Figure Skating: From the Boards

Nice, Day 3 — It’s Raining Men March 30, 2012

Okay, maybe the music choice at the arena during yesterday’s Zamboni breaks was a premonition of sorts?

The Men’s Short Programs today seemed to follow the trend of the Pairs Short programs — sloppy and in some cases, quite shocking. For an event with so much depth and potential firepower, we sure saw a lot of mistake-filled mayhem today.

In a field with so many medal contenders, hope reigned supreme as the Short Programs began. But alas, it was not meant to be. Some long-shot medal hopefuls like Nan Song and Tomas Verner fell out of the top ten. Some not-so-long-shot contenders like Takahiko Kozuka and Artur Gachinski did the same. And that was only a taste of what we’d see.

It just wasn’t their day …

There were great hopes for the American men in Nice. Both seemingly skating well enough that a top-five finish was well within reach.

Adam Rippon was the first of the two to skate and his triple flip-triple toe combination set things off just right. But the pesky triple axel and a completely uncharacteristic mistake on the Rippon-triple Lutz resulted in technical scores some nine points off the lead. He did his best to keep up the performance, but the component scores (too low, in my opinion) didn’t do him any favors today.

After others had faltered, there was room at the top for Jeremy Abbott. But when he landed a little loose on the first jump in his triple flip-triple toe combo, he tried to muscle the second jump anyway … unfortunately, his efforts were in vain and he went down. A superb triple axel seemed to have him back on track, but a wobbly double lutz did him in. A level 1 call on his upright spin didn’t help gain back any points, either.

The good news is, he had the third-highest component scores of the day — less than two points behind Patrick Chan! Jeremy has long been undermarked on his PCS, so that was delightful to see. And just think: a clean program would likely have resulted in those marks going even higher!

As I mentioned, it was also not Takahiko Kozuka’s day. He fell on his opening quad toe, then caught an edge on the ride out of his triple axel and went down again.

His countryman and co-favorite Daisuke Takahashi had some troubles, too, as he tried — unsuccessfully — to tack a triple toe onto the end of his quad toe at the start of the program. Fortunately for him, though, the rest of his program was superb. Not a single negative grade of execution mark was given, outside of the botched combination. He also had the second-highest component scores — also well deserved.

Even Patrick Chan bumbled around a bit today. He was wild on the landing of his quad toe, so he had to add the combination back in later on (which he did beautifully, on the end of a lovely triple flip). And in his trademark footwork, he didn’t look quite over his feet a few times. He managed to stay vertical throughout, but there were a few close calls. And, appropriately, the scores mirrored that. Nothing untouchable about an 89.41. Well … normally.

Today, maybe it would hold.

It’s go time!

At least SOMEONE had a day!

So there were a few bright spots today. A few guys lived up to the moment the World Championships can provide and while not all of them have spectacular placements, they have skates to be proud of.

Javier Fernandez is a bit of a wild card here. He is more than capable of matching up with the best in the world, but he doesn’t have the “big game” experience that tells you how he might perform. Well, he came in after a hot mess of sloppy programs, and threw down a quad toe, triple lutz-triple toe combo, and a scratchy-but-rotated triple axel. Oh, and a whole heap of charm and personality! His coach, Brian Orser, expected higher scores for his young protege, but nevertheless, this was a skate to be proud of.

Brian Joubert came out, all guns blazing and tried to steal the show, too. He had a quad toe-triple toe combination, a triple axel, and a triple lutz that reminded us how he’d been at the top in the not-too-distant past. Sure, his choreography is a little lacking compared to the very best. But with the boost of the French crowd, he squeezed every ounce out of that performance. I was happy for him.

The biggest surprise, though, was Michal Brezina. Yes, he’s had some success this season. But normally against unimpressive fields. Don’t get me wrong, he deserves the praise. He has this Short Program so ingrained that I’m positive he could do it blindfolded. And it’s no slouch of a program, either. A triple axel, triple flip-triple toe combo and a quad salchow late in the program? That’ll do! His PCS aren’t quite Abbot/Takahashi/Chan-esque, but when you deliver those goods (and no one else does), it works just fine.

