Figure Skating: From the Boards

A Look Ahead: The Ladies of the GP Series May 24, 2012

Let’s hear it for the ladies!

Last year, the women made this event ever-unpredictable and, as always, a premiere event to watch. Looking at the lineup this season, I expect to see much of the same! Here’s how it breaks down.

Skate America: 

Mae Bernice Meite (FRA)
Sarah Hecken (GER)
Valentine Marchei (ITA)
Haruka Imai (JPN)
Alena Leonova (RUS)
Adelina Sotnikova (RUS)
Viktoria Helgesson (SWE)
Rachael Flatt (USA)
Christina Gao (USA)
Ashley Wagner (USA)

Okay, lots of goodies here. First, we see US and Four Continents champ Ashley Wagner’s Skate America debut. We all know the season she put together last year, but this will be an even bigger test — living up to these new expectations.

Speaking of expectations, Rachael Flatt will be interesting to watch this year. There’s no doubt she adores the sport and the challenge of training to compete. But, will she be able to shake off last season’s disappointments and the weight of college academics to be competitive again?

Personally, I adore Christina Gao. Her carriage over the ice is almost regal. If she can stay healthy, look for a much better GP season from her in 2012.

The Russian return to the top in ladies skating has been coming on for some time now. Many think Adelina Sotnikova is the strongest hope for the podium in Sochi. If that’s the case, she needs to make great use of the next two years in order to build her stamina and consistency to compete with the best of the best.

Don’t overlook Alena Leonova, though. She’s not quite ready to give in to the budding youngsters — and you don’t have to look further than her World medal for proof of that! (more…)

 

Nice — Ladies’ Night Out April 2, 2012

 

Nice Day 2 — Maybe It’s The Ice… March 29, 2012

Yesterday after the Russians struggled so mightily in the Short Program, they brought to our attention that the ice in Nice is, well, not quite right. It cracks and crumbles right out from underneath the blades, they said.

Now, you would think that if the ice was really all that terrible, we’ve had heard a whole lot more about it since then.

Before you start to protest, simmer down! I’m not trying to stir any proverbial pot or cry “conspiracy” or even call out any particular pair for comments on ice that I have not had the privilege of skating on! In fact, after this morning’s Ladies’ Short Programs, I’m beginning to think maybe their right!

Bad ice makes for a much easier explanation than a gremlin that caused even more favorites to fall from grace (and, more importantly, a spot on the podium.)

As an American skating fan, I can’t deny my vested interest in the success of Team USA. So … let’s start there.

Ashley Wagner, since winning her National title, has been determined to lead the team that regains a third spot for the American team. And after her Four Continents performances, I was pretty well convinced she had the firepower to do it. And with Alissa Czisny — who can stumble a bit and still rake in scores on the spins and components — certainly in a position to peak, that third spot was not only within reach, but anything short would be a serious disappointment.

… today was a serious disappointment.

Wagner was the first of the American’s to skate, and she had high hopes of starting things off with a triple flip-triple toe combination. That vanished with the landing on the first jump. The extra turns could be costly in and of themselves in the GOE department, but now the combo had to be tacked onto the triple loop.

She managed to do that and complete the elements, but she had to have the technical edge in order to keep up with the skaters at the top (who, might I add, were not the skaters we’d all predicted, either! But I’ll get to that.).

By the time Czisny took the ice, there was a cavern at the top of the standings, as favorites continued to fall. Trouble is, so did she. Twice. And she barely hung on to the double axel.

My heart was breaking for her — you see the effort, the potential, the desire to finally live up to her own vast expectations, only to see everything that could go wrong, go terribly, terribly wrong.

The two sit in 8th and 16th place, and are almost certainly out of reach of the magic number 13 to get that 3rd spot.

(To look at it half full, Wagner is roughly four points out of bronze medal position, and Czisny is just over five points out of 10th. That combination — 3rd and 10th — would do the trick! “Impossible … things are happening every day!”)

At least a couple of skaters left the Short Program happy after strong skates!

As for the rest of the field…

It was Russia’s Alena Leonova who was the surprise leader. She skated her best short program all year, complete with 3-3 and quirky, complicated footwork.

Also a surprise was Japan’s Kanako Murakami who nearly matched Leonova element for element on her way to a second place finish, just two points off the lead.

It was a disappointing night for both Carolina Kostner and Mao Asada — perhaps considered co-favorites here. Asada skated first, and crumbled on her opening triple axel (a move she’s remained committed to, despite a lack of success). The result? 1.8 points out of a possible 8.5+. Ouch.

