Figure Skating: From the Boards

The Final Countdown: Ladies and Gents December 6, 2012


Ah, the ever-shifting world of both ladies and men’s skating. Keeps things interesting doesn’t it? Especially with Sochi — the Olympic version — on the horizon, the world’s best are focused on taking this chance to test the ice, as well as to inspire their work for the next year in hopes of making it back again in just over one year’s time.

It’s a good chance, too, to size up the competition. The year before the Olympics starts to create buzz. The buildup can be distracting, or it can generate good energy that reminds these to-tier skaters why they do what they do. It also separates the contenders from the … shall we say, “pretenders?” Maybe that’s a little harsh. We have, after all seen plenty of occasion where the sport’s stars the year before the Games can’t hold out for another full year. There’s also that little thing about the World Championship curse. You know, the one where reigning World Champs hardly ever win Olympic gold. So the story goes, anyway.

But, that’s a whole year away. This weekend is all about this year’s best. And there are plenty of good ones to go around.


A few years ago, skating fans were wondering if Ashley Wagner would ever figure it out. She wanted to be the best. But she just wasn’t ever quite there. And then, last season, something clicked, and it’s been like a flipped light switch.

The girl is crazy committed … just watching her in practices at Skate America convinced me even more that she’s discovered whatever the missing piece was that turned her into a full-blown competitor. She has the mindset now, and that is something no one could do for her. But, she’s got it now. What she doesn’t have is a competition-tested triple-triple combination. Does she put it in here as practice for a likely World Championship run? If she doesn’t, does she take that risk later in the season?

She has the third-best short program score, but the top free skate and total score. She’s in prime position to win as it is. This is where the age-old battle of risk vs. reward comes in. If she puts the combination in and hits it? She’s likely guaranteeing herself the title. If she tries it and misses, she opens the door to two very talented Japanese ladies who’d love nothing more than to gain some momentum headed toward Worlds.

She’s won without it. Her prime competition — Mao Asada — doesn’t have one either. Is the risk worth taking? (Personally, I’d like to see her tack a triple toe on to the double axel combination … seems a tad safer.)

Asada has some work to do. She holds the season’s best short program score (her short is fabulous, I must add), but she still struggles to make it all the way through a free skate. Her NHK Trophy win was marred by a long program hardly worthy of the title, but outside the jumps, she still does other good things. Her choreography in the free leaves a little to be desired compared to the SP, and it doesn’t have the tension or detail that Wagner’s does. Or, for that matter, that Akiko Suzuki’s does.

I adore her free skate. It is so her. It’s a program that highlights her best qualities and celebrates her unique take on story telling. Plus, her dress is killer!

If she hits her short program, and manages all the technical difficulty in her free skate, both of the top qualifiers better watch their backs. Suzuki is often on the short end of the judging stick, but that give her no reason to hold back. She’ll have to lay it all on the line … and if she hits, it could very well be golden.

The other girls skating at the Final will play the role of spoilers. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva carries the Russian flag alone, after the withdrawal of Julia Lipnitskaia. Liza is lovely, but this season she hasn’t been the overpowering Russian force she appeared to be last year. That said, she’s certainly got the goods. It’s a matter of consistency.

Kiira Korpi comes armed with gorgeous programs. She’s one of those skaters you use to describe a “complete package.” However, she’s reportedly been quite ill and not able to train. She’s also been quoted as saying she isn’t 100% ready for this event. That could be just the opportunity last-minute alternate Christina Gao needs to make an international statement of her own.

She, too, has beautiful programs, and jumps that simply compliment the beauty of her skating. I like her. And she has a great open door to jump through this weekend.


Gold: Ashley Wagner
Silver: Akiko Suzuki
Bronze: Mao Asada


This will be a battle for the ages. Four Japanese men vs. Patrick Chan and Javier Fernandez.

Despite all the early season struggles (read: Japan Open), Patrick Chan has recovered. He’s the defending champ of the Final, as well as the World title. He’s not about to give that up without throwing down the best that he has to offer.

Mr. Debonair, Javier Fernandez, has topped Chan once. But, the Canadian star was not nearly at his best. Fernandez, though, has some of the most technically ambitious programs you’ll see in Sochi. The trouble is, he’s sometimes too ambitious for his own good.

Then there’s these Japanese guys. The “Super team.” Which one of them do you leave off the World team?!

It likely won’t be Yuzuru Hanyu, that I can say. The kid set then broke his own new short program record score. He can be sensational. But, his problem comes in the free skate where he tends to lose focus and fail to live up to the short program. It worries me a bit that he seems to struggle with the pressure. He’s still young, and his time at the top is not yet here. But with competition veterans like Chan and Takahashi adding to the pressure, I worry that he will struggle to stay focused.

