Figure Skating: From the Boards

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.


Ladies Short Program Recap April 29, 2011

We’ve arrived at the ever-prestigious Ladies event (appropriately on the same morning as the also prestigious Royal Wedding!) and the ladies took to the ice with much to prove.

Canadian Amelie Lacoste skated early, but had a nice Worlds debut that kept her in first place until Mae Berenice Miete had her turn. She included a triple-triple combination, followed by lovely a triple loop and double axel. She has a beautiful quality to her skating, and a great combination of power and presence. I was quite impressed!

Kanako Murakami is the young fireball from Japan, and she came out with the usual energy and vivaciousness! She hit a big triple toe-triple toe combination, a solid triple flip, then had an unfortunate step put on the double axel, but her interpretation of this music is impeccable. She has oodles of energy and this program is great for her. I do miss her polka dot dress, though!

The first of the Russian hopefuls took the ice in an unfortunate, clown-like dress. However, as Irina Slutskya sat nervously with clenched fists on the sidelines, Elena Leonova skated a wonderful short program. She, too, hit a triple toe-triple toe, a triple flip, and a double axel. Everything was on cue and strong. The reaction from the crowd didn’t hurt, and she easily took the lead.

Carolina Kostner has the unfortunate reputation of skating poorly and being overly rewarded in the scores. She started out strong with a triple toe-triple toe combo, hit the double axel, then fell on the triple flip. She skates with great speed, but her transitions are average as are some of the other elements. Still, she ended up tied with Leonova after the short. And still, I don’t understand 8s for her components. (more…)


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.


Rostelecom, shmostelecom…It’s Cup of Russia time, people! November 18, 2010

Whether they call it by this new fangled name or not, it’s that time again! But before we get started, how about a quick story? Yes? Okay, good.

Once upon a time, my coworkers and I were having “one of those days.” You know the kind – everything you touch breaks, every time you think you’re a step ahead you learn you’re five behind, you have a headache the size of Texas, no matter what you do you can’t make anyone happy, and it seems like life’s just flying by without you.

You with me? Good.

So, it was that kind of day, and one of the afore mentioned coworkers was trying to describe the day by comparing us to fish trying to swim upstream…only instead of relating the comparison to salmon in a way that we’d know where she was going with it, she simply exclaimed, “Don’t you just feel like a trout?”

After we caught our breath from laughing, we decided that would essentially become code for “I’m having one of those days.” So now when we feel like we’re swimming upstream, someone just says, “Today feels like a trout day” and we all understand!

Well…this has been a trout week for me! Nothing particularly dramatic, but just always swimming against the current, not quite able to get a grip on the time flying by me! So excuse me while I take a quick, deep breath….


Okay. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the Rostelecom Cup preview (which I will be referring to as Cup of Russia…since that’s what it’s always been, and it’s even labeled that way on the ISU event page! It’ll be #CofR for you twitter bugs this weekend).

Last week’s format seemed to go over well, so we’ll be using it again, this time looking for the draw, the dark horse, and the darling (can’t have it exactly the same now, can we?!).

Let’s pick up with ice dance this week.

The draw: Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali (ITA) – reigning World bronze medalists, 3rd at Cup of China, they have the experience to correct their early-season mistakes here in Russia.

The dark horse: Ekaterina Bobrova and Dimitri Soloviev (RUS) – actually beat out Faiella/Scali at Cup of China a few weeks ago after capitalizing on mistakes from the Italians. They could very well do the same here, despite the experience of Federica and Massimo.

The darling: Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam (CAN) – the up-and-coming Virtue/Moir 2.0…they are just lovely. Such visually stunning elements and a charm that can’t be taught! I can’t help loving them.

Who do you like for pairs? I’ve got it down like this.

The draw: Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (RUS) – another pair of reigning World bronze medalists, this is their only Grand Prix of the season. However, they should have the fire power and experience to stand out here.

The dark horse: Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran (JPN) – they took 3rd earlier this season at NHK Trophy, and they’ll no doubt be aiming to improve on that here. Without some of the pairs power-houses skating in Russia, they might just do it.

The darling: Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig (USA) – the joy they have when they are on the ice is infectious. Plus, they bring a level of genuineness and class to any room they step into!

The men’s competition, as all season long, could get very interesting.

The draw: Toss up! Jeremy Abbott (USA)/Patrick Chan (CAN) – after Chan’s PCS scores from Skate Canada, he would seem to be the favorite. But his technical skills abandoned him in the short. If Jeremy skates clean and gets credit for all of his elements (i.e. all his required spins!), he could give Patrick a run for his money, especially if Jeremy hits the planned quad in the long.

The dark horse: Tomas Verner (CZE) – armed with probably his best short program to date, he has everything he needs to fight for the top spot. It will come down to how clean he is with his jumps and if he’s improved the PCS in the long. He’s been known to surprise people before…

The darling: Samuel Contesti (ITA)* his programs just make me smile. He often reminds me of Ryan Bradley in his ability to get the audience on his side, and I love to see him skate well!

*Okay, I’ll admit it…my personal favorites this week also happen to be the skaters drawing most of the attention. My “co-headliners,” Jeremy and Patrick are where my heart really lies. I do, however, have a soft spot for Samuel, so it works out anyway!

And of course, the ladies.

The draw: Miki Ando (JPN) – she’s skated, perhaps, the cleanest competition thus far in the ladies competition in the Grand Prix Series. If she maintains that technical prowess, she should have the edge. Watch out, though – her PCS won’t keep up with some of the rest of the world, including a few ladies here.

The dark horse: Oh boy…so many options to look at! Ksenia Makarova (RUS)/Ashley Wagner (USA)/Agnes Zawadzki (USA) – Ksenia is coming off of a very successful senior Grand Prix debut in Canada where she placed 2nd, and looked very solid. Ashley finished 5th at NHK, but she’s a skater you can never count out. And Agnes, well, she nearly pulled off the upset in her senior debut at Skate Canada. If she skates her long as well as she did her short in Canada, we could be in for a treat.

The darling: Akiko Suzuki (JPN) – once again, some favorites have already been mentioned. Still, there’s something very special about Akiko that has me constantly pulling for her. She skates with great speed and she has a very strong instinct to make each movement important to the overall performance. That is something I love to see.

And once again we’ve made it to the end! I hate making any kind of predictions (especially with Grand Prix Final spots on the line for some of the top skaters), but this is far less restrictive…anything could happen, but with simply the list of names in front of me and some knowledge of how things have gone for them in the past (plus a little bit of “gut-feeling!”), this is how I see things stacking up.

We’ll begin to see how right – or how wrong! – I am in just a few hours!

If you’re keeping track of my fantasy picks, check the video below. If you’re not, that’s fine too! It seems just when I think I’ve got it going right, one event goes and messes it all up! But that is, I suppose, the fun of fantasy sports…you just never quite know how things will go down!

Sadly, I won’t likely be able to tweet live play-by-play this weekend, due to my “trout week” schedule, but I’ll be posting comments here and there as I get updates on how things are coming along. And of course, a blog here and there in review.

Just a few more hours now. Good luck to all in Russia!

Until then…