Figure Skating: From the Boards

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…)

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The shift is on: Denney/Coughlin pair up May 17, 2011

Coughlin, with partner Caitlin Yankowskas, mesmerized audiences with a sultry tango short program.

In case you somehow missed it, there’s yet another chapter in the developing story of the US Pairs program. After the somewhat surprising news about National champs Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin’s split, it seemed nothing was predictable for this off season.

Case in point: today’s official announcement that former National champ Caydee Denney would be pairing up to compete with Coughlin.

After the announcement from Coughlin, all signs led many to believe John would retire, continuing in the sport via coaching of some sort.

His partnership with Yankowskas had a quality that many only dream of — the two called each other their best friend, and their chemistry on the ice was almost tangible.

Of course, the emotional connection to the champs was aided by their emotion-filled season. Skating their long program as a tribute to his late mom, John allowed himself to feel — and to heal — in front of the world. The magic they created and the class with which they carried themselves had fans and experts alike calling them the best American hope in years. With their four year partnership reaching a new level of confidence, things looked good headed towards Sochi. At least from my place on the couch! (more…)

 

US Pairs – here today, gone tomorrow February 25, 2011

News broke yesterday that last year’s National Pairs Champs are calling it quits. Well, at least half of the team is.

Jeremy Barrett is retiring from competitive skating. That leaves Caydee Denney to start over again.

The two paired up three years ago, forming a partnership that shocked the US pairs world — these two had something really special! Last season, they one the National title and an automatic berth on the Olympic team. Still, their raw talent didn’t completely make up for their lack of experience together, and they weren’t as successful on the international stage. But hey, what can you expect from a 2-year-old team?

This year, they changed coaches to train with former Pairs Champion, John Zimmerman and his wife Silvia Fontana. Some questioned this move, others thought it was just what they needed to take those same pairs elements that were weaker to a new level. And some things did improve. Their artistry became more mature, their lines and attention to detail much stronger. But the still struggled to keep up with the world’s best.

Then, Jeremy proposed to girlfriend and fellow skater Amanda Evora (paired with Mark Ladwig). But with the two now training hours apart, time together was limited. I began to wonder how long these two teams would last.

Well, we now have our answer.

Jeremy and Caydee missed the world team, and missed 4 Continents after a bizarre training injury that required 40+ stitches in Jeremy’s leg. At that point, it seems, the decision was made.

I can respect Jeremy’s desire to do other things. He’s been at this a while now, and I could see the strain the distance from Amanda was putting on him.

But I have to say…people criticize US pairs, complain about their lack of competitiveness internationally, and wonder why we just can’t get it together. I propose that these 2-3 year partnerships are to blame.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily justifying systems or federations that make decisions for their skaters. But pairs teams that are put together as novice skaters and stay together throughout their career are always going to have stronger pairs elements. It just makes sense. So when we put our best skaters out there (take John and Caitlin, partners since 2007) against life-long partners from China or Russia, it’s no wonder we can’t keep up.

I’m not sure what the solution is, as we certainly don’t have a system that forces skaters into a partnership for the duration of their careers. But such a system, right or wrong, does create a stronger commitment, and a stronger determination to work things out. They’re partners. Win, lose, draw. Essentially, for better or worse.

Think Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates. They’re the best US example of being a real pair, and their ice dancers. But their rise to the elite level comes through the strength of their dance elements –the things they do together. As a team. Through the good of being Olympians, and the bad of a season-ending injury.

Somewhere there has to be that extreme kind of commitment, because that is when the world will be forced to sit up and take notice.

Best wishes, of course, to Jeremy and Amanda. Love them, and hope they have a blast planning a wedding!

And good luck to Caydee as she searches for a new partner. She still has a lot to offer.

What do you think? Are long-term partnerships as important as I think they are?

 

Emotion from the Coliseum – Greensboro 2011 January 27, 2011

I told you I’d write again when I was inspired from something at Nationals this week. Well, that inspiration has come in the form of John Coughlin and Caitlin Yankowskas. First off, a quick recap of the Pairs Short.

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig had the…um, “opportunity” to be the first on the competition ice. They debuted a new program to “Sing Sing Sing” that really highlighted their personalities brilliantly. They made it through their elements nicely with only a bit of a pitch forward on the throw. They seemed a bit tight at times, possibly due to the newness of this program, but they had a maturity and a confidence that elevated their performance. They held onto the lead for nearly 3 groups. They generally skate well in the long, so they have a good shot at the title.

Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin put out a very respectable performance. Some of their elements are a bit simplified because of the newness of their partnership, but they were clean and strong. Their footwork sequence was very nicely choreographed to the “Pirates of the Caribbean.” I’m happy for Tiffany, and she looked gorgeous, by the way!

Perhaps the surprise moment belonged to Rockne Brubaker and Mary Beth Marley. Now, I’ve had my eyes on them since I heard of their paring, and was expecting great things. They had a bobble on the triple twist element, but otherwise, their pairs skills are very impressive, and their strong singles skills work well in their favor. I’m excited for their long program, for sure.

The defending champs, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett skated late in the line up. The leaderboard was pretty set, but all expected them to at least be top three. However, a very rare Caydee fall on the side-by-side triple toe cost them in the short, where everything matters. They skated with a maturity and expressiveness that was nice to see, however, I’m not sure this program really highlights their strength. Caydee is such a fireball, full of energy and spunk. While it’s nice to see a more serious, slow, emotional side to them, this just doesn’t blow me away. That, added to the fall, landed them in 4th. But, the’re only out of third by .31 points, so they still have as good a shot as any for a medal. They’re nearly 7 points out of first, so they have lots of work to do in the long, but they’re capable of it.

Okay. Now, for the highlight of the night – John Coughlin and Caitlin Yankowskas.

John’s been through a lot this year, namely dealing with the loss of his mother. He has said skating this season has been healing for him, and this competition, in particular, means more than winning or losing. When he spoke with Figure Skaters Online, he said, “I’m skating for me and for my mom, for the family I still have, and the friends that have helped me along the way.”  (P.S. – you should really read that article. Such a touching story.)

The free skate for John and Caitlin is a tribute to his mother, set to “Ave Maria.” But while the emotion in that moment will be exceptionally strong, their short program brought out more emotion than I’ve felt towards a US pairs team in years.

The program is an emotional masterpiece, set to the eerie, almost haunting music of Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango Oblivion,” and the duo didn’t leave any second, any note, unused. And with the emotion of the year weighing heavy on their hearts, they captivated the Coliseum and the nation with technical excellence, and artistic superiority. They cast a spell on the crowd who felt every moment, every emotion right along with them.

This is a team I’ve fallen in love with over the past few seasons, and I was expecting them to skate well here. What I wasn’t expecting was my own intense reaction to their skate. Chills, tears, the works. They reminded me what is so special about the art of skating. Their training paid off, as Coughlin said, “Good training will never betray you.” But it was their heart, their ability to express all the emotion of that moment, in the way a painter tells a story with a brush or a musician reaches deep with a melody.

The unfortunate reality of the competition is that only two teams will continue on to Worlds, while there are at least three teams who deserve a chance. But if the short is any indication, there will be plenty of drama as that decision unfolds in the long.

By the way, find complete results after the Pairs Short here.

Ladies short starts in just a few minutes! I may post after that as well…

Until then…

 

Skating for Gold – Nationals 2011, the Pairs January 7, 2011

The great thing about National championships is that you get a chance to see not only the best the country has to offer, but all of those who will some day be the best. For many skaters, just competing at Nationals is the best the season will get. Qualifying is a victory. Skating well, a testament to hard work. And when they have sensational results to go with it, we get to see the purest, most fulfilling joy skating can bring – not based on expectations or lofty goals, but simply in a dream achieved.

With that in mind, let us take time for round two of my Nationals preview, the pairs competition.

Pairs is a discipline that hasn’t been the strongest point in American skating for, well, quite some time. That said, there have been some highlights, and I have a feeling this year’s field could be one of them. First of all, as before, we’ll look at the skaters I feel are top contenders.

  • Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett
  • Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig
  • Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin

I think, for the most part, the podium should be between these three teams. Don’t get me wrong, there are others who could break up the party, such as Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth, and Brittany Simpson and Nathan Miller. But the fact is, the top three teams are the top three for a reason – they have the most to offer.

