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…)

 

Moments that made memories — 2011 Year In Review December 31, 2011

Most years on December 31 I sit and wonder, “How is the year over already?!” This year, however, when I started to look back, I found myself thinking, “That was really all this year?”

Maybe I kept myself busy enough that the accomplishments seem too great for one year. Or, maybe, I just have a terrible memory and forgot half the things that really happened! (The latter is not entirely unlikely, I assure you…)

Regardless, I was looking back. And in looking back, I tried to come up with the top 10 skating stories or moments of the year. Again, there were a lot to choose from. Narrowing it down seemed daunting. But, I’ve come up with a lists that, to me, defines this year in skating.

From technical wonders to emotional triumphs and all the little moments in between, 2011 was quite the year for the world of figure skating.

Here’s my list.

10. Brandon Mroz  and the first ever ratified quad lutz.
I know many US skating fans want to see guys focusing on consistency and artistry before adding new elements, but that move is impressive. I have to give the kid props for even trying the trick!

9. Meagan Duhamel’s “Is it enough?!” moment at TEB ’11 & Rudi Swiegers saves Mark Ladwig at 4CC.
Every season has its off-ice moments that melt your heart. These two stand out for me, although there are plenty of others I could pull up and recall. These are the moments you see the person, not just the competitor. I love those moments.

8. Exciting rivalries
This year has had its share of exciting rivalries, and that’s what makes competitions so much fun. This year featured three big ones, starting with the obvious: Meryl Davis and Charlie White vs. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Training mates make the fiercest competitors. Then there is the former champ chasing the current champ, Daisuke Takahashi vs. Patrick Chan. (I know, I know. Everyone thinks it won’t matter what Dai does because of Patrick’s “two-fall cushion.” I happen to think it’s made Takahashi better, and the rivalry fascinating to watch.) Last but not least, the dynamic pack of pairs who have battled through this year’s Grand Prix Series — Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy vs. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov vs. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov.

Can I just say, I can’t wait for Worlds?! (more…)

 

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.

 

No, thank YOU, Asian television – 4CC 2011 February 21, 2011

Another skating weekend is in the books, and another set of medalists has been crowned…and believe it or not, we’re just one month from the end of the season! That’s how it always goes. But before I go on getting nostalgic about how quickly this spectacular post-Olympic season has come to an end, I better take one last look at the events from Taipei.

No thanks to Universal Sports (my vent on their inexcusable “tease” of US coverage is another post entirely), I saw bits and pieces of the competition via YouTube and a few online streams of Asian TV broadcasts. Thus my opinions are limited. Nevertheless, the results are telling, especially heading into Worlds.

As expected, the men’s and women’s events came down to a national battle between Japan and the USA.

For the ladies, Miki Ando capped of her successful season with another title, this one, perhaps, the best yet. She skated a beautiful short program to “The Mission” that showcased not only textbook jumps, but also a new attention to detail and expression. She seems to really feel this music, and that bodes well for her. Her long program was all she needed – every element, clean, precise, and high in difficulty. She gained the highest levels on most of her elements, and while her component scores were lower than those of second place Mao Asada, her superior technique won her the title.

Asada, I have to say, deserves an enormous amount of credit. I admittedly haven’t been an over-the-top fan of hers, but her disastrous start to the season as she retooled her jumps was heartbreaking. She seemed to have lost every bit of joy she used to skate with, and I began to wonder if she’d ever get it back. Then came Japanese Nationals where, although not perfect, she skated her way back into the running. And in Taipei, she looked nearly like the Asada of old. And boy, is she determined to include that triple axel!  Hopefully the fact that she landed this one will give her the confidence she needs to not let that one element dictate the rest of her program at Worlds. As good old Uncle Dick (Button) would say, my hat is off to her! (And adore her LP dress. That shade of purple is ravishing on her, and the sparkle is just right!)

I just have to reiterate the point that it’s a crushing blow that the US can only send two girls to Worlds. Case in point, Mirai Nagasu’s bronze medal finish this weekend. I’ll also say again that this girl has it all, and if she can put all the pieces together, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with world wide. Some minor errors in her short program kept her from challenging for the top of the podium, but she, too, deserves some credit. She said herself that she didn’t want to go home and train after her disappointment at Nationals. But she did. And she came in ready to prove herself. And she did. That long program was fabulous. Her charm is irresistible, and those jumps are simply stunning when she hits them. She’s up there with the best spinners, too…unless she makes some silly mistake as she did more than once this season! I can only hope that, as her coach Frank Carroll said, missing the World team this year was exactly what she needed as she prepares for her (hopefully!) long future.

