Archive for the ‘grand prix’ Category

Best Skating Programs of the Season: 2010

The Grand Prix Landscape

It’s that time of year, when we’ve witnessed 4 of the 6 Grand Prix events, and can now step back and assess the choreographic and program landscape, to compare and contrast what the skaters have put out there. Just a few of these skaters (and a single musical selection) are repeaters from last season’s list.

I was loath to include ANY latin programs, since I already feel like a sponge, saturated and dripping from them this season (likely no thanks to Lysacek and Rochette’s success in them last season?). But, alas, a few virtuosic ones eek’d through. Ugh…let’s please hang them up for the remainder of this Olympic cycle!

What’s the real clincher in making the list? Programs that made me want to watch them again. As I noted last year, it’s impossible to separate out the performance quality of the skater, but these nods aim to be more about the program and choreo itself. The timing and execution of the elements (especially jumps) to key musical accents and phrases is critical for memorable emotional impact. And musical selection alone, as per my own subjective taste also of course plays a role.

Lori Nichol and Marina Zueva tie this year with the most nods (3 each). I also encourage you to compare my nods to Tony Wheeler’s own compelling list. We agreed on three as most notable. Sometimes it’s VERY clear what’s peerless! The list does not include Kim Yu-Na, Joanie Rochette, Virtue & Moir, or any other skaters/teams who are not decisively retired and may emerge at their Nationals.

Men’s SP

Daisuke Takahashi: Historia de un amor, Que rico mambo, and Mambo No. 5 by Perez Prado; Batucada by DJ Dero; (Choreo: Shae-Lynn Bourne). Too predictable a choice? This brilliance can’t be denied.

Runner-Up: Shawn Sawyer, Assassin’s Tango by John Powell (Choreo: David Wilson)

Honorable Mentions: Javier Fernandez’s Histoire d’un amour/Nu Pogodi, and Tomas Verner’s Singin’ in the Rain!

Continue Experiencing the Best Programs of 2010! —>

Skaters Who Blew Through the Technical Ceiling

We can all recall witnessing those mind-blowing moments, when we thought that skaters had finally hit the technical ceiling, or reached the outer extremes of what their sport would allow, and yet they managed to push past it again!

Sonja Henie’s “herstoric” first single axel, and Dick Button’s historic first triple jump (3Lo) seem like child’s play now. The technical achievements, primarily in jumping, aren’t the only thing that keeps me watching this sport, but truth be told, they are one damn good reason. I notice that anymore I can hardly get through a televised professional skating show, from start to finish. Apart from their over-produced, cookie-cutter feel, they also lack the on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrill that these competitive elements offer. There is of course a downside to the big jumps and constant raising of the technical bar, and that is the toll that takes on a skater’s body, sometimes shortening a career (case in point: Lipinski and Yagudin), but even more simply, robbing the audience of clean programs.

I could find no single online link that detailed the jumping “firsts” and records of the last three decades, so I created one! What’s so striking about this listing is that it calls out how rapidly our sport changes. Surely, the rate of these new developments will have to slow, as there are some absolute limitations, barring technological interference (more like those seen in today’s competitive cycling and swimming). The 10 year gap between Midori Ito’s and Ludmila Neledina’s triple axels may be evidence enough that this slowing has already begun. [Click here for a jump abbreviation legend.]

Quad Firsts


1988 – Kurt Browning (CAN): single quad (4T, with a three-turn on the landing: Worlds). Neither Alexandr Fadeev’s quad (’84 Olympics) nor Josef Sabovcik’s quad (’86 Europeans) were ratified, due to flawed landings.

1994 – Min Zhang (CHN): clean quad at the Olympics.

1997 – Guo Zhengxin (CHN): two quads in one program (4T + 4T/2T: Worlds). These were also the first single quad, and quad combo in one program.

1998 & ’99 – Timothy Goebel (USA): quad salchow (’98 JGPF); three quads in one program (’99 Skate America)

2001 – Sasha Cohen (USA): documented ladies’ quad in practice (4S: Skate America).

2002 – Miki Ando (JPN, age 15): ladies’ quad (4S: Jr. Worlds). Surya Bonaly’s quad toe (’91 Worlds) sadly was underrotated.

Also notable:

2006, Brian Joubert (FRA): three quads in one program (4T/2T + 4S + 4T: Cup of Russia). [I have heard this wrongly cited by commentators as the first time.]