Kostner started much better, hitting her own triple toe-triple toe. But, as so often happens, she followed that with a mistake — a double loop, in stead of a triple. And that was enough to cost her, despite having the highest PCS marks of the night (she was the only one to break the 30-point mark).

In my world, I would have had Akiko Suzuki over Kostner in the short. But, she doubled a lutz that also got an edge call, resulting in a negative GOE on that element.

Ksenia Makarova had the skate of her season, and it was good enough to land her in 6th, just ahead of Elene Gedevanishvile, who was well on her way to a fantastic skate … until she singled the axel.

So, the battle lines are drawn for the Free Skate.

Realistically, the top ten could shift dramatically. There’s not a lot of consistency to speak of among the ladies currently in those spots. That might bode well for Wagner, who as been a stronger Long Program skater than others. It also means, everyone is going to have to shake the demons and shoot for the stars, holding nothing back. There can be no fear. No mind games. Just muscle memory and confidence.

They have a day to rest. And, hopefully, the gremlins are gone for good.

 

Nice, Take Two: Ladies Preview March 26, 2012

She had only skated one clean program since the 1998 Olympics. After placing second in qualifying, and third after the short, she was in the “worst case scenario,”meaning she needed the leader — Maria Butyrskya — to finish 3rd or lower, and she needed to win the Free Skate.

Plus, she was skating first.

Then, the haunting vibrations of The Red Violin swept through the Palais des Exposition and Michelle Kwan crafted, perhaps, the most magical moment of the 2000 World Championships.

Every move was assured, from the opening triple loop, to the stunning triple toe-triple toe combination. Her spins were improved, her footwork was quick and sharp, and her presentation was, well, Kwan-esque.

There was nothing she needed to do in that program that she left undone. No extra turnout on a jump, no slippery edge in a transitional step. Not even a finger misplaced. She skated both the most technically difficult program of the night, and the most emotionally complex program of the night to win her third World title.

Michelle Kwan became the first American woman to reach that mark since Peggy Flemming. Michelle had officially reached legend status.

And, as usual, coach Frank Carroll said it best when he said of Kwan’s forward progress: “That’s the way of sport. You have to continue to make progress, or you’ll get left in the dust.”

Now, some 12 years later, a pair of American girls hope to follow in the path the Flemmings and Kwans of the world made. But, it won’t be easy.

The number of ladies who could win this title is a little ridiculous. Between Carolina Kostner, Mao Asada, Ashley Wagner, Akiko Suzuki, Alissa Czisny, and Alena Leonova, things could get a little crazy. But then you throw in Kanako Murakami, Valentina Marchei, Elene Gedevanishvilli, or Viktoria Helgesson, and it gets even more dicey.

Carolina Kostner is, perhaps, the closest thing to a “favorite.” She presents an interesting situation, though. She doesn’t have a triple lutz, and has only recently added a triple flip back into her programs. Some find that terribly unjust, when there are other girls (including Ashley Wagner) using all of the different triple jumps. But, what Carolina has is win-induced confidence. She’s had a stellar season, and she knows it. That could play very nicely into her hands, as she’s the only lady to take the top of the podium consistently all season.

Ma Asada is a former champ. She’s struggled the last few years, dedicating herself to reworking her jump technique. And it shows. She’s back to smiling when she skates, and floating across the ice, and making triple jumps look easy. At least most of the time. She still has a tendency to underrotate jumps, and she gets a little off and pops a jump or two here and there. Asada is talented to the max, but far from consistent.

Alissa Czisny has all the qualities you want in a great champion. All except consistency (yes, I sound like a broken record. There’s an obvious pattern developing here.). To get on the podium, she needs to skate two clean programs. Clean Programs. She can’t miss her jumps, because she doesn’t have the complexity in the choreography to make up for it. As much as her spins wow us, they can’t do all the work. She seems motivated, though, and this could be her time to shine.

Suzuki and Leonova tend to be hit or miss. Akiko has effortlace elegance on the ice. But she can crash and burn on occasion. As can Leonova (who doesn’t share the same elegance in the least).

Despite all of the possibilities, all eyes may be looking towards American champ Ashley Wagner. Not because she’s been there, done that, but because she hasn’t, and yet she notched a score at Four Continents that put the rest of the world notice — she has arrived. And with even more planned difficulty in Nice, could she take her third title in a row?

There is a part of me that wants to go all in, to believe in the improbable. She’s charming me more and more with each competition, and it would do my heart good to see her win. But, there’s too much unpredictability in this event to call it her way just yet.

In fact, calling it at all is almost pointless but, here’s my attempt.