Daisuke Takahashi has had a bit of a disappointing season thus far. No golds yet on the Grand Prix circuit, and his programs seem to be a bit of a work in progress. Personally, I liked the free skate better at the Japan Open. Seems the judges did, too. But there’s no denying the possibility of Taka putting up a performance for the ages … especially with his good old rival Patrick Chan sharing the spotlight.

Takahiko Kozuka was more than impressive at Skate America. He was fabulous. He failed to match that at his second event, but we now know it’s in him to blow us all away. He’s not ready to be written off. And with the shockingly deep Japanese field, he needs this event to prove himself.

The kid who is, perhaps, the most surprising qualifier is Tatsuki Machida. He quietly made his way to the podium twice this year, winning in his second event. But, he’s the one man who may not have the fire power to break onto the podium, unless the top guys struggle. Which has happened before. So it could certainly happen again.

This men’s event may be the one I’m most excited about, simply because of the quality of skating from 1 – 6. They’re all fantastic. And their skills could push each other to exceptional heights.


Gold: Patrick Chan
Silver: Daisuke Takahashi
Bronze: Yuzuru Hanyu



Grand Prix Rewind: The Girls November 30, 2012

Ahh, the ladies of the Grand Prix. They sure have a way of keeping things interesting, don’t they? As we’ve seen in the past several seasons, consistency is not at the top of the “most seen” list. And yet, I felt this season was one of the stronger in recent history.

The USA sends two ladies to Sochi for the Olympic preview, a.k.a the Grand Prix Final.

That said, we only saw two repeat champions — Mao Asada, who has made a solid return back to the top of the rankings, and Ashley Wagner, who is in no way the “Almost Girl.” In fact, Wagner is the top ranked skater heading to the Final, as she holds the season’s best total score by roughly 5 points over Asada.

Wagner started strong, and has gotten stronger. However, she doesn’t have a triple-triple At least, she hasn’t had one. At Skate America, she cited it as a priority going forward, and she has recently discussed again the work going into a triple-triple combination for the biggest competitions on the international stage. I won’t lie, that makes me a bit nervous. She has a good thing going, and a mistake on a triple-triple will be costly. That said, that triple-triple has kept her from the top of the podium before … but because she didn’t have it at all.

Asada, on the other hand, showed herself far from unbeatable. In fact, her win at NHK Trophy was under strong scrutiny, because she missed more jumps than she hit. Yet, one thing remains teh same: her basic skating creates such a strong foundation that even with mistakes she is a strong competitor.

Akiko Suzuki got the short end of the stick at NHK … which seems to be an unfortunate norm for her. The same could be said for Mirai Nagasu (who presents an interesting set of “what ifs” herself).

The talent pool this year was more or less divided between the vets and the newbies — the talented little ballerina’s trying to take down the battle tested warriors … all while looking stunningly beautiful and completely put together, of course!

Even with the likes of Gracie Gold (who didn’t quite make the stellar splash we all expected) coming up in the US, it was the Russian dolls who made the biggest imprint on the GP series, as evidenced by two such ladies making the Final with relative ease.

Julia Lipnitskaia made an instant impression with her agility and flexibility. And yet, I just don’t get the hype. She can jump. (Sort of … there are some serious technique issues that she’ll have to fix if she wants to last on the senior scene.) She’s bendy. She skates fast. She’s tiny and doesn’t hardly look big enough to pull of the tricks she does. But there’s SO much more to skating than that. And at this point, she doesn’t have “it.”

Nevertheless, she did enough to make the final, although news broke today that she’s withdrawn due to injury. She’ll be replaced by Christina Gao who has looked unbelievably comfortable with the transition to Harvard life in consort with elite-level training. It helps that she has two sensational programs to work with, and added maturity to throw in the mix. She is fabulous.

Then, of course, there’s Elizaveta Tuktamisheva. Last year’s obsession proved that she still has it. No, she didn’t come away with two GP golds this time around, but she proved — to me at least — the most complete package of the young Russian hopefuls. She’s grown into the senior choreography a bit, and she’s better for it.

You know who’s not even an alternate for the Final? Adelina Sotnikova. Anyone else surprised by that? Needless to say, she has some work to do. She’s adorable, but not quite as good as she seems to think she is. There’s plenty of potential, don’t get me wrong. But it needs polishing, for sure.

Speaking of potential, how about Canada’s next great hope, Kaetlyn Osmond who pulled off the improbable win at Skate Canada? She’s a spunky little thing, isn’t she? No, she won’t rank quite that high outside of Canada. And she’s entirely unproved on the senior stage. But, for the first time since Joannie Rochette stepped away from the competition scene, Canadian skating fans have a lady to believe in.