A comprehensive listing of notable quads: Wikipedia

Ladies’ Triple Axel Firsts


1988 – Midori Ito (JPN): single triple axel (NHK Trophy). [She landed 18 total triple axels in competition. See her land 10 double axels in a row here.]

1991 – Tonya Harding (USA): two triple axels (SP & LP) in one competition (Skate America). The SP 3A was the first ladies’ 3A combination (+ 2Lo).

1992 – Midori Ito: triple axel at the Olympics.

2008 – Mao Asada (JPN): two triple axels in one program (GPF).

For ladies, a 3A is still notable, as only six have landed them in competition, including these three others: Yukari Nakano (JPN), Ludmila Neledina (RUS), and Kimmie Meissner (USA). Yes, there’s even a video collection of them.

Jump Combination Firsts


1981 – Midori Ito (age 12): ladies’ triple/triple (3T/3T: Jr. Worlds).

1990 & ’91 – Kurt Browning: triple salchow/triple loop (’90 Nations Cup); three triple/triples in the same program (3A/3T + 3F/3T + 3S/3Lo: ’91 Worlds).

1991 – Elvis Stojko (CAN): quad/double (4T/2T: Worlds).

1996 – Eric Millot (FRA): triple loop/triple loop (Worlds).

1997 – Elvis Stojko: quad/triple (4T/3T: GPF)

1998 – Timothy Goebel: American quad/double (4S/2T: JGPF).

2001 & ’02 Evgeni Plushenko (RUS): quad/triple/triple (4T/3T/3Lo: ’02 Cup of Russia, and three times since). According to Wikipedia, he supposedly landed a four jump combo at ’01 Worlds (4T/3T/2Lo/2Lo), and a six jump combo in his EX at Europeans (3/3/2/2/2/2), but no posted videos verify this (the ’04 CoP now restricts combos to a max of three jumps). [It is estimated that he has landed over 100 quads in competition.]

Also notable (and possible firsts):

1998 – Tara Lipinski (USA, age 15): triple loop/triple loop + triple toe/half loop/triple salchow in one program (Olympics).

2002 – Sarah Hughes (USA) two triple/triple loops in one program (3S/3Lo + 3T/3Lo: Olympics).

2004 – Shizuka Arakawa (JPN) two triple combos in one program (3Lz/3T/2Lo + 3S/3T: Worlds). She also landed a 3/3/3 in practice!

More Ito, Pairs’ Firsts, & Spin Records


1984 & ’89 – Midori Ito: first woman in competition to land five major jumps (’84), and six major jumps (’89).

2003 – Lucinda Ruh (SUI): Guinness World Record for the most continuous spins (115) on one foot (NY).

2006 – Rena Inoue & John Baldwin, Jr. (USA): throw triple axel (US Nationals, and Olympics)

2007 – Natalia Kanounnikova (RUS): Guinness World Record for fastest spin (308 rpm) recorded on ice (Rockefeller Plaza)

2007 – Tiffany Vise & Derek Trent (USA): throw quad salchow (Trophée Eric Bompard). However, I believe Wikipedia may again be wrong, as Zhang & Zhang (CHN) appear to also have landed an earlier 4STh (’06 National Games).

The Future?


2007 – Weir & Galindo (USA): same sex throw triple axel (Champions on Ice, practice); 2009 - Weir & Lambiel (SUI): same sex 3ATh (practice)

2009 – Evgeni Plushenko: triple axel/quad toe loop attempt (practice)

[My sources are not infallible, so I welcome informed corrections.]

Kanako Murakami: A Japanese Star on the Rise

The Deepest Ladies’ Field

Looking at the incomparable field of Japanese ladies, it’s hard to believe that Mao Asada is no longer the new kid on the scene. It seems just yesterday that we were left wondering what mark she would have left on the 2006 Torino Olympics, had she been a sliver older.

Fumie Suguri is their reigning veteran, debuting at Worlds in ’97, and Japanese Juniors in ’92! I wonder if she will announce her retirement from competitive skating soon, especially as her competitive season is now essentially over, after a seventh place showing at Nationals. Sadly, it appears she won’t be going out with a bang, perhaps erring by putting herself more recently in the hands of Morozov, Mishin, and Zhulin. She is one of the few remaining skaters in the intl. field that for me consistently calls to mind Kwan, since they were contemporaries, both born in ’80, and having rather comparable jumping ability (although Kwan was of course more consistent).