Caydee and Jeremy are obviously coming in with the biggest target on their backs, being the reigning Champs. They’ve made some changes in their skating this year, most noticeably by moving to train with John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana, but I’ve got to say, I have yet to see the complete package from them. Perhaps they’ve timed it perfectly, and they’ll peak in Greensboro. If they do, I have a feeling their programs will bring the house down. Caydee’s energy is electric, and while their programs have a more muted tone to them this year, the emotional value is still just as strong. They have a way of reaching the audience, and that’s not something you can teach. If they hit their elements, they have a good chance at gold, once again.

Nipping at their heals, though, are two teams hungry to prove their own national worth. Amanda Evora (who is recently engaged to Jeremy Barrett – congrats to them!) and Mark Ladwig have been the tortoise in the national rankings – slow and steady, but poised to win the race. They, two, have made some changes this season. Most noticeable to me is their newfound confidence, and renewed determination. They want to represent the country internationally, and they’re out to do whatever they can to give themselves that chance. What they have that is stronger than anyone else is belief in themselves. It got them on the Olympic team, and this year, the programs they’ve put together have the potential to claim top honors.

Not to be overlooked, however, is the dark horse team of Caitlin and John. I’m personally a big fan of the previous two teams, but I have to say, Caitlin and John have captivated me this season. They bring a spark to the ice – a calm under pressure, an elegance and poise – and they have charming personalities to boot. They make you want them to succeed…and that I do! They actually had pretty impressive success on the Grand Prix series this year, finishing 3rd and 4th at their two events, and I truly believe they’ll give Caydee/Jeremy and Amanda/Mark a run for their money.

It’s anyone’s game and it will all come down to which team puts out two programs, back to back.

Don’t eliminate the possibility of one of the other three teams I mentioned breaking things up a bit, however.

And even with the tight competition that is sure to come for the podium, I may be even more excited by the return to competition by two skaters I’ve loved for a while now – Rockne Brubaker and Themi Leftheris.

Both guys are returning with different partners than they last skated with. Themi, having skated with Naomi Nari Nam in her attempted return to competition, has just never quite found the right pieces. He’s skating this year with Lindsay Davis, and while I don’t expect a gold medal performance out of them, I’m excited to see what they have to offer. I wish them the best.

The same can be said for Rockne and his new partner, Mary Beth Marley. Rockne most notably skated with Keauna McLaughlin in a bid for the Olympic team. After an extreme disappointment at Nationals last year, Keauna took a break from skating, leaving Rockne in a starting-over position. And he’s done just that, with Mary Beth, who is new to pairs skating all together. But don’t let that fool you – they want to bring their A-game in Greensboro, and they want to compete for a medal. For them, just making it to the Coliseum isn’t quite enough.

Pulling a team together so quickly isn’t entirely new for Rockne – he and Keauna weren’t together long before their first National title. Rockne and Mary Beth competed today for the first time internationally, and put up a respectable 56.51 in their short. Comparatively, Caydee and Jeremy have the highest SP score for the American’s this season with a 58.49. Rockne and Mary Beth’s score puts them 3rd on the list of SP scores by American teams this season. Not bad, eh? So if we’re looking for a team to play spoiler, don’t count out these two. They’re hungry. And they’re talented. And it’s Nationals – anything can happen!

As with the men, I’d love to know your picks for the Pairs event. Who will it be for gold, silver and bronze?

Until then…

 

Grand Finale – Skate America wrap-up November 15, 2010

The first half of the long programs finished late last night, as champions were crowned in the men’s and pair’s events.

The men were up first, so we’ll start there.

What should have been, in many ways, the premiere event from Skate America 2010 ended up being a contest to find who could make the least mistakes. The final group set up to be a spectacular showdown, but was instead a bit of a letdown. Still, scores were given and medals received, and team Japan faired quite well.

Daisuke Takahashi took gold, as expected by many (myself included). However, he didn’t do so in usual “Dai-namic” fashion. He missed jumps, lacked a quad, eked out several landings, and even his always-impressive footwork lacked some polish. Still, with PCS scores in the 85 range (…a bit ridiculous, if you’re asking me!), he managed to fend off countryman Nobunari Oda who had all the chance in the world to win…if only he stuck to the game plan.

I always find it interesting when skaters try to make up for mistakes during the program. This time, the mental mistake cost more than the physical mistake, as Nobu either tried to make up for a missed combination or simply forgot that he’s only allowed 3! He put out two solid triple axels, but the rules state one has to be in combination (or you can’t repeat the jump). Since one wasn’t in combination, he was essentially marked for missing that element. The flip side of that, though, is that you’re only allowed three combinations (two 2-jump and one 3-jump)…which he completed on top of the miss axel combo. Confused? Yeah. Basically, I believe, he received no credit for the final combo which cost him dearly, especially with a fall on his quad-toe attempt. Tough break for Oda, but still, a strong silver medal.

