Figure Skating: From the Boards

The Final Countdown: Pairs and Dance December 5, 2012

We’re just a few days away from the Grand Prix Final kicking off as a “preview event” of sorts for the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russian. And, the contenders are all very much aware of this, I promise you. Everyone wants to get a glimpse at what it might be like to skate in Sochithe arena where new Olympic champions will be crowned. And, this is that chance, albeit under a teensy bit less pressure.

Still, the energy will be high as the conclusion of the Grand Prix series gets underway.

It’s been an interesting season. We’ve had moments of brilliance and competitions as tight as ever, in some cases. Most of the stops along the way produced high-quality skating. It is, after all, the buildup year to the Olympics. Everyone is starting to make that extra push.

But, there were a few let downs, too. This isn’t a recap, though. If you’re looking for that, check the posts from a few days back. It’s all there: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This, though, should be quite good.


The way I see it, each of the pairs competing here are primed for the performance of the seasons. We haven’t seen too many magical pairs moments yet this year, especially from the top teams. But, with three Russian teams in the Final, two Canadian teams, and just one Chinese team, there’s been a shift in the power houses of the Pairs world. Notably absent, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy who didn’t not qualify after skating in just one event.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov have yet to wow me this year. But, they do still hold the top international score. When they put the pieces together, they are hard to beat. They are just so good.

Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov continue to steadily climb towards the top. They’re not there yet, however. This is a great chance for them, though, to stake their claim to a spot on the podium — here, and heading towards Worlds.

The third Russian team is, surprisingly, not considered a medal favorite. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov have struggled to match last year’s brilliance that, too, fell off a bit towards the end of the year. Perhaps this is their time to jump back into the upper echelon of Pairs teams?

I see a team like Qing Pang and Jian Tong and am blown away. Not by their technical brilliance these days, but by their undying passion for the sport. Why, after all these years and all the medals and titles won, do they still need to push themselves? Why would they delay their wedding in order to compete, when they openly admit their bodies often don’t cooperate anymore? How can they still perform such difficult programs? But, even more impressive, is the emotion with which they skate. That was something I always found a bit lacking in their skating, but the older they get and the they compete “for the love of the game,” as they say, the more joy shows in each move.

It’s beautiful, not matter where they finish.

And how ’bout those Canadian teams? Are we witnessing the rebirth of the Russia vs. Canada pairs rivalry? Not quite yet, perhaps, but by the time they return to Sochi? Possibly.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are living proof of determination directing results. These two know what they want and have developed a formula for how to get it. No, they can’t yet compete with Volosozhar and Trankov. But they put themselves in medal contention in every event the enter. In fact, they have a chance here to knock off the veteran Chinese team and land on the podium. It would be an upset, but we’ve certainly seen one or two of those at a Final before, haven’t we?

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovtich have a longer way to go. I’m not entirely convinced this season’s programs are the best vehicle for their skating, but they continue to fight and make something of each event. They are in the Final after a tie-break gave them the last spot. So, there’s really no pressure. That might be just the situation they need to excel.


Gold: Volosozhar/Trankov
Silver: Bazarova/Larionov
Bronze: Duhamel/Radford


Have I mentioned I love this event?

There isn’t a team scheduled to compete that doesn’t deserve to be there. There are, however, teams that didn’t make the Final that arguably should be in Sochi right now. That’s besides the point, though. And now it’s all about these top six couples.

Again, Russian is well represented with Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev and Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov set to take the ice in front of the home crowd.

Both teams are much improved. Both have dances that don’t quite make sense to me, but perhaps they appeal more wildly to a Russian audience? Both teams have two second-place finishes this season, and would love to make the podium. However, there are some pretty tough challengers standing in their way.

The same could be said for Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. They are divine. I adore their unassuming charm as well as their ability to sell a character-driven piece as well as anyone in the business. Their improvements this season are quite impressive, and they continue to make me believe they could be a contender in the near future. Again, though, the top three teams in the world are pretty set in stone at the moment.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are another team — similar to Pang and Tong — that wow me with their consistent improvement and commitment to a long-term plan. I often struggle with the far-out nature of their creativity, because I don’t know that it translates as well as they’d like it to. But, I admire their dedication to maintaining artistic integrity despite the demands of the system. They are much improved technically, but still not quite where they’ll need to be to break up the top two.