Hurricane Kanako

Judging from the recent Japanese Nationals, and Junior Grand Prix Final, Kanako Murakami appears to be the new one to watch, and the future (possibly very near future) of Japanese ladies’ skating.

This Nationals short program, performed to “Nectar Flamenco”, and “Frente A Frente” is very complete! She seems to have it all. Her eager nods to her coach before her program alone tell the story of her spirit. Although less artistically evolved, and with an erratic fall on her footwork, her long program, from the JGPF also shows her real competitive fire.

She won the JGPF, and came in fifth (in the SP and LP) at Nationals, less than 10 points behind Miki Ando, and two spots ahead of Suguri.

She exudes a real love of skating, has quite mature artistry and expression, beautiful extension, detailed footwork, and impressive jumps (nailing a 3/3). However, her spins can REALLY travel and could have better positions, and she struggles with the oft-criticized flutz, but those will hopefully be corrected with time.

She is coached by Machiko Yamada, who used to coach Ito and Asada, and still coaches Nakano. Thankfully, Ito’s and Nakano’s wrapped leg jumping technique appears to have gone out the window, as neither Asada nor Murakami display that technique.

A Supportive Gesture to Akiko Suzuki

Murakami and Suzuki appear to be linked in this emotional kiss and cry interaction, from Nationals. It shows an emotional gesture from one fellow competitor to another, belying her supportive character.

I was very touched to discover the following about Suzuki, who just landed a spot on the Japanese Olympic Team, by winning silver at Nationals.:

“Her story of coming back after suffering a serious personal ordeal made headlines in her home country. Due to the extreme stress of controlling her weight, Suzuki began to suffer from anorexia in 2003 and her weight dropped to the low 30kg range. She sat out the entire ’03-’04 season, and her first season back after that was disappointing. But she signaled her full recovery this year with a third place finish in the International Skating Union GPF earlier this month.”

That’s a mere 66 pounds!…quite a low point from which to regain health and wellness. Kudos to you, Akiko! Due to overcoming this, as well as her spirited “West Side Story” LP, she is easily my sentimental favorite in Vancouver!

GP Final: A Look Back

Kudos to Team USA on an historic first GP Final gold medal in Ice Dance for Davis & White, an historic three men competing, with TWO landing on the podium (Evan Lysacek, gold; and Johnny Weir, bronze), and Ashley Wagner holding on to the pewter with a strong LP.

Pairs

I’m very amused that Kavaguti (partner of Smirnov) apparently returned to the surname Kawaguchi, at least while in Japan (“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”?). Perhaps she’s trying to avoid getting tarred and feathered in her homeland? Have you ever watched her in the kiss-‘n-cry? She appears so vacant, and I can never tell if she’s going to burst into tears or laughter.

I really wish Szolkowy hadn’t touched down in the SP. This, and the fact that they (he and Savchenko) didn’t skate their best in the LP, robbed us of an apples-to-apples comparison to Shen & Zhao. Have you heard any scoop if Savchenko and coach Ingo Steuer are a couple? I’ve been getting that vibe in the kiss-‘n-cry lately, but haven’t seen it qualified anywhere.

I wept watching Shen & Zhao’s LP. Their comeback is the most beautiful gift to this sport. They just have an ability to tug my heartstrings, and their “Adagio” LP really milks that. Perhaps their off-ice love imbues their skating with that extra something special.

It was nice to see Mukhortova & Trankov deliver two very strong, clean performances. Zhang & Zhang just seem to be languishing. Now is the time for them to RETURN to a program from a past season to salvage this more important Olympic season. And, something to keep the focus on their athleticism, and off their (mostly her) artistic and expressive deficiencies.

I predicted the correct teams on the podium, just in the wrong order. Not too bad, although very predictable.

Ice Dance

To my eye, Virtue & Moir should have come out on top both after the OD and FD, but this is the one discipline where the most subtle nuances between a performance or team often elude me, or feel highly subjective, because they are so comparable. Davis & White appeared more controlled in the OD, skating with less abandon, but that may just be the nature of an indian dance, versus a spanish flamenco number, which has inherent abandon. I understand that D&W may have skated with greater speed, but that is harder to perceive on tv, since the cameras trace the movement.

However, enormous accolades to D&W on their win! It’s especially interesting that they landed this distinction, not Belbin & Agosto. I do wish I cared more about D&W’s skating. I experience it on a more cerebral level, and it feels more technically strong than transcendent. But great work nonetheless!