Adam Rippon was in medal position after the short, but a rare off night cost him overall, as he slipped to 4th.

Sneaking into bronze position then, was fellow American Armin Mahbanoozadeh who had, by far, the performance of the night. Skating to music from “Avatar,” he delivered jump after jump, spin after spin, with great speed, and great execution and performance. He garnered the first (and only?) standing ovation of the night, and it was well deserved. Congrats, Armin, on your Skate American bronze!

Honorable mention to Shawn Sawyer who, despite finishing in 8th, has the best long program of the season thus far. His “Alice and Wonderland” theme is just stunning and he pulls it off better than anyone else ever could. I said it after his long, but he  really makes a believable mad hatter!

Final results:
1. Daisuke Takahashi JPN (227.07)
2. Nobunari Oda JPN (226.09)
3. Armin Mahbenoozadeh USA (211.17)
4. Adam Rippon USA (2o3.12)
5. Daisuke Murakami JPN (203.00)
6. Kevin Van Der Perren BEL (194.63)
7. Adrian Schultheiss SWE (188.20)
8. Shawn Sawyer CAN (186.62)
9. Stephen Carriere USA (184.20)
10. Nan Song CHN (180.10)
11. Denis Ten KAZ (176.11)
12. Viktor Pfeifer AUS (162.47)

The pairs free skate was an example of all the different things skating can be.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy were the class of the field, and may have had the performance of the event. They were clean, solid, expressive, strong…all while skating to “Pink Panther” (Yes, Aliona made that horrid bubblegum pink jumpsuit work just fine!). They showed the “cute” factor with personality expressed elegantly. The are the veterans, and that was evident in their control and consistency as well as in the overall quality of their execution and performance. Well earned win for them here!

The young Canadian stars are just something else. Talk about personality…they’ve got it all! Kristen is just a doll and the two play off each other so well, especially for the short amount of time they’ve skated together. Their long wasn’t as sharp and dramatic as at Skate Canada, but they still have something very special. Plus, they are young enough in this sport that they’re learning from the beginning to skate to the strengths of the COP system, and it does them well…as does their solid technique.

Sui/Han from China stepped in after a successful debut last week at Cup of China (contrary to the info the commentators for Icenetwork had, as they repeatedly called Skate America Sui/Han’s senior debut!) and had close to a repeat performance. They still look juniorish to me, despite the immense difficulty of most of their elements, including that terrifying throw quad salchow! But again, they are COP babies, so to speak, so every move is choreographed with the intent of gaining points, contrary to 6.0 skaters who sometimes have choreography for the sake of choreography. Kudos to these two, though, for keeping up with the big kids two weeks in a row.

The American champs, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett brought the maturity and smoothness to their long program. This is a bit of a new, more polished look for them this season and it works wonders for their lines, their control. I felt like this program just had a great pace for them that allowed them to complete their elements successfully, as well as reach out emotionally to the audience a bit more than last year. These two, also, have a great pairs presence for the short time they’ve competed together. If they can play to the system a little more (I see some areas that transitions could be helpful and step sequences that could be more challenging), they’ll be right up there internationally. Too bad about the missed throw or they would have been on the podium here.

Final Results:
1. Savchenko/Szolkowy GER (197.70)
2. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch CAN (175.48)
3. Sui/Han CHN (170.07)
4. Denney/Barrett USA (166.42)
5. Stolbova/Klimov RUS (159.49)
6. Castelli/Shnapir USA (153.33)
7. Zhang/Toth USA (126.70)
8. Kemp/King GRB (115.92)

The final group of the ice dance event was something special, to say the least.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White were more than favorites here…it would have been an enormous upset if they even finished close to the top Canadian teams. Good thing, though, because they were not perfect in either portion, with Charlie’s miss on the twizzles in the Short (according to him he was simply trying to break light speed when physics got in his way!) and an awkward fall by the both of them as they got a little tangled in a footwork sequence in the free dance. Still, the amount of difficulty in their elements and the quality in their performance has they head and shoulders above the rest, thus the win here.

