Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or Bust: Dance party, anyone? January 23, 2013

PrintLet’s just go ahead and start here: Meryl Davis and Charlie White should leave Omaha with yet another National title.

As good as U.S. ice dance has become, as deep as this field is, as many ways as the rest of the podium could shape up, there is still no one near Davis and White, technically or artistically. It’s as simple as that.

That’s not to say the rest of the field isn’t improving, too. In fact, some of the U.S. teams are in the running for “most improved,” even internationally speaking. It’s just that Davis and White keep pushing the envelope, not for anyone else, but just to push themselves one step closer to a shot at Olympic gold.

They’ve done it this season, going undefeated so far. In fact, they haven’t stood anywhere but the top of the podium since losing the World Title to training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir last March.

I could talk about Meryl and Charlie all day, but the fact remains: they’re the class of the field. I can’t wait to see them throw down two more electrifying skates.

But, I’m equally as excited to see what the rest of the field does.

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt are one of those teams in the “most improved” category. They’ve been on the brink of breaking through before, and last year’s Nationals gave them a chance to do just that.

Everyone loved them at Skate America, and they took gold at the Ice Challenge Graz. They don’t quite have the speed and the flow of the world’s top teams, but there’s one thing they do as well as anyone else: entertain. Audiences buy what they’re selling from the moment they step on the ice. That makes for great fun, and combined with challenging technical elements, great scores.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue would love to repeat their Nationals performances from a year ago. Those performances validated their new partnership, and gave them a spot on the World Team. But, their path to the podium won’t be easy. Not with Madison Chock and Evan Bates hungry for a shot of their own.

Chock and Bates have an ethereal quality to their skating. Plus, they are so committed to the characters of their programs that it’s nearly impossible not to get sucked into the story they create! They built slowly as the season progressed, starting with an unsatisfying performance at the US International Classic in Salt Lake, but finishing with a much better Cup of China competition. They’re scores put them right in the medal hunt, and in fact, only one team not named Davis/White has a higher season’s best than they do: Maia and Alex Shibutani.

The Shibs have had to deal with some significant physical limitations this season. Alex, dealing with a left leg injury, struggled through the competition in Russia. After treating that, though, their NHK Trophy performance was much stronger. They finished third with a 154+.

Since then, they’ve made improvements to the overall polish of their programs, and especially to the Short Dance. Technically, they’re right up there. Still young, they don’t always pull in the component marks. But, they are still, at least on paper, the second-best team in America.

They just have to prove it.

The battle for the podium will be fierce, no doubt. With five teams capable of earning a trip to Worlds, and only three spots available, there will be fireworks. And it’s going to be awesome.

Who would you like to see on the podium?

Here are my picks.

Gold: Davis/White
Silver: Shibutani/Shibutani
Bronze: Chock/Bates
Pewter: Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt

 

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter (@FromTheBoards) for updates from Omaha. And, if you’re an instagramer, follow me @TaraBethW for pictures throughout the week!

 

And So It Begins: 2012 US International Classic September 28, 2012

I’ve decided that life has a way of spiraling  out of control most when I’d rather be watching skating!

Okay, so it hasn’t been totally out of control. But a move and a new project at work have kept me from the US International Classic videos until, well, right now. But with Neblhorn happening now and Skate America right around the corner (can you believe it?) I’ve definitely been itching to sneak a look at some of the performances from Salt Lake City. 

This event welcomed several skaters I, for one, was anxious to see.

Lindsay Davis & Mark Ladwig, for example.

Their pairing is interesting to me. There isn’t an automatic, “this is going to catch on like wild fire” vibe from them. But, it’s still so new, there is a little bit of push and pull. They just need time. I like some of the artistic elements — a little more drama, perhaps! The technique will come along. I just hope they don’t get frustrated with the results until then.

Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch — I love this duo. She is a little dynamo. And it’s nice to see so much emotion in their skating again this year! And those throws? GORGEOUS. As soon as their short program started, I realized we’d just jumped up a level. The speed, the strength, the confidence, it was all there. A few stumbles here and there, but they have a lot to work with this season … and some pretty grand expectations of themselves.

Tiffany Vise & Don Baldwin — First comeback free skate of the season? They recovered from a disappointing 5th-place short program to leapfrog country mates Felicia Zhang & Nathan Bartholomay for the bronze. They always do something interesting and unique. It’s nice to see them skate well to go with their great programs!

How about the ladies?

Gracie Gold is precious. At such a young age, and with so little senior experience, she always looks so polished, so poised. She really takes her time with the choreography — something that often gets lost in the shuffle of point counting. She had some trouble in the second half of her free skate (which she was not happy about) but this gives her room to build. I worry, sometimes, that the expectations already on her shoulders are too much to live up to. But, she has the talent, no doubt.