Speaking of the top two …

It wouldn’t be ice dance without a little drama, eh? For my take on the wide-swinging pendulum of opinions on Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s free dance vs. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s free dance, check this piece out. I present my own opinion, but also give you the bare facts and numbers, in case you could care less about my private opinion.

These two teams have made each other better, that is the one thing I can, without a doubt, guarantee. As they continue to push one another, they in turn push the entire sport.

I’m amazed when I watch them both, because of the complication of each piece of choreography. There are no simple movements in their programs. No easy steps. No basic strokes. And yet, they combine the difficulty with basic skills that make it all look remarkably easier than it actually is. Plus, you add the layer of story telling and passion and connection and emotion … there’s so much to the package — for both teams — that I don’t know how they pull it all off.

They’re like machines … with pretty costumes and powerful expressions.

Every conversation about these two should start with the simple fact that both teams are extraordinarily good at what they do.

Side note: anyone else wonder what differences we’d see in this rivalry if they didn’t train together? It’s an interesting thought …


Gold: Davis/White
Silver: Virtue/Moir
Bronze: Pechalat/Bourzat

Tomorrow: Ladies and Men


Grand Prix Rewind: The Dancers December 4, 2012

Ice dance has fast become one of my very favorite events. It’s the discipline that I think has benefited most from the Code of Points system because things are actually quantifiable now.

Of course, it helps to have a generation of dancers actively working to live up to the likes of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meryl Davis and Charlie White who continue to lead the way.

The Grand Prix series this year gave a good indication of the progress some dance teams have made … perhaps none more notably than Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat.

Those two are always creative … sometimes distractingly so. But the technique often suffered in the past for the sake of creativity. Not so much this year. Theyr’e still not quite there yet, as far as Virtue/Moir or Davis/White standards, but if the top two don’t watch their backs and step up their own games, the Olympic year could be way more interesting than the last few have been.

It’s interesting, in that regard, how teams that have generally been very politically correct in answering questions about their competition goals who are suddenly voicing their determination to be THE best, both at Worlds this year and, more importantly, the Olympics. Pechalat and Bourzat are certainly a part of that new trend, early this season stating — quite emphatically — that they are right on track with their career goals that have them peaking in Sochi.

So far, they’ve skated accordingly.

Speaking of teams that have made marked improvements, Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev are another such team. Personally, they’re not my cup of tea. But that’s the thing about ice dance (and skating in general) — it’s okay to not fall in love with every team or every performance, even if other skating fans do. And even if their basic skating has improved, I’m not in love with their programs, though I can respect their attempts at creativity.

Want to know what team I am impressed with, on a multitude of levels? Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. They were adorable last year, with charming choreography and fresh exuberance. This year, they’ve conditioned themselves into legitimate competitors on the world scene. Maybe not World medal contenders, since the top three are on a whole other plane, but they’re nipping at their heals. That medal stand isn’t far off, for sure.

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov also made the Final with a pair of silver medals. They did so relatively quietly, perhaps because they didn’t stand a chance against Virtue and Moir or Davis and White. But, I have to say, their programs — especially their free dance — don’t do them justice.

Side note: I’m super disappointed the reaction to Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s free dance wasn’t better from the judges. It’s beautiful and creative and original and magical and … yeah. Unfortunately, it didn’t lend itself to the complexity that the new system rewards. And as a result, they miss out on the Final. Sad day.

Now, for the top two teams.

It’s interesting, the ice dance world. I can’t say I realized how drastic the difference of opinions is between Canadians and Americans until this season with Tessa and Scott’s “Carmen,” and Meryl and Charlie’s “Notre Dame de Paris” free dances.

I’ve heard opinions blasting Davis and White for goign away from the kind of character and passion they’re good at — the “at a distance” kind — while praising Virtue and Moir for trying something new and challenging. I’ve seen fans gush over the magical moment Meryl and Charlie create while recoiling in a flash from Tessa and Scott’s dark, seductive choreography.

If you want my opinion, I prefer Davis and White’s dances. I appreciate the way they’re trying to stretch themselves, and while some feel they don’t actually tell story of the hunchback and Esmeralda directly enough. However, I find myself memorized  by the picture they do create and yes, I do see improved connection and passion.