Kudos to Rachael Flatt for improving her personal best long program score – a great step for her heading into Worlds, despite finishing off the podium. As for Alissa, I tweeted just after her skate that, even with her much-discussed “track record,” I’m not worried about the mistakes she made here. She said herself that she didn’t feel trained like she would have wanted to be, and that for Worlds, she’ll be much more ready, more prepared. I fully expect that to be the case, thus, I’m not worried.

Another interesting match up came between Daisuke Takahashi and Jeremy Abbott. As you know, Jeremy just missed the World team, but, as none of the top three men from Nationals competed in Taipei, he was the top American in the event. Daisuke has had a rough season as he heads toward defense of his World title. Now, his “rough season” is one many skaters would love to have, but for him, it was a disappointment.

Battling injuries and inconsistencies, he  came back strong this weekend, making his bid for the World podium a bit stronger. I feel this was an important win for him, not only for his confidence, but for the rest of the world to take note – don’t underestimate him next month in Tokyo!

The youngster who has been impressive this season, Yuzuru Hanyu, made his own splash, pulling up from fourth after the short program to finish second overall. Keep an eye on this one, folks. He just might be the next big thing.

As for Jeremy, I think this is a solid end to his season. He put the quad in his long program, albeit he fell on the attempt, but he also saw two spins receive only Leve 2’s yet again. I think, if anything, this event gave him a lot to think about for next year, and a lot to build from. I do have to say, I’m sad to see his beautiful long program come to an end, for the season at least!

The pairs even was less competitive due to extreme favorites and bizarre mishaps.

The soon-to-be-married Pang and Tong of China easily took gold, as expected. Perhaps in a more unexpected twist, Canadians Megan Duhamel and Eric Radford out-dueled their countrymen Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers to take silver and bronze respectively.

Rudi won the “fan-favorite” award, however, when he rescued American Mark Ladwig after the heel of his boot ripped free of his skate on the landing of a jump in the short program. Ladwig and partner Amanda Evora stopped, and were given three minutes to fix the problem and retake the ice. Without tools or extra parts, it looked pretty hopeless until Rudi swept in with his own boots – conveniently the size 9 Mark needed – and offered to let the pair finish with Mark wearing one of Swiegers’ skates!

Unfortunately for Evora and Ladwig, there was just one mishap too many here. But they have time now to step back from Nationals and push, once again, towards Worlds.

New national champs Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin finished just off the podium in fourth after missing the throw in their short program and struggling through their long. These uncharacteristic mistakes are hopefully out of the way now and they can improve upon their Nationals performances next month at Worlds. They, along with Evora and Ladwig hope to regain three World spots for the US with their performances in Tokyo.

The ice dance event should have been the climax – the showdown between training mates and rivals, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – fresh off an injury – and Meryl Davis and Charlie White – fresh off an unbeaten season. After the short dance, it looked like Virtue and Moir, despite the injury, hadn’t lost any ground on Davis and White.

Then came the free dance – the real main event. Rumor had it, Tessa and Scott’s program was likely to be the best ice dance had ever seen (okay, that sounds a bit dramatic, but just go with me here…). Samba and ice dance? Can it be done? And in the first 45 seconds of their skate, it looked like, YES, it can. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Tessa skated away from Scott, and it was over. Turns out, she pulled a muscle and decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I don’t know if I feel like that’s the whole story, though. Call me crazy, a conspiracy theorist, or what have you, but something about this just seems strange. Regardless, they withdrew from the event, leaving the another title to Meryl and Charlie.

And they didn’t disappoint, either. Their tango may be the most technically demanding free dance I’ve ever seen (at least until I get to see V/M’s entirely). They did a much better job here connecting with the emotion of the tango, but I still feel like something’s missing. Perhaps it’s just so tiring that they are too exhausted at the end to show any emotion, but for the season they’ve had, I feel like they should be having more fun. They don’t ever seem pleased with the performance…or the result, for that matter. I know their focus is a World Title, so maybe they’ve just got laser focus on that one goal, but I hope, should they win in Tokyo, that they at least look a tiny bit excited about it! Give me something, here!