Standings after the Short

So here’s how it stands:

1. Patrick Chan (89.41)
2. Michal Brezina (87.67)
3. Daisuke Takahashi (85.72)
4. Brian Joubert (83.47)
5. Javier Fernandez (81.87)

9. Jeremy Abbott (74.85)
10. Adam Rippon (73.55)

Theoretically, it’s certainly still possible for the Americans to move up and snag that magic number 13 (to gain a third team spot for next year). Sixth and Seventh place would do it (or fifth and eight, fourth and ninth … you get the idea), but that means making up 5+ points over the three ahead of them. So that’s the task at hand. Now if it was only so simple!

(See complete SP results here: http://www.isuresults.com/results/wc2012/SEG005.HTM)

 

Here’s to a more inspiring free skate for the men on Saturday!

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Nice, Take Two: Men’s Preview March 23, 2012

In the year 2000, Alexie Yagudin pulled off the three-peat, taking his third world title in Nice after rediscovering his passion for the sport. He skated a short program of technical genius, and a long program that, although flawed, was packed with superior emotional depth.

Along the way, his closest rival — one Evgeni Plushenko — crumbled under the pressure of completing an undefeated season and the potential to become the youngest men’s world champ in history to finish fourth overall.

Veteran Canadian champ Elvis Stojko and American Michael Weiss took silver and bronze.

“If I will not work anymore and I will just keep my levels on the same position, I will lose my title,” Yagudin said after the short.

Wisdom from a skater who would go on to elevate his skating to far greater levels on the way to Olympic glory. This time around, however, perhaps the same could be said by other returning champions heading to Nice for the premiere event of the season.

The men’s event has the potential to get a little crazy, with the “on paper” predictions likely to fall to the reality of slippery ice and an intensely deep field. Still, there are some things we can expect.

Patrick Chan is the hunted.

No matter how you slice it, Chan is the favorite, and deservedly so. The fact is, he has elevated his skating, namely by including two quads in his free skate while maintaining top levels on on footwork and 9s plus in program components. He’ll be tough to beat.

Still, he’ll have some competition.

The man with the best chance? Daisuke Takahashi, of course. He, too, has stood on that top step and would love to reclaim his title. But to do so, he’ll have to skate perfectly clean programs for the first time this season. While many argue his superior choreography and emotional depth, it all comes down to the nitty gritty of technical content in his battle for gold.

Should the top two falter, don’t worry — there are plenty of challengers ready to take their place on the podium!

There’s Jeremy Abbott who is perhaps more comfortable and focused than ever before, and Takahiko Kozuka who oozes talent, but hasn’t quite been able to leave it all on the ice when it counts. His younger countryman Yuzuru Hanyu has massive jumps and captivating artistry, while Adam Rippon has stunning artistry, but is still reigning in the jumps. Don’t forget Javier Fernandez who won the short program at Skate Canada over Patrick Chan, or Brian Joubert who is looking to reestablish himself among the world’s best.

Then there are Artur Gachinzki, Denis Ten, and Michal Brezina who are each capable of throwing down competitive programs.

And one on my personal radar is Misha Ge. This kid is a ball of energy with some really solid skating to go with it!

Phew! Looking at that list, I’d say it’s safe to expect some shakeups!

So what’s it going to take to make that podium?

Well, this season we’ve seen the quad once again claim the spotlight. Not that it ever really went anywhere, but it looks more unlikely than ever that a title would be one sans-quad jump. That’s why Jeremy Abbott is putting it in, Fernandez has two different quads, and Artur Gachinzki could be relevant. Clean quads will be important.

But really, that’s only part of the story.

Remember all the hulabaloo when Chan falls and still wins? That’s because his programs start at a higher base value that others. It’s the “everything else” score — the steps, the spins, the components. And he milks the system like none other. The guys who do that best, could be the ones who land on the podium.

And while it could shake out a variety of ways, here’s how I see it:

GoldChan
SilverTakahashi
BronzeAbbott
FourthKozuka

Call it playing it safe, but is there a chance the most predictable picks could pay off?