Agnes Zawadski — her jumps are ridiculously gigantic. Yes, ridiculously gigantic. She skates with so much power! Sometimes it’s too much, but this early in the year? She looks in complete control. A few bobbles here and there, but nothing to be terribly concerned with. Her struggles will likely come if she has a tough competition. In the past, that has gotten to her in a big way. But this was a great victory — mentally, even more than physically — to get her on track for the year.

I have a feeling the battle in the ladies’ competitions this year is going to be something else. And at US Nationals? It could be anyone’s game! (more…)

 

Trouble in paradise: Shpilband out in Canton June 4, 2012

“Drama” and “Ice Dance.”

Are there two more synonymous words?

None that I know. Yet, typically the drama plays out on the ice in superfluous arm movements, over-the-top music selections, and gaudy costume embelishments.

Occasionally the drama comes in the form of hotly contested competition results, based on the long-standing history of biased judging. In the wake of the skewed numbers, the drama sometimes spills over into press conferences, interviews, and direct quotes, stirring the pot even more visciously … particularly in the social media age.

Drama is just a part of the game. But when the theatrics shock even those on the inside? That’s when we’ve hit an all-time drama high.

Where does this rank on the list of “Most Shocking Coaching Splits” in skating history?

Need an example? How about Igor Shpilband The Great being fired from his own rink because, according to the Detroit Free Press, the top three teams in the world gave their club an ultimatum — he goes, or we go? How’s that for insider drama?

Certainly we can’t think this is the story in its entirety. For a coaching team as flawless as Shpilband/Zoueva to split in such blind-siding fashion, there has to be something more going on.

For both of the world’s top two teams to, at different times, say the coaching situation worked because both Igor and Marina gave each team 100% and never played one against the other, then refuse to even come back to the rink until their once-fearless leader was sent on his way, tells more than the words themselves express.

Now, I’m not about to speculate on what happened or when. But Shpilband was admittedly working with a handful of other skaters, perhaps doing more on his own than within the tight-knit group that has rocketed to the top of the food chain. Surely there’s more to it than three elite teams feeling slighted.

According to the 24-hour news cycle (a.k.a. “Twitter”), Charlie White’s mother made mention that the skaters are stuck in the middle of a coaches’ feud, rather than being the instigators of the split themselves.

Not sure that makes any of this better. How unfortunate that the world’s best ice dance coaches and the world’s best ice dancers could lose something that has been pure magic over conflicting ideas, regardless of whose decision it ultimately was!

The decision, nevertheless, shakes up the rock-solid Canton Dynasty, if in no other way than that, for the first time since Davis/White and Virtue/Moir began training together, there is uncertainty.

The unknown is enough to unerve the strongest minds. And depending on how the chips fall, the commradere and chemistry of the club will likely be disrupted.

How will it impact the training atmosphere? What will be “missing” that was there with both coaches? Can the streak continue sans-Igor? Do the skaters all stick with Marina in Canton? Which younger skaters or other teams venture off to Igor’s new rink (wherever that might be) and how much does the speculation weigh on the shoulders of the current and former world champs?

… see? Who said the off season would be boring?!

What do you think happens in Detroit as we speed towards the season’s start?

 

Nice — Dance, Dance, Dance March 30, 2012

 

Nice, Take Two: Ice Dance Preview March 25, 2012

“Sheer French magic, right here on the French Riviera.”

That was the announcer’s description of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat’s World Championship-winning Free Dance in the year 2000. The duo — who had finished second the two years before — won their first World Title in front of their home crowd, capping off an undefeated season, to boot.

Marina and Gwendal were second headed into the Free Dance, after placing first in each of the two compulsory rounds, but second (to Italians Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio) in the Original Dance. To win the title, they needed to finish strong.

Their Free Dance to the ever-dramatic Carmina Burana was masterful. The speed and precision was matched by intensity and passion. Their elements were woven in and out of the uniquely crafted choreography. You could feel the tension in the building, the French crowd seemingly willing them to victory.

The noise level built steadily throughout, and when they hit their signature lift — yes, the one where she does the lifting and he does the posing! — there was no stopping the eruption, or Mama Anissina’s tears as the camera flashed to her in the stands.

It was the moment they’d been building towards, planning for, and dreaming of: winning gold on French ice. And they’d done it.