I risk sounding like a broken record here, but the Shibutani’s free dance is one of my top two favorite programs of the season (the other being Alissa Czisny’s long program). They have more potential in one finger than many dance teams ever dream of. And, in the hands of Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva, I think they’ll reach it.

Which brings me to my final point, and the question of the blog – Can Igor and Marina be classified as the best ice dance coaches in the world? Think, for a minute, that Tessa and Scott didn’t withdraw. The podium would be owned by Igor/Marina teams. If you answered yes, what do you think makes them pull the best out of skaters? And if no, why not? And who is?

I can’t believe all the time we have to wait until Worlds, but I hope that gives the athletes enough time to regroup and refocus so that we witness a spectacular competition in Tokyo. It, once again, promises to be a good one!

Until then…

(P.S. – Universal Sports, if you’re reading this, you disappointed a whole “twiterverse” of skating fans this week. I hope you realize that your delayed coverage now would be a sad excuse for “coverage” at all, seeing how we’ve been able to catch up all weekend with videos posted online elsewhere. I try not to be too hard a critic, because I know much of these things aren’t up to you. But you shouldn’t have offered the hope of coverage if you had no intent of truly keeping us informed, as you said you would. It’s really too bad…you could have been the hero.)

 

Finally! December 15, 2010

Only a million years later, I’m back with final thoughts about the Grand Prix Final. I know, that was forever ago! But until I figure out a way to make figure skating analysis a full-time job, I sometimes have to put it aside to get other things done.

Nevertheless, I DO have final thoughts about the event, so I’m here to share. So, take a few minutes and relive these thoughts with me!

I’ll start out with the men. Now, if you paid attention to my Fantasy Picks this week, you know that I picked Patrick Chan to win here. I was feeling a little questionable about that choice after Nobu killed it in his Short program. But, knowing what kind of scores Chan is capable of pulling in, I knew he had the edge. I have to say, I was incredibly proud of him for putting out two basically clean programs. Yes, there was a little step out/turn out on the second triple axel in the long, but compared to his early season struggles, he did wonderfully! He’s still relatively young, and I believe he’ll only get stronger technically.

I actually thought he was a bit off as far as the expression, but perhaps he was so focused on hitting his jumps that his usual freedom throughout suffered a bit. Still, though, the best of the competition.

Oda was wonderful, too. His short program blew me away, so the struggles in the long were disappointing…mostly for him! He’s capable of such stunning jumps and artistry. If he can put it all together in back to back programs, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.

I did feel bad for Daisuke. He just seemed out of it throughout the competition. Perhaps the collision in practice did more damage than he wanted to admit, but he was clearly not himself. Kozuka took advantage of Takahashi’s weak performances, and was good enough for bronze.

I would have been very interested to see how the likes of Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon and Brandon Mroz would have fared here. I love me some Florent Amodio and Tomas Verner, but I feel there was a dramatic drop off in the level of competitiveness when we got to those two. I think Jeremy would have had a great shot for a medal for sure. World will be most interesting!

Meryl Davis and Charlie White were no surprise winners here. But what was surprising was how much I really enjoyed their Free Dance! I’ve always liked what these two put on the ice, but this year’s FD just didn’t quite seem to jive with their personalities or skating style…at least not in it’s original form. But now, they’ve polished up the choppiness and made every attempt to dive into the personality of the dance. And in Beijing, it was FABULOUS! I still see room for improvement, but that’s good. This isn’t the part of the season where they want to peak, so they still have room for that to happen by Nationals/Worlds.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are wonderful, too. They have such a charm about them and they’re just so easy to watch. Their personalities are naturally very likable, which plays into their Charlie Chaplin routine beautifully. They’ve set themselves up for success heading into Worlds as well, so I’ll be interested to see how they make minor adjustments to this program to make it more competitive. Well done, though!

