Figure Skating: From the Boards

First Impressions: Nebelhorn Trophy October 5, 2012

You know what they say about first impressions — they’re lasting. With the Grand Prix season just around the corner, every opportunity for skaters to take to the competition ice and provide a positive first impression is a good one.

Last week, several top skaters did just that at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany.

Early season skates are hardly indicative of what we may see later on, but they do provide glimpses of progress. And they leave impressions … that last.

Here are mine.

 

Men

Nobunari Oda … he’s baaaack! He has such perfect programs for his style and character. Sure, there were some bobbles here and there. But I can’t be the only one distracted by his flawless, soft knees to the extent that the flaws become less visible, right? Love him.

Konstantine Menshov still has the jumps. So does Keegan Messing. But, big and powerful isn’t always going to work. Both guys need to take a big step up in the components department. (Plus, all I can think of with Messing’s “Matrix” program is “Brian Joubert 2.0!”)

On the flip side, both Stephen Carriere and Denis Ten have lovely programs, beautiful expression, and dynamic highs and lows. Now for some consistency in the jump department … (more…)

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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…)

 

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….

*sigh*

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…

 

Oh, Canada! November 1, 2010

Oh, to be a Canadian skating in Canada! And no, I’m not referring to what some have deemed the “Skating while Canadian” bonus that occasionally seems to appear in the scores for Canadians skating at home.

I’m referring to the intensity of the support for the home team as seen all week long in Kingston.

Even the simplest bit of choreography, executed to the music and theme, received heartfelt cheers. It reminded me of watching Shen and Zhao skate in China. Every moment was epic, every skate memorable, thanks to the endless, boisterous support of the Canadian faithful.

And while this event didn’t feature many of the biggest names in the sport, the competition was tight as ever, and anything but predictable. Let’s start with the ladies, shall we?

For me, the most impressive moment of the whole event belongs to American sweetheart, Alissa Czisny. This is an athlete who has come so close so many times, making her name internationally, but sometimes struggling to put it all on the line at home. She’s been a National Champ before, but struggled last year, and, I’ll be honest, I had my doubts about where she’d be coming into Kingston.

Thanks to a pre-event article from Figure Skating Online, I started to think maybe Alissa was in just the right place for this competition. While her short program wasn’t without error, I saw so much improvement and confidence that led me to believe she had all she needed to pull off a “Chan-like” rebound in the free skate. And what a free skate it was! She’s clearly worked on her jump technique, and her program components are as strong as ever. She’s by far the best spinner in the field, and she just radiates grace and elegance throughout every moment of her “Winter to Spring” long program.

The girl’s got the goods, and it seems she’s got the confidence to match, so far this season. Congrats to Alissa on stealing the show! (Canada’s good to this girl…2005 Skate Canada anyone?)

Speaking of newfound confidence, in the absence of Joannie Rochette, Cynthia Phanuef has taken over as Canada’s golden girl. And she, too, had a new sense of confidence this week. She hit a few speed bumps in the long, but, as someone pointed out on twitter, the look of fear and uncertainty in her eyes was no where to be found as she took the ice to the applause of the crowd. Good for her.

Another ladies highlight was the young American, Agnes Zawadzki. This girl’s got it goin’ on! She needs some mileage on that long program, but she’s got the personality and the nerves of steel to make her into a great competitor. A lot of people thought she might play spoiler here and win the whole ordeal, and it’s clear why they felt that way. It was a very nice senior debut for Agnes!

Now let’s talk pairs.

The young Russian pair of Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Naisuradze was thrilled with their win…and that says something! These two are very classically Russian in their lyrical, elegant style. However, they’re anything but typically Russian in the size of their personalities! They’re adorable! We’re used to seeing Russian skaters much more demure and refined. These two just ooze character and I found myself wishing I knew Russian so I could listen to their post-program thoughts in the Kiss and Cry! These two have some roughness to smooth out on the ice, but look out for them, if not this season, in those to come!

The Americans, Castelli and Shnapir had it going for them after the short, but a tough long program bumped them just off the podium. Still, one highlight of the pairs competition for me was their daring “Avatar” long program. Such unique choreography, skated to very difficult music to live up to! I found myself imagining how this program will come off when they skate it clean – throw triple axel and all! – perhaps at Nationals. It could be spectacular.

The real highlight of the Pairs event, however, belonged to the last minute replacements for Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison – Kristen Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. Fifth after the short program, they came out for the long and blew the roof off the K-Rock Center! Skating to music from Les Mis, the fed off the energy of the crowd and built the program from beginning to end in a way that was so captivating, so magical…*sigh* It was truly wonderful. They won the free skate by roughly 7 points and ended up with the silver medal. Not bad for a team that wasn’t even supposed to be there! Way to be prepared, kids!

Ice dance is probably more popular in Canada than anywhere else in the world. Of course, it helps that they boast the reigning Olympic Dance champs in Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, but even when the starlets are out of the competition due to injury, the fans still show up in droves to cheer on their beloved ice dancers.

This was far from an exception.

Thanks to Twitter, I heard that it was standing room only for the free dance on Sunday. And the Canadian skaters, under the pressure of the home-town crowd, didn’t disappoint.

Let’s start with the team that ended up 4th overall – Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam. These two are making a bid for the title of “Virtue/Moir 2.0.” In their free dance to “As Time Goes By”, it was especially hard to remember that I wasn’t watching a young Tessa and Scott, and while they’ve got a ways to go to match some of the Olympic Champs’ elements, they’ve certainly figured out how to charm an audience like Tessa and Scott. One particular standout for me was the smoothness as they exited their lifts. Seamless! The teams above them in the national standings better watch out – these two have a fabulous future ahead of them!