Don’t forget, as far as the Americans are concerned, they are also skating to regain a third spot on next year’s World Team. To do that, remember, their combined placements must total no more than 13. As much as they’re skating for themselves, you better believe that’s a goal in the back of their minds.

We’ll see, in only a matter of days now!

But I want to hear from you — what skater do you expect to bring the house down in Nice?

 

Vlog: The 4CC Breakdown — Men February 19, 2012

 

On To The Springs! Four Continents — Men’s Preview February 9, 2012

I’ve fallen in love with the  men’s event all over again this season. Between Chan’s all-around brilliance, Takahashi’s choreography creativity, Abbott’s emotional edge, and Fernandez’s unexpected rise, I look forward to the guys as much as any other event.

Despite not having the chance to see a pre-Worlds Chan/Takahashi/Abbott showdown, the event in Colorado Springs is no exception. White the top two appear evident, we’ve seen stranger things happen. And with a field stacked with skaters ready to have the skate of their season, we’re bound to have some fireworks somewhere along the line.

The question is, whose “fireworks” turn into medals?

Patrick Chan wins his fifth straight Canadian National title

At this point, it's Chan's title to lose ... much like every title he's vying for!

Gold: Patrick Chan

Much like Meryl Davis and Charlie White, I just can’t bet against Chan, especially skating where he trains every day.

After all the flack for his GP performances (falls equaling medals) I would love to see him repeat his Nationals performances in front of an international panel, just so we have a realistic idea of the kind of scores he’s likely to receive, should he go clean at Worlds.

Of course, having three quads in your back pocket helps when your top competitor could have two. It’s a nice advantage to have, especially considering the PCS scores he’s accustom to receiving.

While no one is unbeatable, betting against this kid at this stage of the game simply isn’t wise.

Silver: Daisuke Takahashi

If medals were awarded for program composition, Takahashi would be unbeaten this year. I’m in love with the details throughout both of his programs, as well as the way he presents it. While Chan takes the audience on a larger-than-life, sweeping adventure, Takahashi brings you in to his world and shares his intimate connection to every last note of music. It’s marvelous.

But, he has to back it up with the technical content a Chan or even a Fernandez is capable of throwing down.

Here, though, I don’t see that being a problem. (more…)

 

Vlog: Pairs and Men Make A World-Class Case January 31, 2012

 

Vlog: Dancers and Men Spice Up The Pavilion On day 2 January 28, 2012

 

What’s the magic word? January 26, 2012

The Senior events kick off later today with the Pairs and Ladies Short Programs. If you need a refresher on the contenders and potential surprises, look back here for Pairs and here for Ladies.

What magic words would YOU tell Mirai?

Meanwhile, we’ve all been sounding off on Twitter for weeks about who needs what to win. So, here’s your chance — channel your inner Frank Carroll, and offer up some last minute advice for your favorites, your Fantasy picks, or just someone you think might need a little word of encouragement!

Speaking of Frank Carroll, how ’bout I start with Mirai Nagasu?

She’s the kind of skater you dream of coaching (or at least, I would dream of coaching someone with her natural talent, if I was a coach). And yet, she can’t seem to make everything “click” in competition. The nerves do her in. She panics. Focuses on how bad it is to be nervous. Or now bad she skated last time out. Or how desperately she wants to win.

My advice to her: Don’t think, just do.

She honestly has it all. She has to forget about what that means, forget about how much she hates to lose, and forget the idea that nerves are a bad thing. Change those nerves into energy and the adrenaline into focus, and just do it (Nike was really onto something with that one way back when…)

How ’bout reigning champ Alissa Czisny?

Her focus has been pretty clear. Her reconstruction of a career — and, really, a skater as a whole — is inspiration in and of itself. And yet, she’s struggled to feel “on” this season. Now, she’s set to begin her title defense.

My words of the day for her: Calm and courageous

“Calm” is often how I’d describe her skating style. Sometimes, though, her competition style is anything but calm. She, too, needs to close her eyes, take a deep breath, listen for the first note of her music, then just let it flow. All the while, channeling the courage it takes to put yourself on the line for the sake of a dream. Courage into each jump, calm flowing out of it. That’s a winning combination. (more…)