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier had loads of expectations on their shoulders here after debuting a fabulous free dance to “Eleanor Rigby” as interpreted by Chris Dean…and winning with it, brilliantly, in Canada. It just didn’t go quite their way here, even though they skated to silver. Someone on twitter observed, as did I, that they just looked off. I felt they skated cautiously, which translated into making the difficult choreography look heavy and a tad clumsy, instead of inspiring and smooth. That said, this is a wonderful free dance and when they skate it with more freedom, it’ll be spectacular.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani stamped their name in the “best in the world” list with a free dance that was as technically difficult as it was artistically brilliant. I sound like a broken record here, but there’s just something very special about this team that starts from their edge work, through their posture, culminating in the exquisite completion of every element – not just in getting it done, but fully stretching out every move for the greatest impact. It’s unusual in such a young team, but these two have it down pat. And training with the best in the world at the Shpilband camp? They’re set for stardom, for sure.

Final Results:
!. Davis/White USA (156.68)
2. Crone/Poirier CAN (149.08)
3. Shibutani/Shibutani USA (144.81)
4. Weaver/Poje CAN (142.34)
5. Riazanova/Tkachenko RUS (137.14)
6. Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt USA (130.72)
7. Reed/Reed JPN (113.39)
8. Coomes/Buckland GRB (111.29)
9. Frohberg/Giesen GER (104.18)

Then there were ladies.

First of all, I want to thank NBC for enlisting the services of Terry Gannon. I was always impressed with his professionalism, but perhaps more impressed with his introduction to and eventual involvement in the skating world. The guy’s a basketball player…he’s a “sports guy” and that doesn’t usually translate to a heartfelt interest in the skating world. But he took his job seriously, learned all he could, and really found a love for the sport and its athletes. He’s an inspiration to me in my own career, and a wonderful piece of figure skating broadcast history. Welcome back, Terry!

Now, the skating.

If anyone wonders about the future of ladies skating, look no further than Kanako Murakami. This girl has more spunk than many senior ladies can dream of, she skates with the purest essence of joy, and she’s got a fab triple-triple to boot! She wasn’t flawless, but she’s growing. She has a wonderful future ahead of her, and she may have jump-started it here by taking advantage of the mistakes of those ahead of her. If she works on the maturity in her presentation, she’ll fit right in with the top level of skaters in the world.

Rachael Flatt skated with a bit of an injury – tendinitis in her ankle – but other than the absence of her planned triple-triple, you never would have known. She skated her long program to the fullest, and you could tell how pleased she was with her clean skate. This program still needs some work, some polish, and she’s got to fully rotate those triples, but this was a nice come-from-behind silver for her after missing a jump in the short. She has a lot of determination, so she will only get better as the season progresses. But I feel this was a success for her.

Carolina Kostner is also skating with a knee injury that could require surgery some time soon. Because of that, she’s limited in her jump content (she can’t do the flip or lutz) which just increases the importance of every jump she can complete…and that didn’t happen here. Admittedly, I didn’t get to see her skate. But from the sounds of things, it wasn’t pretty. And when Carolina’s off, she’s really off. Still, she always gains points for things that may or may not deserve them, so she managed to hang on for a medal…other than that, I’ll reserve judgement until I actually see the program!

A quick congratulations to the Helgesson girls for skating well in the long (and Joshi for skating well overall…as a last minute replacement, nonetheless!). It’s great to see young talent skate without the pressure of expectation, and they delivered! Their mom (and coach) should be quite proud.

Final Results:
1. Kanako Murakami JPN (164.93)
2. Rachael Flatt USA (162.86)
3. Carolina Kostner ITA (1154.87)
4. Joshi Helgesson SWE (146.90)
5. Amelie Lacoste CAN (146.68)
6. Viktoria Helgesson SWE (142.26)
7. Elene Gedevanishvili GEO (1139.36)
8. Mae Bernice Meite FRA (137.05)
9. Carolin Zhang USA (132.49)
10. Jenna McCorkell GBR (1127.76)
11. Min-Jeong Kwak KOR (125.21)
12 Alexe Gilles USA (122.46)

Time for a quick breather before moving on to Moscow. There may be a something special coming up later this week, but until I have the details worked out, I’ll hold off promoting it…

But regardless, I’ll be back soon enough with thoughts on Cup of Russia and of course, my picks for my Fantasy Team! (Speaking of fantasy team…this week my pairs picks set me off on a great start! But, unfortunately it was down hill from there. I will never make any  money on accurate predictions, that’s become very evident!)

