Figure Skating: From the Boards

Skate America: Ladies and Gents October 16, 2012

Let’s get right down to it — another skating season has arrived.

We’re past the Senior B events. We’ve seen the Japan Open. Some of the top skaters have had the chance to put their programs on competition ice for the first time, others will soon have that chance. But the time for planning and preparation is nearly over; it’s time to get this party started!

So, here we go.

There are always significant storylines in the season opener … this year is no different.

Ladies First

There is little doubt that Ashley Wagner comes into this event as the favorite. And after what she showed at the Japan Open, there’s good reason for that.

I recently compared the debut of her new Free Skate to a Michelle Kwan season debut — it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a skater put out a program for the first time and look so ready, so confident … and rightfully so.

Last season did this girl good in more ways than one. Last year, she proved something to herself. Now, she’s out to prove it to the rest of the world.

Her biggest competition will likely come from the Russians — World Silver Medalist Alena Leonova and 2011 World Junior Champion Adelina Sotnikova.

Leonova, too, competed at the Japan Open. She was not nearly as “big stage” ready as Wagner. Granted, both girls competed Free Skates only, but Leonova’s 107+ was no match for Wagner’s 123+.  Still, we saw last year that she is capable of taking advantage of the mistakes of others, as well as hitting big, beautiful jumps that rack up those points.

Sotnikova, on the other hand, is already a three-time Russian champion … and yet, is in her first season where she is age-eligible for Worlds. Last year — her first on the Senior Grand Prix circuit — she took home two medals.

She, too, opened her season early — at Nebelhorn Trophy — where she finished a somewhat disappointing second.

Haruka Imai has already had one magical moment this season — rebounding from 9th in the Short Program at Nebelhorn to 3rd overall. I’ve been waiting for Imai to have a breakout season. She has some truly beautiful moments in her programs, and when she lands the jumps, they, too, area beautiful. Perhaps this is the year.

Viktoria Helgesson took third in this event last season. She followed that with a fifth-place finish at Trophee Eric Bompard. There’s just something about her that makes me close my eyes and imagine that she’s skating inside a snowglobe. She’s stunning. Sometimes, though, stunning doesn’t come with clean triple jumps.

Don’t forget about the other American girls in this event!

Both Christina Gao and Rachael Flatt have the fire power to make a move here.

Gao is in her second season as a senior — this time, making the decision to juggle a Harvard education and skating all at once.

Flatt understands that struggle, as a sophomore at Stanford. But, both have committed to continue training. And both are looking to rebound from disappointing — and at times injury riddled — seasons last year.

Prediction time!

Gold: Ashley Wagner
Silver: Adelina Sotnikova
Bronze: Alena Leonova

Spoiler Alert: Haruka Imai

The Boys of Fall

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting.

In the last few Olympic cycles, I have to say the men’s competition has been even more drama-filled than the ladies’. Story after story, comeback after catastrophe, dual top-billings throughout the year … I love it!

Last year, Skate America was, for lack of a gentler term, kind of a splat fest.

Often, that’s what we see in the first event out. However, the names this week are enough to keep me hoping for some fireworks, even in the opening event.

With Evan Lysacek pulling out with an injury (he’s been replaced by Armin Mahbanoozadeh),  Jeremy Abbott stands alone as the top US man in Washington.

I have to say, I am very much looking forward to his programs this season … but, I’m also curious to see how he comes back from a disappointing World Championships.

And, if he has the quad ready to go.

You know who does have a quad ready to go? Michal Brezina. And Yuzuru Hanyu. Um, and Takahiko Kozuka.

Brezina is the reigning Champion at this event after shocking most everyone but himself by holding on to the win last year. But, he struggled to hold onto that consistency, falling to 6th by Worlds. At Nebelhorn, he was fifth with a score that didn’t seem to hint at a return trip to the top of the Skate America podium.

Hanyu started his season at Finlandia Trophy where he overcame a rough Short Program to overtake Javier Fernandez in the Free Skate for gold. He was helped by a pair of quads and a pair of triple axels.

Takahiko Kozuka finished third at Skate America last season. He is a skater who seems to have all the pieces, but not all at once. There could be an interesting battle beginning between Kozuka and Hanyu — not just at SA, but for the remainder of the season.