I have to say, I was very proud of Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier. They’re skating a very tough program to “Eleanor Rigby.” The difficulty and intricacy of the choreography can easily make this program look heavy and labored, but in Beijing, I finally saw a sense of freedom and lightness to this free dance that was refreshing! They’re looking more and more comfortable competing at this level, and as they improve the program artistically, it improves technically as well. That’s a beautiful balance to have! (Side note: I’ve got to say, the dance event at Canadian Nationals may be the best event of the season! Although that same event in the US should be interesting as well…)

The Pairs competition wasn’t much of a surprise either. We all knew it would come down to Pang/Tong vs. Savchenko/Szolkowy. What we may not have known was that it would be a 21 point margin in favor of the Germans! Add S/S’s brilliant choreo and challenging – but well executed – technical elements to P/T’s mini meltdown (singled toe, singled axel, discredited spin), and you have an easy win for the former World Champs over the reigning champs.

Perhaps the bigger story, though, is the youngest Chinese team skating here, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han. They skated both on the junior and senior circuits this season, and it’s a wonder why they weren’t skating with the big kids before! They have a lot of maturing to do, but what is interesting to me about this team is how COP-friendly their programs are. I think we’re at the start of a new generation of skaters that, having been raised by the points system, will know how to use it fully, without having to over-think everything, who can then bring in their personality and creativity that some say has been missing as of late. Regardless, congrats to the kids for showing some of the veterans how it’s done!

For me, though, the entire event belonged to Alissa Czisny.

I have to say, I was worried about her after last season. I’ve always loved her, but she had always seemed to struggle when it mattered most. At some point, you begin to wonder what it is that’s holding an athlete back like that. Naturally, we start to think it’s in her head. Then it’s her technique. Then it’s her coach. Then it’s the coffee she drinks that my cousin’s best friend’s uncle’s boss’s husband says is bad for your stamina.

The reality is, we have no idea what goes through her head when she takes the ice, knowing it’s all on the line. We have no idea how much she fights for a performance, or how much she fears not doing well. So to see her struggle so at the end of last season was heartbreaking, because it seemed no one really, honestly knew.

Fast forward a few months, and  it’s been the ride of a lifetime to watch her rise from that, come into this season with that radiant smile, and a weight lifted off her shoulders – she seems to be skating for herself now, perhaps with a little bit of a chip on her shoulder for all those who said she’d never be back. Regardless of her motivation, she seems to be in a zone that has her locked in on every moment. She’s soaking it in, making it count…and sticking it to every person who ever wrote her off. And I love it!

Her programs this season are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in a long time. Her long program is my favorite ladies long of the year. She takes us on a journey with her, and the way she pulls off triple after triple…she soars, and so do we. She may not have had that perfect competition, but she has every single thing she needs to compete with anyone you put in her path. Her spins and most of her footwork can beat anyone in the world. If she keeps fine tuning her jump technique (which is a bit reworked), I can see even greater things to come. She just set herself up as the favorite at Nationals. (I know there are several contenders for the National title/podium, but I’m beyond excited to see a showdown between Alissa and Mirai. I love them both, so I don’t know who I’d choose…but I think they both have similar qualities to their skating as well as wonderful potential. It’s gonna be a fun one!)

What’s that, you say? Oh, other ladies skated in Beijing? My bad…back to the competition.

Italy’s Carolina Kostner took home the silver. She skated well for herself. I just don’t always understand where she pulls points out of, especially in her PCS scores. That’s a whole other debate, but her scores always boggle my mind, no matter where she places. I just don’t get it, most of the time. Still, though, she managed to finish 1 one hundredth of  a point ahead of Japan’s young star, Kanako Murakami.

Kanako is adorable. She has a fire in her, boy….she’s one to watch. She wants it, and she looks pretty determined to move up the ranks quickly so she can get it. The rest of the Japanese team better watch out, because she’s gunning for top honors at Japanese Nationals!

Honorable mention here to Miki Ando. She had a rough short program, but came back strong enough to actually win the long program in Beijing. However, the 4 girls in front of her skated well enough to hold their positions and Miki finished in 5th. She was my only Fantasy pick not to win here! (However, I did have Alissa Czisny, but she was in the B category…)

And there you have it, friends. Finally, Patrick Chan has a clean(ish) competition. Finally, Davis and White connected with their music, as did Crone and Poirier. Finally, Savchenko/Szolkowy took back their place at the top of the pairs world. Finally, Alissa Czisny can call herself the Grand Prix Final champion, knowing she earned every bit of that gold medal! And yes, finally, my review is done!