Gold Carolina Kostner
Silver Ashley Wagner
BronzeMao Asada
Fourth –Alissa Czisny

*And yes, America regains the third team spot

Who will take the challenge head-on and who will get left in the dust? However it unfolds, I hope we’re graced with at least one program that sticks in our minds the way Michelle’s The Red Violin has.

 

On To The Springs! Four Continents — Ladies Preview February 7, 2012

In talking with some twitter friends, we determined this may be the most wide-open ladies fields in years, without a clear-cut, untouchable favorite. That will reflect in the competition in Colorado Springs, as well as the World Championships in Nice, France.

The openness provides exciting and intense competition, but it also makes predictions even harder than usual! That said, without a dramatic shake up, the top three seem fairly clear here.

Japanese sensation Mao Asada skates to a National Title in 2012

If Asada skates as "free" as she has all season, she'll head to Nice the 4CC champ.

Gold: Mao Asada

No, she still isn’t back to 2009-2010 form. But, she’s making great strides, and perhaps more importantly, she’s happy. When Mao is happy, she is relaxed. When she is relaxed, everything comes more easily. After retooling her technique, the majority of her jumps are secure and smooth. Her footwork is better than ever. And her program composition is among the best in the world. If she skates anywhere close to her potential, she’ll win handily.

Silver: Ashley Wagner

Wagner would like to consider herself a gold-medal contender here. And, if Asada struggles, it’s possible. But, even Ashley herself was realistic in knowing she has to up the ante to compete on the world stage. Losing the proverbial “monkey on her back” by winning a national title just over a week ago will help her skate confidently. But, as the National Champ, the pressure is on.

Fortunately for Ashley, it’s a position I expect her to handle well. Even in her Nationals exhibition, she was already skating with a new heir — one that says she is ready for the next challenge.

If she can match or exceed her Nationals performances, she will easily take the silver.  (more…)

 

InterNATIONALS Round Up January 5, 2012

He’s baaaack! That could be the theme for the recent run of men’s national champs. In France, it was Joubert. In Russia, Plushenko. And in the Czech Republic, Verner. But it wasn’t just the men in action. So, since we’re in that lull before Canadian/American Nationals and Europeans, here’s a quick round up of the latest results, complete with video links.

France

Men

1. Brian Joubert (230.97)
2. Florent Amodio (210.42)
3. Chafik Besseghier (183.67)

Ladies

1. Yrétha Silété (152.21)
2. Maé Bérénice Méité (149.33)
3. Anaïs Ventard (143.74)

Pairs

1. Daria Popova/Bruno Massot (137.75)
2.Vanessa James/Morgan Ciprès (128.83)
3. Anne-Laure Letscher / Artem Patlasov (104.06)

Dance

1. Nathalie Péchalat/Fabian Bourzat (173.75)
2. Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones (142.69)
3. Tiffany Zahorski/Alexis Miart (120.49)

  (more…)

 

A look ahead: Cup of China’s ladies and gentlemen November 2, 2011

You know, we spend the entire summer counting the days until the Grand Prix season begins. Then, just like that, we’re headed into week three! It always goes so quickly once it starts.

But enough of that. On to China!

As I was working on my icenetwork.com column this week, I realized — this is the least “elite” event thus far, and yet, it could be the most competitive! So many skaters have the chance to improve on their past senior performances or, in some cases, stun the world with their senior debuts. Add in a handful of veterans who would like to regain their top spots, and I have quite the headache. Oh, and yes, we also have quite the competition on our hands!

Today we’ll talk ladies and gents. Tomorrow, the couples.

It’s any man’s game

When you pit the young Artur Gachinski against the talented Nobunari Oda and the determined Jeremy Abbott, it’s enough to make your head spin. Then throw in Yuzuru Hanyu, Kevin Reynolds and Ricky Dornbush and it essentially becomes a shoot out — the three  men who skate cleanest will likely find the podium.

Jeremy Abbott missed Worlds last year, and wasn’t too happy about it. He is a strong competitor, and can match his technical excellence with his artistic superiority. This is his first event since Four Continents, and he’ll want to make a statement. Much like Ashley Wagner last weekend, he may skate with a chip on his shoulder.

If Nobunari Oda could ever put together back-to-back programs, he would be in the discussions with the Chans and Takahashi’s of the world. But more often than not, silly mistakes cost him titles. Still, I don’t know anyone who has deeper knees and softer edges. He’s a joy to watch, and will compete for gold.

Ricky Dornbush is the only one man skating in his second event. He struggled a bit at Skate America, and will likely make some adjustments for China. However, Yuzuru Hanyu is the wild card with the potential to upstage them all. He’s young and a bit volatile, so he’s not a sure thing. However, I’m willing to bet on him this year. (more…)