I have a skater crush on Fabian Bourzat of France. Yum! His wavy hair and powerful legs get me.

Again, I predicted the correct teams on the podium, but, only the bronze medalists were in the right placement.

Mens

The men’s SPs made for a positively exhilarating competition! Now it’s REALLY heating up. This is the first moment where I felt that real Olympic vibe coming on. I believe Johnny’s SP is the best I’ve ever seen him skate. It was the most honest and revealing performance he’s ever given. In the past, his SPs may have been clean and even inspired, but they were more detached and inward (ie: “The Swan”). Daisuke Takahashi and Evan were perfection in the SP. Daisuke’s SP music is so rhythmically complex, and sophisticated, noone else could make it work like he does. Nobunari Oda didn’t have the luster of past competitions in either program, but skated cleanly enough, continuing to feature his miraculous jump landings…“like buttah”!

I was SO proud of Johnny for reaching his personal best in each scoring phase, as well as delivering the fourth highest total score of the season! I imagine this will be a great confidence booster for him. His legs did seem to be a bit tight in his jumps throughout (ala Butyrskaya). I hope he can soften his knees at Nationals, to offer up his signature smooth ride-out.

I LOVE Jeremy’s Abbott’s new ice-colored satin shirt. It has the glow and allure of a champion of the Winter Games, a great direction visually. He skated beautifully in the LP, after his initial quad fall. He has an ability draw me in to his lines, edges, and the ebb and flow of his footwork. When a skater like him or Kim Yu-Na use a mix of fast AND SLOW footwork, I find it much more effective.

Poor Daisuke. He could beat all of the men with two clean skates, but this LP wadn’t it, of course! It’s still not clear to me if this is training or more mind-related. We’ll see as the season progresses. We know he has it in him! Tomáš Verner is such a head case right now. I fear this could be a confidence killer. I hope he moves forward and learns from it. It would be hard to attend an event you didn’t initially qualify for.

Here, I only predicted correctly two of the medalists, and in the wrong order.

Ladies

I thought Ashley skated beautifully in her SP. She seemed to have good energy and was at least superficially clean. But, I understand there was a two-footed landing and edge deduction. However, her grace and facial expressiveness always make me care about her program and performance!

Miki Ando and Joannie Rochette were duller than dirt in their SPs. They’ve got to shape up.

It was heart-wrenching to see Joannie and Alena Leonova tank in the LP. This does not bode well for Joannie in Vancouver. Akiko Suzuki delivered the goods, and then some! I had hoped she would get the silver, and felt she was undermarked (or Miki was overmarked) in the LP. It is criminal that her PE, CH and IN component scores were nearly 1 point lower than Miki’s. Perhaps her transitions are simpler, but that should just influence TR (and SS at most).

Although Kim didn’t skate near her best, Miki’s LP fell completely flat for me, as it has all season. Yes, this does make the ladies’ field more interesting, for Kim to not win by slam dunk, but (whew!) close call.

Again, I only predicted two of the medalists, and in the wrong order.

Commentating Gripes

Since I tivo’d some of the competition on multiple channels I had the opportunity to see the men’s and ladies’ LPs commentated by Scott Hamilton on one channel, and Peter Carruthers on the other. The experience was night and day! Hamilton made the experience enjoyable and engaging, Carruthers, quite the opposite (annoying and disjointed). I really dislike his offering as a commentator, especially when covering the ladies. Give me ANYONE else, please!

I also found it amusing that when Evan was .10 behind Daisuke in the SP, the commentators called it a “virtual tie”, BUT when Kim was .56 behind Miki in the SP, they talk about it as if it was a near apocalypse. Puh-lease!!!

Next up: possible musings on Japanese, French and Russian Nationals at the end of December, and Canadian, US and Chinese Nats in January!

Cast your GP Final votes!

Select your final picks for the Grand Prix podiums in each discipline (select three medalists per poll)! Since these polls don’t allow you to order your votes, please share those in comments. Review all GP season-to-date results here. My predictions may be rather predictable, but I gladly welcome surprises…go underdogs! (I’m recalling Sandhu in ’03, Asada in ’05, and Abbott last year.)

