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!


Play to win, but remember your successes November 24, 2012

Confession: I hate to lose. I am fiercely competitive. It’s even a bit of a running joke with some of my friends, because I can be competitive about almost anything.

It’s my grandpa’s fault, really. He always said, “If you’re not going to play to win, why play?” He taught my mom well … and she, in turn, taught me.

But you know what else they both taught me?

There’s value in the journey.

I can’t tell you the number of times I left a piano recital or a speech competition in tears because I didn’t think I’d played well or because I didn’t win. And you know what one — or both — of them did? Took me for ice cream. Every time. Win, lose, or draw.

I can hear it still: “Did you do your best?” one of them would ask. “Well … yeah, I guess.” I’d respond, through the tears. (I’ve always been my own worst enemy.) “Well, then, that is all you can ever ask.”

“There’s a difference between THE best and YOUR best,” they would remind me. “And as long as you always do YOUR best, we couldn’t be more proud!”

See, there’s value in more than just winning. Sure, you play to win. But, all is not lost if you don’t.

Sometimes, it’s about the moment of accomplishment, not the final tally.

I was reminded of this today.

This weekend in Japan, there were a few moments that deserve to be celebrated. Not because of the result, necessarily, but because of the moment. Because these skaters did their best, no matter what else. And I, for one, am proud of their efforts!

We can get into the nitty-gritty technical mumbo-jumbo later. Tonight, as we await the final results of the pairs event, just enjoy the moments these athletes created for us. As a fan of the sport, I loved every second.


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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my list.

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

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

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

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


I’m leaving on a jet plane…Nagoya bound! October 18, 2010

Okay, fine. I’m not leaving on a jet plane. Nevertheless, it’s here! The long-awaited Senior Grand Prix season is here! Competition starts this weekend, but the athletes begin today making the long trek to Nagoya, Japan for the NHK Trophy, and let me tell you, I couldn’t be happier.

Every summer it seems skating season will never come around again (I suppose I could say the same thing about winter and baseball season…). And sure enough, just when it seems like you can’t wait any longer, TA DA! The inevitable is upon us!

As we watched the juniors skate, the shows take place, coaching changes be made, last minute injuries halt competition plans, and more, we kept alive the countdown to the moment the senior competition began and the season truly felt underway. And if Twitter is any indication this morning, we’ve certainly made it!

@AlexShibutani Posted pictures from Nebelhorn Trophy. In other news, we leave for Nagoya tomorrow after skating!

@AshWagner2010 Leaving for Nagoya…see you at NHK!! I’ll be vlogging from the competition so stay tuned!

@rossminer staying up all night so I can sleep on the flight/last minute panic packing!!! yay!

@rossminer At the airport… I want sleep.

@CaydeeandJeremy Off to japan this morning to compete at nhk trophy! Follow on or

@JohnCoughlinUSA Off to NHK! I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated. Next time you hear from me, it will be from Japan 🙂 love u guys!

@JeremyAbbottPCF One session of figure skating and then, like Ross Miner, Jeremy Barrett and John Coughlin before me… Off to Japan today for NHK!

@JeremyAbbottPCF Leaving today for Japan. Be sure to watch on Universal Sports. Short program on Sat. Free Program on Sun. Nippon Aishitemasu! ^_^

…to list a few!

So with the first batch of international athletes headed for destination Nagoya, I thought it best to take a sneak peek at what this competition will look like.

First up, ice dance.

Competing in Japan are:

1. Kaitly Weaver and Andrew Poje (CAN)
2. Xiaoyang Yu and Chen Wang (CHN)
3. Lucie Mysliveckova and Matej Novak (CZE)
4. Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland (GBR)
5. Dora Turoczi and Balazs Major (HUN)
6. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (ITA)
7. Cathy Reed and Chris Reed (JPN)
8. Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov (RUS)
9. Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA)
10. Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (USA)

Certainly Davis and White are the stand-outs here, but the Canadians, Weaver and Poje, have been making their name known, as have the Reeds. The Italians are towards the top of my list as well. I may, however, be most excited tos ee Maia and Alex Shibutani in their senior Grand Prix debut. These two have always had a special spark, but this season that spark has become a mature polish, as seen in their 2nd place Free Dance at Nebelhorn Trophy a few weeks ago. Take a look for yourself:

This young team (he’s 19, she’s 16) train with the dominating forces of the Shpilband camp, so they certainly have mature, polished, experienced teammates to look up to! I’m excited to see how they stack up in this first Grand Prix.

Of course, I’m also excited to see what new masterpieces Meryl and Charlie have come up with. Their Original Dance last season was not only a skating success, but also an viral video sensation online! It’s always hard to come off of a stellar season (especially one where Olympic medals were won!) and try to top your best with a new best, but I believe they can do it. Their technical scores will keep them at the top here, even if their programs aren’t yet rivaling those of last season.

How about the pairs competition? The competitors include:

1. Qing Pang and Jian Tong (CHN)
2. Yue Zhang and Lei Wang (CHN)
3. Maylin Hausch and Daniel Wende (GER)
4. Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran (JPN)
5. Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov (RUS)
6. Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett (USA)
7. Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin (USA)

So…looks like Pang and Tong are the odds-on favorite here. Besides the recent history of Chinese pairs dominance, they’re the most experienced in this field and everyone will be trying to catch them and their big tricks.