Now, I’m going to try not to contradict myself, so hear me out.

I do appreciate the attempt at something new for Virtue and Moir. I get where they’re trying to go. However, this team’s strength is, without a doubt, the way they can stretch each move, and wring out every drop of emotion from it. The romance they can create is second to none. They elegance is something that sets them apart. And their ability to tell a heartfelt story that captivates an audience with artistry and grace while performing technically brilliant and complicated choreography is what made them Olympic champions.

This modern dance version of Carmen? Not any of those things. Again, I understand where they’re trying to go. It’s different. It’s edgy. But while I feel Davis and White’s “different” stems from their strengths, I feel this “different” is an attempt to recreate the wheel. The super-seductive “passion,” cheapens the quality of their movement, and obstructs the flow and connection they have with one another and that their blades have with the ice.

To me, it doesn’t bring out their best qualities while making them more versatile.

And, if you really don’t care what I have to say or what my opinion is, I’ll just give you the facts: the judges like the American’s free dance better.

Exhibit A: the score breakdown from both teams’ first Grand Prix event, wherein Virtue and Moir edge Davis and White in TES, but Davis and White win the PCS mark and the total score.

Davis.White vs. Virtue.Moir GP1

And, exhibit B: the same comparison from both teams’ second events. This time around, the base value is identical, but Davis and White made marked improvement in the GOE category, as well as bumping up the PCS scores yet again.

Davis.White vs. Virtue.Moir GP2

Before you jump me for cross-event score comparisons, I know. It’s different. Judges are different. Pressures are different. All of the above, I know.But the point remains — the reaction to Davis and White has been better than the reaction to Virtue and Moir. Personal opinions on the choreography and interpretation aside, it ends up being a numbers game. So far, Davis and White are winning that game.

Will the trend continue? This weekend’s head-to-head will be quite telling!


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.


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.



1. Brian Joubert (230.97)
2. Florent Amodio (210.42)
3. Chafik Besseghier (183.67)


1. Yrétha Silété (152.21)
2. Maé Bérénice Méité (149.33)
3. Anaïs Ventard (143.74)


1. Daria Popova/Bruno Massot (137.75)
2.Vanessa James/Morgan Ciprès (128.83)
3. Anne-Laure Letscher / Artem Patlasov (104.06)


1. Nathalie Péchalat/Fabian Bourzat (173.75)
2. Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones (142.69)
3. Tiffany Zahorski/Alexis Miart (120.49)



A Look Ahead: Grand Prix Final (Part 2) December 8, 2011

The drama has already begun from Quebec City. Chan is taking some heat for his comments about his Chinese heritage, Mao Asada unfortunately has withdrawn (to return to her critically ill mother in Japan).

With the event now less than 12 hours from beginning, let’s take a quick look at the Pairs and Dance events.


Much ado has been made about the showdown between training mates Virtue/Moir and Davis/White. Perhaps, rightly so.

The Canadian Olympic Champs Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have had two solid (and easy) wins thus far this season. They have the advantage over their competitors in the short dance, and they’ll need it to take down the Americans. Their Funny Face free dance isn’t their strongest ever, but they keep making improvements. I want to see them 100% in the moment because that’s the biggest strength of a program like this — the character.

One thing's for sure -- some spicy sambas will heat up the ice!

If they don’t live up to that, Meryl Davis and Charlie White will gladly pounce on the opportunity. They’ve had some issues with the short dance this year, but even then their scores have been very close to Virtue and Moir’s. Plus, their free dance is spectacular. I love what they’ve done with the music, the classic route they’ve taken, and the quality that oozes from every move. Yes, I love this program. But I think it works for them because it highlights their strengths. And, it just might give them gold.

Nathalie Pechelat and Fabian Bourzat always seem to be right on the brink of greatness. Still, they can’t quite keep up with the big guns. Personally, I felt they had better programs last year. However, they certainly had more polish and attack at their second event than the first. That’s a plus. They look good to medal here.

Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev have had a bit of a yo-yo season. Good skates, and rough skates. They have the potential to pull in strong scores, but there always seems to be something off with these two.