My bets:
1) Oda
2) Lysacek
3) Takahashi

My bets:
1) Yu-Na
2) Rochette
3) Ando

My bets:
1) Shen & Zhao
2) Savchenko & Szolkowy
3) Pang & Tong

My bets:
1) Virtue & Moir
2) Davis & White
3) Pechalat & Bourzat

My analysis

I feel Jeremy Abbott will peak closer to Nationals and Olympics (or, at least I hope so), so I’ve left him off the podium here (guessing he’ll garner the pewter medal). He himself has stated that he doesn’t want to peak too early, so I feel that being the reigning champion here will prevent him from really being on the attack. With Joubert, Plushenko and Chan absent, these men better take advantage of this opportunity to build their confidence. Can anyone tell me when the last time was that the USA had three men at the GP Final (and if we ever have)? This seems to me a big, but much overlooked achievement. It hasn’t happened in at least a decade, as per my perusal of results as far back as they appear to go online. [UPDATE: Aaron at Axels, Loops & Spins has confirmed that the USA has never sent three men to the GP Final!]

My ladies predictions are the same as last year’s Worlds. I don’t think Wagner has enough momentum yet to medal here, but she’s gaining on the competition.

I think Shen & Zhao will best Savchenko & Szolkowy this time, but it will be VERY close. This has to be the most difficult to predict match up in all four disciplines!

And, when stacked next to each other (which hasn’t yet happened this season), I think Virtue & Moir will edge out Davis & White. With Belbin & Agosto, Delobel & Schoenfelder, and Domnina & Shabalin out of the picture here, this will hardly be telling of the Vancouver smack down.

Best Skating Programs of the Season

My last post (focusing on skaters) offers a natural dovetail into this one. Especially for those of you who haven’t yet seen much/any of the ’09-‘10 season events to date (Grand Prix, as well as earlier Nebelhorn, Finlandia, or Liberty), or don’t feel skilled at identifying stand-outs, this serves as a short-list to acquaint you with the best programs. It’s impossible to completely separate out the skater or performance as a factor, but that isn’t the focus here. Also, these aren’t podium predictions, but they are in order of preference.

By Artist Larisa Gendernalik

Program Diagram (Artist Larisa Gendernalik)

I’m covering only competitive programs, not exhibitions, and am skipping Compulsory Ice Dances. The focus here is on music selection and choreography (transitions, pacing, movement, ice coverage). I’m most drawn to programs that have a dramatic arc, musical contrast, or a strong emotional impact or levity. Here is one interesting look at the choreographic process, or evolution of a program.

Although fresh music selections were preferred, some tried-and-true selections still made the cut, because I love them so, or because their approach is new. For example, no Phantom of the Opera or Scheherazade programs were selected, and most latin/flamenco numbers (Suzuki, Rochette, Cohen and Chan SPs, Lambiel LP, etc.) need to be tabled for a good decade, as that style is so overused. Also, I’m allergic to Russian folk tunes and country music, of which there are many in the Ice Dance OD. Good costumes supported the selections, but weren’t pivotal. David Wilson wins here, with eight programs included, and Lori Nichol a close second, with five. Do they ever sleep?

Choreographers

David Wilson with Kim Yu-Na, and Lori Nichol with Salé & Pelletier

Men’s SP:

1) Adam Rippon: Dear Father, from Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Neil Diamond (Choreo: David Wilson)
2) Evan Lysacek: Firebird, by Stravinsky (Choreo: Lori Nichol)
3) Stéphane Lambiel: William Tell Overture, by Rossini (Choreo: Salomé Brunner)

Men’s LP:

1) Jeremy Abbott: Symphony No. 3 in C minor (Organ Symphony), by Saint-Saëns (Choreo: Pasquale Camerlengo) – my overall season favorite
2) Jeffrey Buttle: Eclogue, by Finzi (Choreo: David Wilson) – why’d he retire!@#$
3) Nobunari Oda: Charlie Chaplin (Choreo: Nikolai Morozov)

Ladies’ SP:

1) Kim Yu-Na: 007 Medley (Choreo: David Wilson)
2) Alissa Czisny: Mask of Zorro (Choreo: David Wilson)
3) Caroline Zhang: Zigeunerweisen, by Sarasate (Choreo: Lori Nichol)

Ladies’ LP:

1) Kim Yu-Na: Concerto in F, by Gershwin (Choreo: David Wilson)
2) Akiko Suzuki: West Side Story, by Bernstein (Choreo: Shae-Lynn Bourne)
3) Joanie Rochette: Samson and Delilah, by Saint-Saëns (Lori Nichol)