And I can’t not mention the lovely Kiira Korpi. Back on the GP circuit after last year’s injuries, she made her presence known in a lucrative way … in the form of back-to-back GP medals, the second being gold. She, too, is working with gorgeous programs. In fact, she may have the most complete package of the season — the music, the choreo, the costumes. Everything works together beautifully, and gives her an added polish and quality that pays off in those ever-coveted PCS marks!

It’s a whirlwind, that ladies event, eh? And it’s sure to continue that way as we speed toward the Final next weekend!


Taking on the World: Ladies Preview April 16, 2011

Ah, the ladies event. The ever lovely, every turbulent staple to the figure skating world. What would we do without it? (I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’d spend a lot less time scratching my head, that’s for sure!)

Heading into Worlds, yet again, the strength lies in the Japanese team, as they boast the top two international scores this season.

Four Continents Champ Miki Ando holds the top spot, and also the honor of being the only woman to break 200 this season. Her 201.34 from 4CC, as well as her strong Grand Prix gold medals in both Russia and China set her up as potentially the favorite here. She had a mini-collapse at the Final, but she was battling back troubles that have haunted here here and there. If a healthy Ando shows up to Worlds, she has all the momentum in her favor.

Nipping at her heals, though, and on a comeback trail of her own, is her countrywoman and the reigning World Champ, Mao Asada. I won’t lie — when I saw Mao at the beginning of the season, I feared for the worst. Certainly, this season was done for. And by the look on her face when she skated off the ice, I wondered if it would be even worse. To her credit, though, and that of her coaches, she managed to continue reworking nearly every aspect of her skating, while gaining momentum, ending up making the World team, and 2nd place behind Ando at 4cc. She’s put herself back in the hunt. Now she just has to keep moving forward.

As with the men, the circumstances surrounding the Japanese skaters is anything but ideal. While the skating world debated what to do about the World Championships, these Japanese skaters mourned the enormous loss of so much in their country. They will be the story of the event, and how they handle the situation will be very based on the emotions they’re battling. The question becomes, will they rise to the occasion and bring home a World title? Or will the intensity be too much to let them really shine? Either one would be totally understandable…

Interestingly, the 3rd highest score this season belongs to a skater who won’t have the chance to take on the world’s best: American Mirai Nagasu. Her 189.46 puts her in the hunt for a World medal, but her lack of confidence and

Czisny's newfound confidence lead her straight to her second US title.

execution at Nationals means she won’t have that chance. Not this year, anyway.

That does, however, put Alissa Czisny‘s 180.75 from the Grand Prix Final win into serious contention. I love this girl, and want more than anything to see her succeed. It’s not too often that I find myself pulling for someone without any reservation, willing them to succeed. But she brings that out of me. And now more than ever, I believe in her, and I think she does, too. The girl’s got the goods. Her components are to die for, her spins the best in the business. Her long program is probably in my top two overall this season. It’s one of those feel-good, makes you sigh in contentment, can’t wait to see it again kind of programs. If she skates it like she’s capable of, she’s got a real shot here.

Rachael Flatt doesn’t want to be left out of the party. She comes in right behind Czisny in the score department with a 180.31. She’s had her ups and downs this year, trying to figure out what the international judges are looking for. I think she’s found it in her new “East of Eden” short program. Now, if only her injuries will allow her to put the triple-triple back into her long, she has a chance to really contend.

As much as it baffles me, we can’t have a conversation about medal contenders without bringing up Carolina Kostner. There’s something about her that judges can’t deny, and despite her seriously watered-down technical elements, she manages to score well on a fairly regular basis. She’s battled her share of injuries this year as well, but managed to come in 2nd to Czisny at the Final, and 2nd at Europeans. She’ll need to have a pretty spectacular event to take down the top two, but a medal’s never out of reach.

Six through nine on my top 10 contenders list are Kanako Murakami, Kiira Korpi, Ksenia Makarova, and Cynthia Phaneuf. All have had moments of brilliance this season, but never managed to put it all together at once. As with the men, these aren’t necessarily skaters with a chance at the podium, but they do have the opportunity to make a splash, and to end their season knowing they put it all out there among the best in the world.

So what about #10? Well, if you’re observant at all, you’ll notice that Olympic Champ Yu-Na Kim has eluded my list thus far. Reason being, she doesn’t have any kind of score to compare to the others this year. That in no way, however, eliminates her from contention for the title. It’s hard to say what kind of shape she’ll be in, or how well polished her programs will be. But I feel quite confident saying that she will be ready. She will be fierce. And she will fight for the right to once again stand atop the medal stand. She’s the best in the world when she’s on. It’s all a matter of how she will handle the unfamiliarity of competing two brand new programs for the very first time at the World Championships.

As for the medalists, I fully expect it to be something unexpected. But that may, in fact, be what is most logically predictable. You just never know, especially with this field. No matter what, though, it will be fun to watch.


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…