Don’t forget Tomas Verner, though his more recent skates haven’t been quite up to his best. He has a beautiful quad toe that could put him in contention.

Gold: Yuzuru Hanyu
Silver: Takahiko Kozuka
Bronze: Jeremy Abbott

Spoiler alert: Michal Brezina

 

More on the Pairs and Dance teams tomorrow! And, a little bit of special news on Thursday.

We’re almost there!

 

A Look Ahead: Men of the GP Series May 22, 2012

Yesterday was the day. Where you surprised by the Grand Prix assignments? If you’re an Evan Lysacek fan, you were likely disappointed. Conversely, if you’ve been anticipating a Johnny Weir comeback, you may have squealed to see his name on the list twice.

Over the next few days, we’ll take a look at each discipline separately and how the assignments line up for each event.

Since the men have been the talk of the town (my “town,” anyway!) we’ll give them the first shake.

Here’s the Skate America lineup:

Michal Brezina (CZE)
Tomas Verner (CZE)
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)
Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Konstantin Menshov (RUS)
Alexandra Majorov (SWE)
Jeremy Abbott (USA)
Douglas Razzano (USA)
TBA (USA)

Not too shabby, eh?

As has become the norm, the biggest competition will come from the Japanese contingent, although it’ll be the Abbot — competing at Skate America for the first time in his career — who will have the support of the hometown crowd.

Last season proved we can’t count out quad-master Michael Brezina, and when he’s at his best, Tomas Verner is a force to be reckoned with as well.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see Douglas Razzano along side Abbott for Team USA. He’s a real “skater’s skater” with the elegance and musicality that can bring an entire arena to its feet. If he can match that artistry with technical difficulty, he’ll be well on his way!

Then there’s that haunting “TBA.”

What — or should I say who — is that spot for? Naturally, the rumor mill would lean naturally toward that spot being for reigning Olympic Champ Evan Lysacek who has made no secret about his wish to compete in Sochi. However, there have been more than a couple roadblocks along the way.

Last season, there was the “contractual issues” with the USFS that kept him from returning to competition. While the details of that conflict were not made public, it has been reported that it wasn’t simply “Evan wanting more money” like it came across the first time, but far more complicated than that.

With that assumed to be resolved, it was a bit surprising to NOT see Evan’s name on the assignment list. However, there are plenty of explanations (read: “assumptions!”) that don’t involve him not staging a comeback.

Perhaps he didn’t want the GP spot. He’s made mention of wanting to compete at Senior B events to ease back onto the international scene. He’s a proven champion, so maybe he simply feels it a better option to start small and work his way back up towards Nationals and Worlds, sans the fall series. Or maybe, he’s scheduled to compete on the Dancing With The Stars All-Star season this fall. Who knows, save Frank Carroll and Lysacek. But, perhaps that TBA spot is reserved should he choose to accept it after all.

How’s that for drama surrounding the first event of the season, eh?! (more…)

 

Nice, Day 3 — It’s Raining Men March 30, 2012

Okay, maybe the music choice at the arena during yesterday’s Zamboni breaks was a premonition of sorts?

The Men’s Short Programs today seemed to follow the trend of the Pairs Short programs — sloppy and in some cases, quite shocking. For an event with so much depth and potential firepower, we sure saw a lot of mistake-filled mayhem today.

In a field with so many medal contenders, hope reigned supreme as the Short Programs began. But alas, it was not meant to be. Some long-shot medal hopefuls like Nan Song and Tomas Verner fell out of the top ten. Some not-so-long-shot contenders like Takahiko Kozuka and Artur Gachinski did the same. And that was only a taste of what we’d see.

It just wasn’t their day …

There were great hopes for the American men in Nice. Both seemingly skating well enough that a top-five finish was well within reach.

Adam Rippon was the first of the two to skate and his triple flip-triple toe combination set things off just right. But the pesky triple axel and a completely uncharacteristic mistake on the Rippon-triple Lutz resulted in technical scores some nine points off the lead. He did his best to keep up the performance, but the component scores (too low, in my opinion) didn’t do him any favors today.