Pairs’ SP:

1) Pang & Tong: Le Pêcheurs de Perles, by Bizet (Choreo: Nicolai Morozov)
2) Shen & Zhao: Who Wants to Live Forever, by Queen (Choreo: Lori Nichol)
3) Langlois & Hay: Fascination (Choreo: David Wilson)

Pairs LP:

1) Shen & Zhao: Adagio, by Albinoni (Choreo: Lori Nichol)
2) Dube & Davison: The Way We Were, by Hamlisch (Choreo: Wilson)
3) Pang & Tong: Impossible Dream, by Hisaishi (Choreo: Bourne, Wilson)
+) Savchenko & Szolkowy: Out of Africa, by John Barry (Choreo: Ingo Steuer) updated 11.2.09!

Ice Dance OD:

1) Davis & White: Indian Folk Dance (Choreo: Marina Zueva, Igor Shpilband)
2) Navarro & Bommetre: Brazilian Folk (Choreo: Renée Roca)
3) Chock & Zuerlein: Afro Cuban Folk (Choreo: Igor Shpilband)

Ice Dance FD:

1) Virtue & Moir: Symphony No. 5, by Mahler (Choreo: Zueva, Shpilband)
2) Faiella & Scali: Gli Emigranti, by Rota (C: Paola Mezzadri, Ludmila Vlasova)
3) Belbin & Agosto: Ave Maria / Amen, by Caccini / Rossini (C: Natalia Linichuk)

Neither Domnina & Shabalin’s, nor Delobel & Schoenfelder’s programs were considered for this, since both have yet to perform their new programs in intl. competition (if you find videos, please share them). It was difficult to leave out Ashley Wagner’s (Polovtsian Dances) and Sasha Cohen’s (Moonlight Sonata) LPs, and Jeremy Abbott’s (Beatles) SP! On the flip side, there is a bit of a drought of memorable programs among the ladies’ SPs.

Click on these links to view complete programs by discipline (some details are not up-to-date): Ladies’, Men’s, Pairs’, Ice Dance.

Are there any glaring omissions, or your favorites that I overlooked?

Skating Loves: “It’s Complicated” & More…

As the skating season drives madly onward, I find myself measuring my pulse, as I watch each Olympic hopeful, to see who makes my heart beat the faster. But, instead of falling easily head over heels for one favorite per discipline, I discover that it’s just not that simple. It dawned on me that the familiar facebook.com “Relationship Status” categories best define my feelings.

Inevitably, this does begin to hint at a wish list for Gold in Vancouver. I know, it’s supposed to be more about the journey than the destination, more about the battle than the glory, yadda yadda yadda. But, I’m an immediate gratification kinda guy, so I want the results! And, if you were honest with yourself, isn’t that where your head goes as you watch the Grand Prix events unfold?

However, this is in NO way a prediction of the champions, or a comprehensive look at the possible podiums (that will come much later), just an attempt to figure out who I may need to dump…or, if I can comfortably swim in this two-timing and non-monogamy! More simply, who am I really going to root for as this season progresses?

Pairs’ Status: “It’s Complicated”


My long-time, all-time favorites Shen and Zhao (CHN) have already proven themselves in their comeback bid. At Cup of China they accrued the highest total pairs’ score this season. More than any other pair, they have an ability to send me reaching for the tissues. Their on-ice connection is so deep, so passionate, so real…like a true expression of who they are individually, and as a couple. I felt that only his injury robbed them of the gold that would have been theirs in Torino. Shen & Zhao: (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)They have also grown immensely since they first hit the international scene. At first they seemed to be purely technical skaters, but then their artistry emerged. I love it when skaters evolve in this way, especially when their artistry doesn’t appear to be so innate (I also think of Sarah Hughes, who was positively coltish when she debuted at Nationals).

However, Savchenko and Szolkowy (GER) have worked so hard over the past four seasons, and consistently delivered (well, except at Trophée Eric Bompard) stunningly difficult choreography and technical content: transitions, triple jumps, and expression. They, with their coach Ingo Steuer have a very unique vision of who they are and what they want to put out on the ice. Their moves look like no other pairs team, including their refreshing mirror footwork. And, although noone’s talking about it, I believe Robin would be the first black figure skating Olympic gold medalist (or, perhaps of any color medal). That would be a wonderful history-making precedent! (I invite you to proove me wrong.)

