t there this time.

And there you have it. Skate America is next as once again, the competition returns to North America and, therefore, a much less sleep-depriving time zone! Check out my Fantasy Skating pics later this week, and then follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the weekend. With some of the best in the world, Portland is likely to bring on one great competition!

Until then…

 

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Heart vs. Head – the never-ending dispute November 4, 2010

Fantasy skating round three is underway as we get set for the third stop on the2010  Grand Prix tour, and once again I’ve hit the proverbial brick wall in an attempt to choose between my heart choice and my head choice. Only this time, I found those options overlapping, and instead of easing the dispute, it simply made it worse.

Confused yet?

Me too.

The first problem was choosing between Miki Ando, Akiko Suzuki, and my golden girl (not to show the slightest bias…), Mirai Nagasu.

After the end of last season, I would have chosen Mirai without a second thought. However, she’s been sidelined for much of the summer with injury, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how prepared (and healthy) she really is.

What I’m seen of Miki so far has looked much improved, and technically she has the potential to be great.

Then there’s Akiko. She’s just fabulous. She may not have the technical content of the top ladies, but if others falter, she could prevail.

So far this season, the ladies competitions have been my downfall in Fantasy Skating, so I figured, why not take a chance on my girl Mirai (who, to justify, should have the best PCS of the competition)?

The men’s competition could be as unpredictable as ever, also. Brian Joubert, Tomas Verner, and Takahiko Kozuka appear to be the front runners, but Joubert struggled last season and changed coaches for this year, Verner can be unpredictable, and Kozuka has the skills, but perhaps not the experience to put together two clean programs.

Throw in Samuel Contesti, Sergei Voronov, and Brandon Mroz and it’s anyone’s game. No one in the field is entirely consistent, so it will all come down to who lays it on the line when it counts.

The pairs event looks like a chance for some younger/less experienced teams to step up and make the podium. Here again I felt the tug of my emotional favorites yanking against the force of reality. Yet, once again, I found myself taking a chance. While the young Russian team of Lubov Iliushechkina/Nodari Maizuradze are fresh off a victory in Canada, it was far from perfect. They’re still young, and the pressure of repeating their results may be too much.

Meanwhile, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig of the US are skating with something to prove of a different kind – that they really do belong on the international scene. Their breakout year last year ended happily with Olympic and World performances to be proud of. I expect to see them build on that success with new confidence this season.

As for the rest of the field, it’s so hard to predict what these young couples will bring to the ice. So we’ll have to see…

With the exception of Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat from France and Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy, the dance field is wide open as well. I fully expect these two to take the top two spots on the podium, but it will be fun to watch as the rest of the field lays their claim to bronze.

The season after the Olympics always brings a new wave of skaters to the forefront, and this year seems to be no exception. With several of the “stars” either out with injury or simply  not competing this year, the Grand Prix events are a great chance to get to know some new young teams. It’s also a chance to get a glimpse of the future of skating, and I have to say, I’ve been impressed. It’s nice to have the familiarity of the top names, (and, of course, the event promoters prefer having some celebrity to work with!), but I’m quite enjoying the opportunity to once again be refreshed in the sport, and to be reminded the dedication of these athletes as they work to compete not only with other skaters, but with the ever-changing, growing demands of the sport we all love!

Looking forward to sleeping early, and rising even earlier to watch the events unfold from Beijing!

Until then…

Oh yeah, my picks: