Figure Skating: From the Boards

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…)

 

Taking on the World: Ice Dance April 20, 2011

If you think about it, the resurgence of the popularity of Ice Dance is quite remarkable. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always viewed the discipline through the eyes of an American figure skating fan as opposed to the more…cultured eyes of European fans. But there’s no doubt the popularity of the discipline has increased, perhaps thanks to the world-wide dance craze in general.

I’ve loved watching the discipline gain back some credibility, as well as watching the athletes take the challenges of the Code of Points system to heart. We’ve seen some truly remarkable dance teams in the last two Olympic cycles and there’s no room to take it easy — if the reigning champs aren’t willing to push the limits, there is always a young team nipping at their heals, ready to take the lead.

This year has proven itself to have some utter predictability mixed with some genuine surprises, and that’s a combination that makes the ice dance event a prime time show.

It’s no secret that Americans Davis and White are the team to beat. The expected free dance showdown with the Olympic Champions at 4 Continents didn’t happen, due to Tessa’s minor injury. Thus, Davis/White remain the hands down favorite, based on the proof they’ve offered this season — namely, the fact that they’re undefeated, and that by a large margin. They have also continued to improve as they go, which should have them in good position to peak at Worlds. Their international-leading score of 172.03 at 4CC has them nearly six points above the nearest competitors from France — Pechalat and Bourzat.

The French team has one of the best free dances of the season. Davis/White push the limits technically, for sure, but

Nathalie and Fabian's Charlie Chaplin inspired free dance earned them gold at the European Championships, setting them up for a podium run at Worlds.

Pechalat/Bourzat create something so special with the character of this dance. It’s charming and challenging, and it engages the audience (and, thereby, the judges) from beginning to end. Plus, they have challenged themselves to take Davis/White head on. They want to be considered gold medal contenders, and they’ve done well to prove it.

As we’ve seen in other disciplines, the push to Sochi in 2014 is evident in the serious resurgence from the Russian skaters. Ice dance, once upon a time completely dominated by Russian teams, is no different. Pulling in the 3rd highest scores of the season, Bobrova/Soloviev would love to turn their European silver medal into a spot on the podium, especially now skating at home in Russia. They’ve got some work to do if they want to overtake Davis/White or Virtue/Moir, but watch out for this team. They’re on their way.

Unfortunately, a team with a real shot at the podium has had their season cut short. The brother-sister team from Britan Sinead and John Kerr have officially withdrawn from the championships. Sinead suffered a shoulder injury early in the season, and there were rumors they had withdrawn prior to the tsunami in Japan. Those reports were never confirmed, however, and it became known that when it was evident the event would be postponed, the Kerrs chose to wait it out and see if Sinead’s injury would be better in time. Sadly, that is not the case. These two are always crowd favorites, so they will certainly be missed in Moscow.

One of the most pleasant surprises of the season is the successful senior debut of another brother sister team, Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani. If you follow my blog or my twitter feed, you’ve probably figured out that I love this team, so I’ll try not to turn into a gushy fan girl and maintain my journalistic credibility here! But this team brings a level of maturity in both their technique and their expression that is well beyond their years. Their carriage over the ice is stunning aesthetically, and their commitment to musicality is refreshing. They have plenty of room to grow, both technically and artistically, but judging by the rapid progress of their training mates Davis/White and Virtue/Moir, I’d say they’re in the perfect situation to do just that. This year will be great exposure for them and while a podium finish is unlikely, a top 5 finish isn’t entirely out of the question.

The Canadian teams have held their own yet again this season, producing perhaps more national competition than any other country. They send a world team lead by Crone and Poirier — a team with a free dance with Christopher Dean choreography that would challenge the best in the world. They’ve struggled to maintain consistency, but they want to be given credibility among the world’s best, and they’ve made good headway towards that this season.

They’ll be joined by Weaver and Poje who finished first in China and just behind Crone/Poirier in 4th at 4 Continents. This is a team that always seems to set themselves up brilliantly in their Short Dance, but their FD just doesn’t bring in the scores the other top teams are getting. That will likely hurt them here, as they have no room to slide in either portion of the event.

Of course, not to be left out of the Canadian ice dance discussion are reigning Olympic Champs, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Out all of the season thus far because of surgery on both of Virtue’s legs, they’re coming in expected to rival Davis/White once again for gold. Those who’ve seen the free dance in progress say it is perhaps the best free dance the sport has ever seen. The bit we saw at 4CC looks pretty strong, and very different. Their coaches have said that Tessa is the only female skater that could pull off the character and movement required by their sassy samba dance. Those are strong praises for a program that has yet to be completed in competition. But if there is a team that can debut at Worlds and rain on the Davis/White parade, I wouldn’t be afraid to put my money on this one.

Rounding out my list of the potential top ten are Americans Chock/Zuerlein, Hungarians Hoffmann/Zavozin, and the French Carron/Jones. All have had their moments of success this season, and have the potential to be major players in the run towards Sochi.

Some have wondered what the extra time before Worlds would do to impact performances. My thought is, those who were working on a “come back” from injury or lack of competition may benefit (i.e. Virtue/Moir in dance, Yuna Kim in ladies). Those who were ready to peak may have a bigger challenge as they try to come down from that, only to peak again in a months time (i.e. Davis/White in dance, Chan or Oda in mens).

Regardless, as Meryl Davis said last week, they are athletes. They train to work under challenging situations. This is simply another such situation.

So let the games begin.

 

 

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…

 

Grand Finale – Skate America wrap-up November 15, 2010

The first half of the long programs finished late last night, as champions were crowned in the men’s and pair’s events.

The men were up first, so we’ll start there.

What should have been, in many ways, the premiere event from Skate America 2010 ended up being a contest to find who could make the least mistakes. The final group set up to be a spectacular showdown, but was instead a bit of a letdown. Still, scores were given and medals received, and team Japan faired quite well.

Daisuke Takahashi took gold, as expected by many (myself included). However, he didn’t do so in usual “Dai-namic” fashion. He missed jumps, lacked a quad, eked out several landings, and even his always-impressive footwork lacked some polish. Still, with PCS scores in the 85 range (…a bit ridiculous, if you’re asking me!), he managed to fend off countryman Nobunari Oda who had all the chance in the world to win…if only he stuck to the game plan.

I always find it interesting when skaters try to make up for mistakes during the program. This time, the mental mistake cost more than the physical mistake, as Nobu either tried to make up for a missed combination or simply forgot that he’s only allowed 3! He put out two solid triple axels, but the rules state one has to be in combination (or you can’t repeat the jump). Since one wasn’t in combination, he was essentially marked for missing that element. The flip side of that, though, is that you’re only allowed three combinations (two 2-jump and one 3-jump)…which he completed on top of the miss axel combo. Confused? Yeah. Basically, I believe, he received no credit for the final combo which cost him dearly, especially with a fall on his quad-toe attempt. Tough break for Oda, but still, a strong silver medal.

Adam Rippon was in medal position after the short, but a rare off night cost him overall, as he slipped to 4th.

Sneaking into bronze position then, was fellow American Armin Mahbanoozadeh who had, by far, the performance of the night. Skating to music from “Avatar,” he delivered jump after jump, spin after spin, with great speed, and great execution and performance. He garnered the first (and only?) standing ovation of the night, and it was well deserved. Congrats, Armin, on your Skate American bronze!

Honorable mention to Shawn Sawyer who, despite finishing in 8th, has the best long program of the season thus far. His “Alice and Wonderland” theme is just stunning and he pulls it off better than anyone else ever could. I said it after his long, but he  really makes a believable mad hatter!