Until then…

 

SA shorts – Pairs, Men November 13, 2010

The first round of short programs are complete from Portland, and I’m certainly not without my share of thoughts! Both the Pairs and Men’s short programs brought plenty to discuss, but I’ll keep it to a minimum (must work early in the morning, so I can’t be up all night blogging!)

For the pairs, it came down to experience, as expected. Savchenko/Szolkowy ended up in first, despite a rock technical performance (she doubled the side-by-side jump, the side-by-side spins were ugly, and not much was really well done), thanks to the PCS marks. I know I’ve defended the PCS marks in the past, but I’m not sure I see what the judges saw here. I wouldn’t have had them in 1st.

The Canadian dynamic duo of Moore-Towers/Moscovitch didn’t disappoint after their stellar silver medal-winning performance just weeks ago in Canada. They had their own glitches (no one was flawless), but they skated with speed and attack and great performance value. The out-skated the 3rd place team by less than a point in PCS, but had the edge technically.

Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett were almost clean – a little bit of a rough landing on the split 3-twist was the only smudge. This short, complete with throw triple lutz, is a much more mature look for them. I think their transitions need some work, but overall, a very nice skate. They had the best side-by-side spins of the night. (A pet peeve of mine, if you haven’t noticed!)

Standings overall:

1. Savchenko/Szolkowy GER (63.99)
2. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch CAN (61.64)
3. Denney/Barrett USA (58.49)
4. Sui/Han CHN (57.53)
5. Stolbova/Klimov RUS (53.73)
6. Zhang/Toth USA (48.13)  *solid debut for them!
7. Castelli/Shnapir USA (47.24) *Tough break with some falls, but they have some gorgeous elements!
8. Kemp/King GRB (42.00)

The Free Programs will be telling…who can hold it together and skate clean?

The men’s short program started out pretty clean, including a clean, solid skate from Armin Mahbanoozadeh (2nd highest TES score of the night!) that held up until the 2nd group. But the roughness hit later, as skaters like Stephen Carriere and Shawn Sawyer struggled.

The 2nd group, though, promised to be one of the strongest thus far this season…and it wasn’t quite what it could have been, until the top three!

Oda’s short, well, he’s just so smooth. Where his countryman Daisuke is fast and fabulous, Oda is smooth and subtle. His musicality is spectacular, and when his jumps are on, he’s got some of the best in the business. I feel like all anyone ever talks about is his knees, but the softness of those knees is what makes him so great. He hit what he needed to tonight, and was rewarded for it.

Daisuke is such a showman. His jumps weren’t quite on tonight, but even lacking perfection, he was still great. His footwork is so “In your face” but it’s not just show, it’s an impressive set of steps, and he makes it look easy. Combine that with the typically high PCS scores he rakes in, and he was set.

Then there’s the American, Adam Rippon. And his place in this list is tops when it comes to interpretation. The Japanese men are great, don’t get me wrong, but Adam makes me feel something when he skates. He opens up this whole other world…he lives Romeo and Juliet. I can imagine that every person in that arena took every step of that program with him, because he grabs you from the first note, and holds on until the last. A little mistake on the triple axel cost him, and his footwork may not have gained the level Dai’s and Oda’s did, but he is fantastic, there’s no doubt (and that triple lutz with both hands over his head is to die for).

These three men will dictate a lot internationally this season, and I’m loving watching them duke it out in Portland! Their Free Skates could be the highlight of the entire weekend.

Overall standings:

1. Nobunari Oda JPN ( 79.28)
2. Daisuke Takahashi JPN (78.12)
3. Adam Rippon USA (73.94)
4. Armin Mahbanoozadeh USA (67.61)
5. Daisuke Murakami JPN (67.01)
6. Denis Ten KAZ (64.50)
7. Adrian Schultheiss SWE (63.71)
8. Kevin Van Der Perren BEL (62.22)
9. Nan Song CHN (62.21)
10. Stephen Carriere USA (59. 14)
11. Shawn Sawyer CAN ( 56.94)
12. Viktor Pfeifer AUT (55.01)

 

More shorts tomorrow!

 

Until then…