Looking forward to how the various nationals turn out. Some tight races for a few teams, for sure! Will try to keep you updated as those events take place.

Then, of course, there will be all sorts of action from US Nationals. I wish more than anything I could be there, but since I can’t, I’ll play the living room reporter role once again, and I hope you’ll all join me!

Until then…

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! December 8, 2010

We had the most wonderful snow storm this past weekend. And yes, I think snow is wonderful. In December, at least. My back yard was like a wonderland…and I was like a kid in a candy store when it started snowing. Moving from a real live “winter wonderland” into a land of cold-but-dry midwest winters is rough, especially when winter means skating season in its peak!

We’re in for another big storm this weekend, but the biggest storm is headed for Beijing, as the top 6 skaters/teams in each discipline take to the ice to prove their “regular season” successes were more than just luck. The competition will be tougher than it has been all season, so these athletes know they better be prepared.

Here’s how things break down.

Men: World Champ Daisuke Takahashi seems the likely choice for “favorite.” However, he hasn’t had the most spectacular of Grand Prix seasons. He has just the 4th highest season best of the Final competitors –  234.79 (Kozuka – 248.07, Chan – 239.52, Oda – 236.52), and he’s looked a bit off more than once so far. With his countrymen hot on his heels and Chan anxious to skate two programs worthy of his monumental scores, Dai better up his game. Don’t forget the impending “Battle of the MJs” between Amodio and Verner. Florent got his in first this season, and the impression was created with raving reactions from the audience (albeit not-quite-so-raving reviews from skating fans who saw too much standing and not enough skating). However, Verner’s attempt paled in comparison. Tomas still had a very solid GP season, and his short program is simply divine. But that long…well, I just hope he doesn’t have to skate right after Amodio this weekend.

Ladies: Miki Ando has the best score this season – 174.47 – over fellow Japanese skater Akiko Suzuki (172.74) and Alissa Czisny (172.37). Carolina Kostner and Kanako Murakami have the same season best score of 164.93. Yet again, the only constant for this event is that no one has had a spectacular season. In fact, despite some wonderful moments (Alissa’s gold at Skate Canada, Ando’s jump clinic at Cup of China, Murakami’s delightful short program), the ladies season has been a bit of a mess. Very few clean programs, and many cases of “she who falls the least wins.” There are some unlikely names on this Final list for that very reason! There’s just truly no way of guessing what will happen here.

Pairs: Savchenko and Szolkowy have the edge in season best score over Pang and Tong, 197.88 to 189.37. The other four couples are competing in the Final for the first time. Don’t forget the kids from China, though. Sui and Han made a big splash on the senior circuit, proving they can hang with the big kids. They are passing on the Junior Grand Prix final to compete at the senior level, so no doubt they’ll be eying a spot on that podium…Moore-Towers/Moscovitch and Bazarova/Larionov better watch their backs!

Ice dance: Davis and White looked to be the runaway favorites all season long, and they are certainly still highly favored here. But their season best is only 3.39 higher than that of the French team of Pechalat and Bourzat (165.21, 161.82 respectively.) The French team has gained ground, and they may have the best free dance of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing Meryl and Charlie skate their free dance to it’s full potential, and they will likely have an edge in the short dance. But they won’t be able to take this one without a fight, that’s for sure. Beyond that, however, it would appear to be a battle for bronze between several teams that have looked good at times this year, but don’t quite have the fire power to play with Davis and White just yet. Still, it should be a very competitive event, as usual!

 

My Fantasy picks have been made, and as always, a vlog with those picks is coming soon.

 

What are your thoughts heading into this weekend? These should be the best 6 competitors in their disciplines…do you agree? Who are you most surprised to see in Beijing? Who do you think will make the biggest splash? Let me know!

 

Next week I hope to look a little closer at the not-so-new-but-reemerging Code of Points debate. Hopefully this weekend will paint a clear picture of how the system is really working…and we’ll go from there.

 

My Twitter presence this weekend may be limited due to a heavy work schedule (hate it when “real work” gets in the way of my skating work!) but we shall see. I will certainly be letting you know how much live play-by-play I’ll be available for, so check twitter.com/FromTheBoards for all the info!

 

Until then…