Final results:
1. Daisuke Takahashi JPN (227.07)
2. Nobunari Oda JPN (226.09)
3. Armin Mahbenoozadeh USA (211.17)
4. Adam Rippon USA (2o3.12)
5. Daisuke Murakami JPN (203.00)
6. Kevin Van Der Perren BEL (194.63)
7. Adrian Schultheiss SWE (188.20)
8. Shawn Sawyer CAN (186.62)
9. Stephen Carriere USA (184.20)
10. Nan Song CHN (180.10)
11. Denis Ten KAZ (176.11)
12. Viktor Pfeifer AUS (162.47)

The pairs free skate was an example of all the different things skating can be.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy were the class of the field, and may have had the performance of the event. They were clean, solid, expressive, strong…all while skating to “Pink Panther” (Yes, Aliona made that horrid bubblegum pink jumpsuit work just fine!). They showed the “cute” factor with personality expressed elegantly. The are the veterans, and that was evident in their control and consistency as well as in the overall quality of their execution and performance. Well earned win for them here!

The young Canadian stars are just something else. Talk about personality…they’ve got it all! Kristen is just a doll and the two play off each other so well, especially for the short amount of time they’ve skated together. Their long wasn’t as sharp and dramatic as at Skate Canada, but they still have something very special. Plus, they are young enough in this sport that they’re learning from the beginning to skate to the strengths of the COP system, and it does them well…as does their solid technique.

Sui/Han from China stepped in after a successful debut last week at Cup of China (contrary to the info the commentators for Icenetwork had, as they repeatedly called Skate America Sui/Han’s senior debut!) and had close to a repeat performance. They still look juniorish to me, despite the immense difficulty of most of their elements, including that terrifying throw quad salchow! But again, they are COP babies, so to speak, so every move is choreographed with the intent of gaining points, contrary to 6.0 skaters who sometimes have choreography for the sake of choreography. Kudos to these two, though, for keeping up with the big kids two weeks in a row.

The American champs, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett brought the maturity and smoothness to their long program. This is a bit of a new, more polished look for them this season and it works wonders for their lines, their control. I felt like this program just had a great pace for them that allowed them to complete their elements successfully, as well as reach out emotionally to the audience a bit more than last year. These two, also, have a great pairs presence for the short time they’ve competed together. If they can play to the system a little more (I see some areas that transitions could be helpful and step sequences that could be more challenging), they’ll be right up there internationally. Too bad about the missed throw or they would have been on the podium here.

Final Results:
1. Savchenko/Szolkowy GER (197.70)
2. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch CAN (175.48)
3. Sui/Han CHN (170.07)
4. Denney/Barrett USA (166.42)
5. Stolbova/Klimov RUS (159.49)
6. Castelli/Shnapir USA (153.33)
7. Zhang/Toth USA (126.70)
8. Kemp/King GRB (115.92)

The final group of the ice dance event was something special, to say the least.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White were more than favorites here…it would have been an enormous upset if they even finished close to the top Canadian teams. Good thing, though, because they were not perfect in either portion, with Charlie’s miss on the twizzles in the Short (according to him he was simply trying to break light speed when physics got in his way!) and an awkward fall by the both of them as they got a little tangled in a footwork sequence in the free dance. Still, the amount of difficulty in their elements and the quality in their performance has they head and shoulders above the rest, thus the win here.

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier had loads of expectations on their shoulders here after debuting a fabulous free dance to “Eleanor Rigby” as interpreted by Chris Dean…and winning with it, brilliantly, in Canada. It just didn’t go quite their way here, even though they skated to silver. Someone on twitter observed, as did I, that they just looked off. I felt they skated cautiously, which translated into making the difficult choreography look heavy and a tad clumsy, instead of inspiring and smooth. That said, this is a wonderful free dance and when they skate it with more freedom, it’ll be spectacular.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani stamped their name in the “best in the world” list with a free dance that was as technically difficult as it was artistically brilliant. I sound like a broken record here, but there’s just something very special about this team that starts from their edge work, through their posture, culminating in the exquisite completion of every element – not just in getting it done, but fully stretching out every move for the greatest impact. It’s unusual in such a young team, but these two have it down pat. And training with the best in the world at the Shpilband camp? They’re set for stardom, for sure.

Final Results:
!. Davis/White USA (156.68)
2. Crone/Poirier CAN (149.08)
3. Shibutani/Shibutani USA (144.81)
4. Weaver/Poje CAN (142.34)
5. Riazanova/Tkachenko RUS (137.14)
6. Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt USA (130.72)
7. Reed/Reed JPN (113.39)
8. Coomes/Buckland GRB (111.29)
9. Frohberg/Giesen GER (104.18)

Then there were ladies.

First of all, I want to thank NBC for enlisting the services of Terry Gannon. I was always impressed with his professionalism, but perhaps more impressed with his introduction to and eventual involvement in the skating world. The guy’s a basketball player…he’s a “sports guy” and that doesn’t usually translate to a heartfelt interest in the skating world. But he took his job seriously, learned all he could, and really found a love for the sport and its athletes. He’s an inspiration to me in my own career, and a wonderful piece of figure skating broadcast history. Welcome back, Terry!

Now, the skating.

If anyone wonders about the future of ladies skating, look no further than Kanako Murakami. This girl has more spunk than many senior ladies can dream of, she skates with the purest essence of joy, and she’s got a fab triple-triple to boot! She wasn’t flawless, but she’s growing. She has a wonderful future ahead of her, and she may have jump-started it here by taking advantage of the mistakes of those ahead of her. If she works on the maturity in her presentation, she’ll fit right in with the top level of skaters in the world.

Rachael Flatt skated with a bit of an injury – tendinitis in her ankle – but other than the absence of her planned triple-triple, you never would have known. She skated her long program to the fullest, and you could tell how pleased she was with her clean skate. This program still needs some work, some polish, and she’s got to fully rotate those triples, but this was a nice come-from-behind silver for her after missing a jump in the short. She has a lot of determination, so she will only get better as the season progresses. But I feel this was a success for her.

Carolina Kostner is also skating with a knee injury that could require surgery some time soon. Because of that, she’s limited in her jump content (she can’t do the flip or lutz) which just increases the importance of every jump she can complete…and that didn’t happen here. Admittedly, I didn’t get to see her skate. But from the sounds of things, it wasn’t pretty. And when Carolina’s off, she’s really off. Still, she always gains points for things that may or may not deserve them, so she managed to hang on for a medal…other than that, I’ll reserve judgement until I actually see the program!

A quick congratulations to the Helgesson girls for skating well in the long (and Joshi for skating well overall…as a last minute replacement, nonetheless!). It’s great to see young talent skate without the pressure of expectation, and they delivered! Their mom (and coach) should be quite proud.

Final Results:
1. Kanako Murakami JPN (164.93)
2. Rachael Flatt USA (162.86)
3. Carolina Kostner ITA (1154.87)
4. Joshi Helgesson SWE (146.90)
5. Amelie Lacoste CAN (146.68)
6. Viktoria Helgesson SWE (142.26)
7. Elene Gedevanishvili GEO (1139.36)
8. Mae Bernice Meite FRA (137.05)
9. Carolin Zhang USA (132.49)
10. Jenna McCorkell GBR (1127.76)
11. Min-Jeong Kwak KOR (125.21)
12 Alexe Gilles USA (122.46)

Time for a quick breather before moving on to Moscow. There may be a something special coming up later this week, but until I have the details worked out, I’ll hold off promoting it…

But regardless, I’ll be back soon enough with thoughts on Cup of Russia and of course, my picks for my Fantasy Team! (Speaking of fantasy team…this week my pairs picks set me off on a great start! But, unfortunately it was down hill from there. I will never make any  money on accurate predictions, that’s become very evident!)

Until then…

 

SA shorts – ladies, dance November 13, 2010

The last two portions of short programs are complete, and it’s no surprise who’s at the top, at least in on discipline!

The ladies competition didn’t play out quite like I expected. There were mistakes by some who are typically consistent, and clean skates by some who tend to struggle. But I suppose that’s why there are to portions of the competition…the free skates will be very telling!

Once again, Carolina Kostner ended up surprising me with a clean program. No triple-triple, but this girl somehow racks up the points no matter what, so I should have known that, should she skate clean, she’d lead. I know she has the talent, but to me there’s always something missing…something that shouldn’t allow her to have the highest PCS scores of the night! Still, kudos to her for pulling herself together after the past few dismal years. We’ll see how “clean” her long is…

Kanako Murakami is just an absolute joy. Personality galore is putting it mildly for this little firecracker! Her triple toe-triple toe combo was stunning, and her speed was very impressive! She still has some “juniorish” qualities, but the technical elements were there (minus a singled axel). Her musicality is wonderful, and you can tell she just loves being out there in front of the crowd! From the live feed I was watching, the crowd ate it up, too! Typically, skaters transitioning to the senior level don’t skate as well in the long, so we’ll see how her jumps hold up tomorrow.

Sneaking into third was Joshi Helgesson who skated a very clean, very complete short. It wasn’t a “wow” program, or a skate-of-her-life moment, but it was good. She doesn’t have the natural artistry of some of the other ladies, but in a competition riddled with mistakes, she was clean, and that was enough.

Rachael Flatt may be feeling the pressures of expectation. She doubled her lutz (although, good work to tack on the triple toe for the combo!) and you could tell she was really upset with herself for it. That said, her triple flip looked great, as did the double axel. And this may be the most I’ve ever seen her enjoy a program before. To me, there are a few too many stop-and-dance moments, but she certainly has fun with it and it may be her most engaging program yet. She needs to upgrade some technical elements (spins, in particular) to compete with some of the top international ladies, but here she is likely competing against Kostner in the long (now that I say that, Murakami/Helgesson will skate lights out and surprise me!). For Rachael, though, she just needs to keep that determination from the missed lutz in the short and just go after it, no holds barred in the long. She needs to make up 9 points on Kostner, but she is less than a point out of 3rd. She can do it.

Also notable, Caroline Zhang skated to a solid 5th place in the short. She’s going to have to work on some areas other than jump, spin, spiral, spin if she wants to compete with the best in the world, but I was happy to see her skate clean, and with some improvements. Now if she can put out a clean long, maybe this girl could get some confidence back!

Oh, also wanted to congratulate Alexe Gilles on her first triple-triple in competition! Not her best short overall, but still, an accomplishment nonetheless.

Overall results:

1. Carolina Kostner ITA (60.28)
2. Kanako Murakami JPN (54.75)
3. Joshi Helgesson SWE (51.17)
4. Rachael Flatt USA (51.02)
5.  Caroline Zhang USA (50.66)
6. Amelie Lacost CAN (50.55)
7. Mae Bernice Meite FRA (48.27)
8. Elene Gedevanishvili GEO (45.27)
9. Alexe Gilles USA (44.86)
10. Min-Jeong Kwak KOR (44.41)
11. Jenna McCorkell GBR (42.87)
12. Viktoria Helgesson SWE (41.91)

The ice dance competition was all about the second group, really. The final four short dances of the night were just wonderful! I’m not entirely sold on this short dance format, but these four teams made me think that it is possible to blend the compulsory and the choreographed sections seamlessly.

Davis and White were clearly the class of the field. A rare mistake on the twizzles from Charlie had the scores closer than they would have been, but each of their elements is just taken to the next level compared to, well, the rest of the world right now (with Virtue/Moir out, it’s all Davis and White!). Their speed and lines are impeccable, the surety of their lifts is stunning. And they have the maturity to pull of a grown up, elegant Golden Waltz. Beautiful.

Crone and Poirier of Canada have some fabulous elements, like their terrifying upside-down rotational lift right at the start of the program. It’s the first move, and it’s breathtaking! They skated with very nice control, but not the same speed on the twizzles as Davis/White or the Shibutanis. Still, very strong program.

Weaver and Poje, also from Canada, were very comparable to their teammates. In fact, less than a point separates the two. W/P had the technical edge, while C/P outdid them with the program components. But I have no doubt that these two will be battling it out for a long time for Canada (the ice dance event at Canadian Nationals could be the best competition of the entire year!).

Can’t end without some love for the Shibutanis. They may not have the experience or the maturity of the top 3 teams, but the have a spark that is contagious. They skated a bit cautiously, I felt, but that was likely due to some silly mistakes in the SD the last time out. While they avoided those same mistakes, they still had a bobble in the Golden Waltz section that clearly had Maia bothered in the Kiss and Cry. Still, their speed and posture impresses me, and they have an easy about their skating that makes them so watchable. They have a GREAT free dance, so if there are mistakes above them, look out for these two…they want a spot on that podium!