After others had faltered, there was room at the top for Jeremy Abbott. But when he landed a little loose on the first jump in his triple flip-triple toe combo, he tried to muscle the second jump anyway … unfortunately, his efforts were in vain and he went down. A superb triple axel seemed to have him back on track, but a wobbly double lutz did him in. A level 1 call on his upright spin didn’t help gain back any points, either.

The good news is, he had the third-highest component scores of the day — less than two points behind Patrick Chan! Jeremy has long been undermarked on his PCS, so that was delightful to see. And just think: a clean program would likely have resulted in those marks going even higher!

As I mentioned, it was also not Takahiko Kozuka’s day. He fell on his opening quad toe, then caught an edge on the ride out of his triple axel and went down again.

His countryman and co-favorite Daisuke Takahashi had some troubles, too, as he tried — unsuccessfully — to tack a triple toe onto the end of his quad toe at the start of the program. Fortunately for him, though, the rest of his program was superb. Not a single negative grade of execution mark was given, outside of the botched combination. He also had the second-highest component scores — also well deserved.

Even Patrick Chan bumbled around a bit today. He was wild on the landing of his quad toe, so he had to add the combination back in later on (which he did beautifully, on the end of a lovely triple flip). And in his trademark footwork, he didn’t look quite over his feet a few times. He managed to stay vertical throughout, but there were a few close calls. And, appropriately, the scores mirrored that. Nothing untouchable about an 89.41. Well … normally.

Today, maybe it would hold.

It’s go time!

At least SOMEONE had a day!

So there were a few bright spots today. A few guys lived up to the moment the World Championships can provide and while not all of them have spectacular placements, they have skates to be proud of.

Javier Fernandez is a bit of a wild card here. He is more than capable of matching up with the best in the world, but he doesn’t have the “big game” experience that tells you how he might perform. Well, he came in after a hot mess of sloppy programs, and threw down a quad toe, triple lutz-triple toe combo, and a scratchy-but-rotated triple axel. Oh, and a whole heap of charm and personality! His coach, Brian Orser, expected higher scores for his young protege, but nevertheless, this was a skate to be proud of.

Brian Joubert came out, all guns blazing and tried to steal the show, too. He had a quad toe-triple toe combination, a triple axel, and a triple lutz that reminded us how he’d been at the top in the not-too-distant past. Sure, his choreography is a little lacking compared to the very best. But with the boost of the French crowd, he squeezed every ounce out of that performance. I was happy for him.

The biggest surprise, though, was Michal Brezina. Yes, he’s had some success this season. But normally against unimpressive fields. Don’t get me wrong, he deserves the praise. He has this Short Program so ingrained that I’m positive he could do it blindfolded. And it’s no slouch of a program, either. A triple axel, triple flip-triple toe combo and a quad salchow late in the program? That’ll do! His PCS aren’t quite Abbot/Takahashi/Chan-esque, but when you deliver those goods (and no one else does), it works just fine.

Standings after the Short

So here’s how it stands:

1. Patrick Chan (89.41)
2. Michal Brezina (87.67)
3. Daisuke Takahashi (85.72)
4. Brian Joubert (83.47)
5. Javier Fernandez (81.87)

9. Jeremy Abbott (74.85)
10. Adam Rippon (73.55)

Theoretically, it’s certainly still possible for the Americans to move up and snag that magic number 13 (to gain a third team spot for next year). Sixth and Seventh place would do it (or fifth and eight, fourth and ninth … you get the idea), but that means making up 5+ points over the three ahead of them. So that’s the task at hand. Now if it was only so simple!

(See complete SP results here: http://www.isuresults.com/results/wc2012/SEG005.HTM)

 

Here’s to a more inspiring free skate for the men on Saturday!

 

Nice, Take Two: Men’s Preview March 23, 2012

In the year 2000, Alexie Yagudin pulled off the three-peat, taking his third world title in Nice after rediscovering his passion for the sport. He skated a short program of technical genius, and a long program that, although flawed, was packed with superior emotional depth.

Along the way, his closest rival — one Evgeni Plushenko — crumbled under the pressure of completing an undefeated season and the potential to become the youngest men’s world champ in history to finish fourth overall.