Now, there is another French team who has been dreaming of a title, taking a number of turns around Championship ice, but always falling just short. And yet again, they’ve hit a speed bump.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat have twice finished just off the podium at Worlds. This year, they looked primed to take one of the top three spots, until a training accident left Pechalat with a severely broken nose and a need for surgery to repair the damage done. However, surgery would have surely kept them from competing. So, instead they chose to risk it — she skated with a protective mask in practices, taking care not to further the injury. But their determination to skate in front of their home-country fans and create their own French magic has them in Nice, readying to compete once again.

Standing in their way, though, is a host of anxious challengers, hungry for their own spot on the podium. Certainly the most likely candidates for medals come from the current hot-bed of ice dance — North America.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are sure to impress in Nice, what with their French inspired Free Dance and all. Plus, they’ve made a steady rise this season and could be set to peak at just the right time. So, too, could be their closest rivals — Americans (and reigning World bronze medalists) Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani.

Now, a few short months ago (say, before U.S. Nationals), I would have undoubtedly given the nod to the Canadians. They have plenty of miles on their programs this season, they’re comfortable, confident, and committed, both to the character of the dance and to their medal hunt. The Shibutanis, then, were not capitalizing on the potential of their samba Short Dance, and it was costing them.

These two had great expectations placed on them this year, after their meteoric rise through the senior ranks last season. But let’s not forget — this is only their second year on the senior circuit!

That said, they’ve put in massive amounts of work, not just on their SD, but now on their FD as well, working with dance pro Corky Ballas. And my, oh my does it show, even in the short practice clips we’ve seen. This may just be the ticket to topping the Canadians.

The Russian team of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev would like to make a podium push, as well. The Russian dominance in Ice Dance for so many years has been seriously lacking. These two would like to change that. However, they themselves are seriously lacking in some areas. They have the skills, but often they lack the quality — which, in judge-speak equals Grade of Execution points.

Ice Dance has truly become a highlight of any event, especially at this level for two reasons — the level of depth and competitiveness, and the brilliance of Davis/White and Virtue/Moir.

This battle for gold could be one for the ages. Both teams are so equally capable. Their programs are suited to the system perfectly. While some (myself included) find Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s waltz a far better carriage for their skills, others prefer Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s Funny Face dance.

The reality is, on paper, these two teams are separated by a razor thin edge. At least, they should be. This title will come down to two things … and probably really only one.

Levels and components.

Take careful note of both teams’ base value mark. If the Americans haven’t upped the levels of some of their biggest elements in the Free Dance, they’ll lose the gold to their Canadian rivals. If they have, however, made the changes, the base values will be nearly identical. In which case, it is all about execution and performance — the PCS marks.

The only thing we know for sure is that the fight is on. And because of that, we may just see two of the greatest Worlds dance performances of all time.

Yeah, it could be that good.

When the dust settles, here’s how I see it shaking out.

GoldTessa Virtue and Scott Moir 
Silver Meryl Davis and Charlie White
BronzeMaia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
Fourth — Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje

* I could be wrong, but I think Nathalie’s injury will keep them from surging as they’d need to to overtake the youngsters ahead of them.

Competition fuels greatness. We’ll have plenty of both this time around in Nice.

 

It’s a Numbers Game February 28, 2012

Sometimes, life happens at a rate that makes keeping up with everything nearly impossible.

There’s not much I love more than previewing, covering, breaking down, and just simply talking (or, in this case, writing!) about figure skating. Sadly, I haven’t yet turned it into a full-time gig, so sometimes things get in the way.

Why am I telling you all this? Because, if you’ve been keeping up with my 4CC vlog reviews, you’ll have noticed one glaring hole — that of the ladies recap! Unless there is an overwhelming demand for that video to actually be created, I think we’re well past the event and, thus, beyond a basic (read: normal) breakdown.

But, what I do have is something else.

I have the protocol breakdowns I promised!

Now, this is how keep track and compare. You’ll have to let me know if it makes sense on paper like it does in my eyes!

Here’s an idea of how it works.

The elements and scores are broken down one-by-one and side-by-side. They are not necessarily in order as you’d find in the program itself, because I’ve tried to match up the elements in both programs for the closest comparison possible. (All of that means, if both skaters do a triple lutz, those jumps will be side-by-side in the spreadsheet, for easy comparison.)

When an element isn’t identical, I’ve placed it with the closest substitute: three-jump combos, for example, don’t always have the same specific jumps, but the comparison of the element as a whole is made simple.

Here’s a little taste from Ashley Wagner’s FS compared to Mao Asada’s. (more…)

 

Vlog: 2012 4CC Breakdown — Ice Dance February 22, 2012

 

Search “From the Boards” on facebook to let me know what protocol breakdowns you’d like to see first!