The brother/sister team of Sinead Kerr and John Kerr were probably the favorites to win this event, and with only a .01 lead after the short dance (What?!? .01, really? NICE!) it was still anyone’s game in the free dance. The Kerrs skated a GORGEOUS program to “Exogenesis: Symphony Pt 3 Redemption” with such a smoothness and elegance. These two are so watchable because they bring the audience in to every second of their programs. It’s always more about telling the story, relating to the audience and being memorable than it is catering to the judges, which, if you ask me, is very refreshing (but not always rewarded). An unfortunate bobble on a lift kind of broke the magic of the moment and things were a little rocky the rest of the way. Still, an excellent program early on in the season.

I’d just like to pause and say, Christopher Dean is pure genius.

What he did with “Eleanor Rigby” for Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier is just fabulous. That’s a program that you have to watch several times to get the full effect. I’ve watched it 2 or 3 times so far and every time it’s like there’s another little piece of the story that falls into place. It will be interesting to see how these two stack up against the Virtue/Moirs and Davis/Whites of the world, but good for them to come out here at home and put that performance out there.

What’s left? Oh, that’s right. The men. Oh boy. This got pretty dicey as the probable favorite, Patrick Chan, had a very messy short program in a lot of ways, yet he pulled in the (questionable?) scores to stay within reach for the long. Then when the top three had some sketchy  moments in their long programs, Chan’s quad, despite a fall on the axel, along with his incomparable program components vaulted him to gold.

Here’s how I saw it.

In the short, Kevin Reynolds stole the show by becoming the first to land two quads in a short program. Not only that, but his character and performance was stellar, too. In the long, however, his technique failed him and his performance suffered for it.

Nobunari Oda could have been considered a co-favorite in this competition. He has a tendency to kill it or get killed by his programs. Here, he put together a nice short, good enough for the lead, thanks to PCS better than Reynolds. His long was kind of strange for me…moments were good, but it was, overall, less polished than Chan’s, with enough technical mistakes to knock down his score.

Adam Rippon is just a delight. There’s not much I love more than his “Rippon lutz.” He’s on a great roll so far this season, first with the Japan Open and now this. He’s got to shore up that triple axel and maybe rework a few things components-wise, but I have no doubt that he’ll be a major player this season.

Okay. Now for what some have deemed “Chanflation.” While I’ve tended to agree in the past that Patrick, as good as he is, sometimes pulls in marks that make me go, “Huh?!” However, at the risk of being flamed for it, I’m actually going to stand by the judges on this one!

No one was perfect in Canada. Everyone made mistakes, everyone had their moments, good and bad.

What sets Chan apart from everyone else in the world is the very elements that make up that controversial program components score. So let’s check those out.

Skating Skills: For me, one key to look for here is the quality of the edges and control. Patrick’s edges and turns and every step in the footwork is built on a solid foundation of clean, strong, and smooth basic edges. Jeremy Abbott is another great example, in my mind, of stellar basic skating skills.

Transitions: If you watch Chan’s long program in particular, there is something connecting every move to the next – and that “something” is always harder than it appears. He has a way of using connecting steps as a more than just a way to get from point A to point B, they’re part of the story. It’s incredible.

Performance/Execution: The execution element should drop a bit when there are technical mistakes, IMO, but the thing about Chan is that, despite mistakes, he never stops performing his heart out. Don’t think the judges don’t notice that.

Choreography: As far as I’m concerned, Chan’s footwork is second to none, at least thus far this season. There are skaters who are better jumpers, better spinners, etc., but his footwork is simply remarkable. Again, every step is so complex, so creative, so much an integral part of the story, and (most of the time) executed brilliantly. Granted, the footwork is a part of the technical elements, but it’s moments like his footwork that are the climax of brilliant choreography that punctuate the music and challenge his technique.

Interpretation: This is, perhaps, the most subjective of the PCS elements. But Chan’s musicality is always evident, and he really skates up to the power of the music he chooses. In his short, he was full of personality and joy. In the long, he was expressive and passionate and everything built with the music.

Bottom line is, he does all of these things SO well. I know it’s hard to understand how someone with several technical mistakes (read: jumps/falls) could vault to the top with such high scores. But we have to understand the difficulty of every element in his programs.

I’ve referenced Patrick several times in conversations about my slow conversion to not only accepting but believing in the Code of Points system. The key is, Chan is a child of CoP, not 6.0. He was, essentially, born into this system, so he hasn’t struggled with the transition. He works the system to perfection and is rewarded – justifiably – for it.

Crucify me now, if you must! But my congrats to Patrick for skating a program that is well rounded and beautiful.

And there you have it! The second stop of the series is in the books, and the controversy is already brewing! Now it’s on.

Oh, and for those of you wondering how I made out in Fantasy Skating, see below!

FANTASY RESULTS:

Ladies: 1 for 3 (Group B: Imai over Marchei)

Men: 2 for 3 (Group A: Chan, Group B: Reynolds)

Pairs: 2 for 3 (Group A: Iliushechkina/Maisuradze, Group B: Duhamel/Radford Note: Castelli/Shnapir almost had me 3 for 3!)

Dance: 2 for 3 (Group B: Chock/Zuerlein, Group C: Paul/Islam)

SC ranking: tied for 93rd

Current ranking: tied for 73rd (up from 183 last week!)

See you in a few days with more in preparation for Cup of China!

Until then…