Overall results:

1. Davis/White USA (63.62)
2. Crone/Poirier CAN (60.41)
3. Weaver/Poje CAN (59.48)
4. Shibutani/Shibutani USA (56.46)
5. Riazanova/Tkachenco RUS (55.52)
6. Kriengrairut/ Giulietti-Schmitt USA (52.13) *bonus points for longest combined name ever?!?
7. Coomes/Buckland GBR (49.43)
8. Reed/Reed JPN (44.40)
9. Frohberg/Giesen GER (44.03)

And that’s just the beginning for tonight…Men’s and Pair’s free skates coming up soon!

Follow me on Twitter for live play-by-play and results. And of course, check back here for my complete thoughts (read: more than 140 characters!) after the event ends.

Until then…

 

Skate America: superstars, spoilers and sentimental favorites November 10, 2010

If you follow this blog, you’ve likely realized that I have a tendency to be a teeny bit long-winded. This is not a new problem for me…that was always the number one criticism in my basic journalism classes – “It’s really good, I like it a lot, but…it’s SO long!” So, this week, I’m going to attempt to simplify this event preview and tie my own hands (um, or fingers, I guess!) to an actual format.

With one of the strongest fields for a Grand Prix event thus far, I’ll pick the superstar, the spoiler, and the sentimental favorite.

Ladies first.

Superstar: Rachael Flatt – despite a 2nd place finish at NHK earlier this season, she’s the most consistent of the group and she’s determined to make it to the top.

Spoiler: Amelie Lacoste – she surprised everyone by finishing 3rd at Skate Canada, and she impressed me with her sharp performances. If she’s on, she could sneak up to the podium again.

Sentimental fav: Caroline Zhang – someday, somehow, this girl’s just got to get it right! I want her to love skating again, and skate to her potential.

Here’s how the boys stack up.

Superstar: Diasuke Takahashi – he’s facing stiff competition, but he’s the World Champ and the PCS king, at least against this competition. Add in a quad and he’s the favorite for sure.

Spoiler: Adam Rippon – he’s going to break through somewhere this season, so the Japanese guys better watch their backs. He’s consistently climbing the ladder and skating at home could bring his “breakthrough moment.”

Sentimental fav: Toss up! Stephen Carriere/Shawn Sawyer – I fell in love with Stephen when I saw him in St. Louis in 2006, so he always tops my list, but Shawn has a brilliant free skate to music from “Alice in Wonderland” that I can’t wait to see skated to perfection.

Ice dance could get interesting.

Superstars: Davis/White – obviously, they’re numero uno by a large margin. It’s their title to win or lose in Portland.

Spoilers: Crone/Poirier – they are part of a very strong Canadian ice dance contingent this season…they have a lot to offer and are trying to prove they deserve to be at the top.

Sentimental favs: The Shibutanis – I just adore them. Their posture and polish is spectacular, their expression and speed far beyond their years. If they avoid little mistakes, they’re good to go.

And how ’bout that pairs competition?

Superstars: Savchenko/Szolkowy – again, obviously these two have the experience, technical difficulty, the component elements, and the expressive polish to take this one going away.

Spoilers: Moore-Towers/Moscovitch – some might put the “kids” from China here (Sui/Han) but the Canadians had a spectacular Skate Canada event, even after stepping in last minute. They bring excitement and quality to the ice, and I think they could continue to make waves in the standings.

Sentimental favs: Denney/Barrett – Caydee’s exuberance is contagious, and their story is inspiring. If they skate clean, they make magic. I think they have the potential to lead the American charge to the top of the international standings.

Ta da! Simple as that. Yet, this weekend’s competition looks like it will be anything but simple! Portland is always good to skating – the fans and the athletes – so this is sure to be a wonderful event!

Of course, for you Fantasy Skating fans, I’ve made my picks…and I’m hoping they turn out better than last week! Check them out and let me know what you think!

See you this weekend for all the news from Skate America (#Sk8Am on twitter!)

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…