They’ll have a battle on their hands with Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. These two are having an impressive season. No, they haven’t won every event they’ve entered. But they’ve made marked improvements since their first event. That’s just what you want in a long season. They may be playing this just right (plus, I love their FD.).

Then there’s the Suibutanis. I have a soft spot for these two. Always have. However, this season they aren’t quite matching up to the (admittedly high) expectations I had for them. Their programs are beautiful, no doubt. But their technical content isn’t on par with their top competitors.




Again, we have quite the battle on our hands.

Reigning World Champs Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy may be packing that throw triple axel. But, the two times they’ve tried it this season, it hasn’t worked out too kindly for them. Their programs are strong, their elements are strong. But if they go too big, they might take the gold out of their own hands.

Trying to regain the upper hand, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov are searching for their own consistency. I think their short program is one of the most artistically stunning of the pairs season thus far, and I was a big fan of their long program last year. I just want to see the same committment to the choreography in the later as there is in the first. That, and clean elements.

The pairs competition is sure to bring the drama between the top four!

Also in the gold medal mix are Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. After Worlds this year, I was fully convinced they were going to be the ones to beat this year. And it started out that way. But, they haven’t put together clean enough programs often enough to be considered favorites. Still, they have what it takes.

There’s very little room for error among the top three.

Then, there’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. I adore them and the spark they bring to the ice. They have such a solid grasp on what they want for this season and they seem determined to reach every goal. They’ll be fighting for a podium spot, for sure.

Standing in their way is China’s Zhang and Zhang. Where the Canadians have spark, the Zhangs have power. They follow in the Chinese tradition of strong elements, but they don’t often skate perfectly clean or with much passion. They may still have the edge over the Canadians here, but only if they clean things up from earlier in the year.

Don’t forget young Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran. I don’t expect that this is their time to medal. But it is a good chance to see how they match up to the top teams in the world. They have the best polish of the young teams and some technical elements that are spectacular. I’m looking forward to seeing them develop.



Due to the problem of having a “real job,” I will likely miss the short programs entirely. However, I’ll catch up as quickly as possible, and be ready for some live twitter action come Saturday!

Good luck to all the competitors in Quebec City.


A quick look back: Trophee Eric Bompard November 21, 2011

Before you say it, I know. I missed NHK Trophy all together here at From the Boards. I hate that it happened that way, but last week was simply one of those weeks. Too many things on my white boards “to-do list,” and not enough hours in the day to get them all done. Something had to give. I’m sorry that it was here, but hopefully you caught my Fantasy preview at or

I promise to always at least have that updated before events! 

Since I can’t go back to NHK now, we’ll just take a glance back and this weekend’s even in Paris — Trophee Eric Bompard.

I always loved this event (especially when it was Lalique) because of the fancy Kiss and Cry designs. Nothing too extraordinary this year, though. However, the trophy given to the winners was pretty spectacular!

But I digress…

The Pairs and Dance events went off mostly as predicted.

Russian stars Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov proved themselves human with errors in both the short and the long, but the overall quality of their skating and the non-jump elements pulled them through. They’re going to need to regain the element of perfection, though, in the Final and as they head on to Worlds.

Their teammates Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov snagged the silver after the cleanest of the free skates. There seems to be something missing from them, though. The spark from the other top couples is greater, despite B/L’s strong, classic lines. Most times I just don’t feel, well, anything from them as they skate through well choreographed programs (albeit, to overused music!).

Duhamel/Radford skated another strong short program in Paris.

One of the highlights of the entire event was Meagan Duhamel’s reaction to their scores after a well presented but poorly performed free skate. See, Duhamel and Radford are on that Grand Prix Final bubble. They needed to finish no lower than third with a score of 113.58 to give themselves a chance. She had her fingers crossed, watching the scores go up.

“Is it enough? Is it enough? I’m not getting too excited yet…”

But she knew it was enough. Despite three falls.

“115 with three falls, Eric?” she added.

These two improve with every event. I’m looking forward to seeing how they stack up at Worlds.

Again, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig were haunted by the side-by-side jumps. Their programs are stunning, but she just can’t seem to stand up on those jumps. Another fourth place finish isn’t what they were looking for, but here’s hoping we see these programs skated cleanly at Nationals. (more…)