Veteran Canadian champ Elvis Stojko and American Michael Weiss took silver and bronze.

“If I will not work anymore and I will just keep my levels on the same position, I will lose my title,” Yagudin said after the short.

Wisdom from a skater who would go on to elevate his skating to far greater levels on the way to Olympic glory. This time around, however, perhaps the same could be said by other returning champions heading to Nice for the premiere event of the season.

The men’s event has the potential to get a little crazy, with the “on paper” predictions likely to fall to the reality of slippery ice and an intensely deep field. Still, there are some things we can expect.

Patrick Chan is the hunted.

No matter how you slice it, Chan is the favorite, and deservedly so. The fact is, he has elevated his skating, namely by including two quads in his free skate while maintaining top levels on on footwork and 9s plus in program components. He’ll be tough to beat.

Still, he’ll have some competition.

The man with the best chance? Daisuke Takahashi, of course. He, too, has stood on that top step and would love to reclaim his title. But to do so, he’ll have to skate perfectly clean programs for the first time this season. While many argue his superior choreography and emotional depth, it all comes down to the nitty gritty of technical content in his battle for gold.

Should the top two falter, don’t worry — there are plenty of challengers ready to take their place on the podium!

There’s Jeremy Abbott who is perhaps more comfortable and focused than ever before, and Takahiko Kozuka who oozes talent, but hasn’t quite been able to leave it all on the ice when it counts. His younger countryman Yuzuru Hanyu has massive jumps and captivating artistry, while Adam Rippon has stunning artistry, but is still reigning in the jumps. Don’t forget Javier Fernandez who won the short program at Skate Canada over Patrick Chan, or Brian Joubert who is looking to reestablish himself among the world’s best.

Then there are Artur Gachinzki, Denis Ten, and Michal Brezina who are each capable of throwing down competitive programs.

And one on my personal radar is Misha Ge. This kid is a ball of energy with some really solid skating to go with it!

Phew! Looking at that list, I’d say it’s safe to expect some shakeups!

So what’s it going to take to make that podium?

Well, this season we’ve seen the quad once again claim the spotlight. Not that it ever really went anywhere, but it looks more unlikely than ever that a title would be one sans-quad jump. That’s why Jeremy Abbott is putting it in, Fernandez has two different quads, and Artur Gachinzki could be relevant. Clean quads will be important.

But really, that’s only part of the story.

Remember all the hulabaloo when Chan falls and still wins? That’s because his programs start at a higher base value that others. It’s the “everything else” score — the steps, the spins, the components. And he milks the system like none other. The guys who do that best, could be the ones who land on the podium.

And while it could shake out a variety of ways, here’s how I see it:

GoldChan
SilverTakahashi
BronzeAbbott
FourthKozuka

Call it playing it safe, but is there a chance the most predictable picks could pay off?

Don’t forget, as far as the Americans are concerned, they are also skating to regain a third spot on next year’s World Team. To do that, remember, their combined placements must total no more than 13. As much as they’re skating for themselves, you better believe that’s a goal in the back of their minds.

We’ll see, in only a matter of days now!

But I want to hear from you — what skater do you expect to bring the house down in Nice?

 

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: The Grand Prix Final December 7, 2011

Earlier this week, I posted my icenetwork.com Fantasy Skating column in preparation for the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City. Fantasy, though, is a whole different competition than, well, the competition! So, how ’bout a complete preview?

Yes?

Okay, good.

We’ll start with the Ladies and the Gentlemen. Pairs and Dance later.

Ladies

The thing about these ladies’ events compared to ladies events of the past is there’s no clear-cut favorite. No Michelle Kwan. No Yu-Na Kim.

Five of the six ladies have won a Grand Prix event this season. Six of six have programs that accentuate their strengths.

Asada's Free Skate from NHK Trophy

Akiko Suzuki‘s free skate scores are nearly identical in her two events on the season. For her, (much like Alissa who I’ll get to in a moment) it is a matter of two clean programs back to back. She skates with more joy than any other lady on the ice. This year, she seems to have more attack as well, which bodes well for her completing the jumps.