For the Americans, it will be an interesting test for the two young teams – Denney and Barrett the National champs and Yankowskas and Coughlin the talented team making their way up the standings.

Denney and Barrett may be the National champs and Olympic team members, but their international experience is limited, to say the least. The did compete on the Grand Prix Circuit last season, placing 4th at NHK and 5th at Skate Canada. They made that big coaching switch to John Zimmerman this summer, so I’m anxious to see how that’s paid off and how they have improved since Vancouver. They could be big players in this field if they keep up technically with the Chinese teams.

And how about the ladies. Always a highlight, eh? And the lineup certainly promises to keep things interesting:

1. Diane Szmiett (CAN)
2. Kiira Korpi (FIN)
3. Lena Marrocco (FRA)
4. Elene Gedevanishvili (GEO)
5. Jenna McCorkell (GBR)
6. Carolina Kostner (ITA)
7. Mao Asada (JPN)
8. Kanako Murakami (JPN)
9. Viktoria Helgesson (SWE)
10. Rachael Flatt (USA)
11. Ashley Wagner (USA)
12. Caroline Zhang (USA)

Phew! What a list that is! With some of the top names from last season not competing this year (Rochette, Kim), this is not a bad little competition here! Clearly, the headliner is Japan’s Mao Asada. Competing in her home country, she’ll have the crowd support, that’s for sure. The question will be her jumps.

“Her jumps?” you ask.

Well, yes. Her jumping ability has always been her go-to point getter. But last season, early on, her jumps seemed to abandon her. This off season, she’s been reworking some of her jump technique. And just weeks ago at the Japan Open, she finished last out of the 5 (I think – correction, she DID finish 5th, but out of 6, not 5) ladies who were there, only landing one or two triple jumps.

That said, having seen the video of her performance, I actually think the program itself may be one of  her best in years.

It appears she’s at least enjoying skating again, and this music seems to calm her into a really beautiful, graceful state. There is potential here, but the athletic performance in this video…well, there’s nothing really to say other than I hope she’s got this sorted out by this weekend!

Kiira Korpi of Finland has been skating well as of late. She one this summer’s Nebelhorn Trophy not too long ago. Look for her to make a statement.

Jenna McCorkell is a lovely skater whose name came up often last season. She had some work to do to be considered one of the gold medal contenders, so we’ll see as this season gets underway how much closer she’s come to the Asadas and Kims of the world.

Carolina Kostner is always a question mark. She can have flashes of brilliance, but her ability to skate to her potential has never really taken shape. She trained last season with Frank Carroll, thinking that would help her competitiveness, but it didn’t. She’s going to have to reinvent herself if she wants to stay among the top in the world.

Then there were three – Zhang, Wagner and Flatt.

This American trio is pretty solid, I must say. The National Champ, Flatt has consistency on her side. She hasn’t quite broken through internationally, but having her first test of the season be against Mao Asada, she’ll be able to quickly see where she stacks up. If her 3-3 is still consistent and if her program components have been improved, she has a shot here.

Wagner is a bit of a dark horse, I would say. We all know she’s capable of skating challenging, artistic, and exhilarating programs, but her ability to do that in both stages of the competition has been tested. She had a good Grand Prix season last year, so hopefully she comes back this season, after missing the Olympic team, and proves to herself that she deserves to be in the conversation with Flatt and Nagasu.

And then there’s Caroline Zhang. This will be a real test for her. Coming off of a terrible season last year, she, too, had to reinvent herself. Switching coaches, working on jump technique, finding her passion to skate…I believe this competition will tell her story very quickly. I hope she’s “back.”

Last but not least, the men. Check out the competition:

1. Kevin Van Der Perren (BEL)
2. Shawn Sawyer (CAN)
3. Jeremy Ten (CAN)
4. Jialiang Wu (CHN)
5. Florent Amodio (FRA)
6. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
7. Takahito Mura (JPN)
8. Diasuke Tahakashi
9. Denis Ten (KAZ)
10. Adrian Schultheis (SWE)
11. Jeremy Abbott (USA)
12 Ross Miner (USA)

Again, a quality field. The reigning World Champ, Tahakashi looks to be the favorite. But Jeremy Abbott, coming off of a disappointing Olympics but a stellar National Championship defense, is looking to step it up on the international stage. He spent the summer touring with Stars on Ice and I believe that will help him in competition. Just being out on the ice in front of a crowd has helped not only his performance standards, but also (hopefully!) his nerves.

The Canadian contingent has promise here, as well. Sawyer and Ten both have the talent to make a splash in Japan. If they keep it together technically, we could see them right up towards the top.

The Frenchman, Florent Amodio, may be a personal favorite here, though. Jump consistency has plagued him in the past, but his performance skills are superb. Whether he wins or fails to medal, I look forward to seeing him skate.


And there you have it. A “From the Boards” exclusive sneak peek at this weekend’s competition! So much to look forward to here as the season officially gets underway. I’ll be posting again before the competition begins, so hopefully we’ll have some practice reports, videos, news…all of that good stuff by Thursday. Then, it’s on to the real stuff – competition day!

Until then…