Battling her way back to championship form, Mao Asada has proven herself quite the ray of sunshine, too! The smile she skates with this year is one I haven’t seen in … I can’t even say how long. I adore her short program and the character she brings to it (plus, what a great costume!), and her long, though recycled from last season, is a beauty. But those jumps have to be clean if she wants to win here. UPDATE: Sadly, Mao has withdrawn from the Final, due to the severity of her mother’s illness back home in Japan. She has flown home to be with her mom. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.

Speaking of comebacks, Carolina Kostner is in the midst of one of her own. In the past, I’ve been quite vocal about judges’ tendency to over-mark her. This year, though, she has packaged her skating in a way that better justifies her scores. Now, she still isn’t doing the “hard” jumps (lutz/flip), but the jumps she does do are strong. Plus, she genuinely believes in her choreography this year — something I’ve never seen from her before.

Alissa Czisny had her reinvention last  year. This time around, she is trying to continue on. Her short program is one of my favorites of the season. It absolutely fits her to a “T.” She just needs to hit the jumps. She’s certainly capable, as proven by her free skate in Paris (only Asada brings a better LP score to Canada). If she skates clean, she has a great shot at gold.

Then come the Russians. Aleona Leonova is trying her best to keep her young teammates from stealing all of the spotlight. This girl has more energy than I would know what to do with! Her short program is great. Her free skate, though, just hasn’t been up to par with the top tier ladies this season.

And then there was one. Elizaveta Tuktamisheva. I hate buying into hype early in on a season — a career, even. We’ve seen far too many “flash in the pan” phenoms for me to get too excited too fast. This little darling, however, has me singing her praises just two competitions into her senior career. I have no idea where she will go after this season. (Not to Worlds, though, because she’s still a baby!) But for now, she’s the only lady in the event to have two GP golds. She’s for real … at least for now.

Podium:
(no particular order)

Czisny
Tuktamisheva
Asada  (more…)

 

Breaking it down: Rostelecom Cup November 28, 2011

It seems impossible, but the Grand Prix series for 2011 is over, save the Final in a few weeks. We’ve seen a little bit of everything this year, so I continue to expect the unexpected as we go forward through the GPF, Nationals, Europeans, Worlds, Four Continents … they’re really not as far off as they seem! In fact, the US Nationals competitors list was just released, if you’re interested.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s take one last look back at the sixth and final GP event of the season.

Meryl and Charlie … and everyone else

One of the more tender moments of their FD.

To be fair, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were fantastic. But there’s just no comparison to what the World Champs are doing.

Their free dance this year is, in its purest form, exactly what ice dance should be. It’s a waltz. And while there are times it could have a more waltz-y feel, what they do in this program is brilliant. I’ve said I don’t believe Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s FD shows off their strengths, but the opposite is true of Davis and White. Their polish is evident despite the complexity of this skate. And the crazy thing? There’s still room for improvement. I expect come Worlds, this program will be stunning. I’m excited to watch it develop. (And that’s not even mentioning their sizzling short dance! Charlie stumbled in this event, but they have the samba mood down pat.)

Weaver and Poje have one of my favorite free dances of the year. Yes, the falling strap can be a tad distracting, but you’d be hard pressed to find any dance team who pours as much emotion into a dance as these two. You almost feel like your heart is breaking along with Kaitlyn’s by the end! That’s powerful stuff. Plus, they skated it really well. They have always seemed to struggle to get the high marks from the judges, but they’re coming into their own and their confidence shows.

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev were quite the home crowd pleasers, but finished a distant third.

Nix the triple axel, take the gold

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy got me again. In their first match up with Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (at NHK Trophy), I figured they had the upper hand. Problem was, they were determined to try their latest trick — that

Every element is sharp and clean and, well, perfect.

throw triple axel. It cost them when they couldn’t hit it cleanly.

I assumed they would continue that daring here, thus I picked Kavaguti and Smirnov. But no. The reigning World Champs went the “safe” route and stuck to more manageable throws. (You know, like the lutz and loop. “Easy” stuff!) The result?

Gold.

Good for them. They skated a fantastic free skate that gave them the top international score of the season from the other Russian stars, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.

When these three end up at the same event (like the GPF), watch out. There will be fireworks! (more…)