Sadly, because of Sav/Szol’s meltdown at TEB, we don’t have a solid apples-to-apples comparison of how they’ll match up. And, the same may be true at the GP Final, since Sav/Szol may not make it there. Perhaps in Vancouver we’ll have another pairs’ tie, so I won’t have to settle on one team!

Men’s Status: “In an Open Relationship”


I feel as if my status with Johnny Weir (USA) has been downgraded to “Widowed” after Rostelcom Cup, and being largely let down by his new programs. So, I’m shifting my focus for now. There is such a buffet of exceptional men to choose from, I’m opting for the freedom of this “Open Relationship”.

Stéphane LambielStéphane Lambiel (SUI) was my first love out of the current competitive field. By now, we’re practically “old and married”. But, I’m so pleased he is returning this season, and his new William Tell SP suits his sophisticated yet youthful approach very well. The footwork is perfectly choreographed to the famous up-tempo portion of the overture. I would love to see him claim the gold that he missed in Torino.

After years of playing hard-to-get with Evan Lysacek (USA), I have finally caved and accepted it as my fate. He has proven his character and the depth of his competitive fire and fight, and reached a new level of elegance this season. With his 6′ 2″ stature, he glides across the ice like a statuesque ballet dancer. It’s quite a vision! He has finally opened up to his inner girl, appearing much more vulnerable and expressive (complete with Vera Wang). That’s oh-so-much more appealing than the more one-note masculine caricature he was in the past.

Who hasn’t been wooed by Charlie “Nobunari” Chaplin (JPN) this season? He certainly picked the right season to peek in, with his inner comedian emerging in full bloom. And, his oft discussed soft knees on jump landings are as beautiful as ever. The spring he gets in his jumps is not of mere mortals. His short stature is icing-on-the-cake, as it makes him all the more endearing and loveable.

Early last season Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) seemed on top of the world, and was laying down his cutting-edge hip-hop Swan Lake SP. No other competitive male dances like him on the ice, or uses their body as fully as he does in his footwork. He displays power, with a cool, contemporary edge. However, he has lost that momentum, and I’m not a fan of his new programs. I hope he can return to at least some of his former glory.

I am developing a crush on Adam Rippon, but I’ll wait til 2014 for the real thing. Jeremy Abbott’s new LP to Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony No. 3 is a revelation, but he still needs to “let it go” to draw me in more fully.

Ice Dance Status: “It’s Complicated”


Virtue & Moir (CAN) have the most palpable connection of any of the ice dance teams. Their passion and expressivity feel the most real to me…not a “performance”. Virtue & MoirTheir Mahler FD is perfection, and touches me because of the music selection alone, not to mention the execution. There is a stillness, and yet a controlled abandon to the program. Sure, their lifts and twizzles are at mach speed, but that’s not what makes you fall in love.

But, Delobel & Schoenfelder (FRA) are my sentimental favorites, and are at/near the end of their competitive careers. She is fighting an uphill battle to get back in shape after her pregnancy, and I haven’t yet seen their new programs, but, they have so much heart and warmth, and innovativeness. Their maturity and experience have surely nurtured these qualities.

I would love for the U.S. to snag its first ever ice dance Olympic gold medal, and I always enjoy Belbin & Agosto and Davis & White, but neither yet captivate me entirely. Tanith’s expression can ring a bit false for me, and I feel Davis & White need a few more years develop an even deeper and truer sense of storytelling and who they are. Navarro & Bommentre are personal favs, but not medal contenders.

Ladies’ Status: “In a Relationship with…”


This is the one discipline in which I’m relishing a honeymoon phase. And, she certainly ain’t no underdog. It is Kim Yu-Na (KOR). I can’t think of a skater who provides me with such complete satisfaction. She has owned this Kim Yu-Na (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)season, and the last, dominating as the clear favorite. I think the field is a lot less interesting with this sort of dominance, and I certainly root for the underdogs (and U.S. ladies), because that’s part of what makes the Olympics really come alive (ie: Arakawa, Hughes, Lipinski, etc.), but it will take a lot for another skater to stage an upset.

Yes, I love aspects of other skaters…Sasha’s spirals and extensions are unbeatable, Alissa’s spins and glide are perfection, and Alena has more spunk than Richard Simmons, but Yu-Na has enough of all that, in one package. If Mao could return to her former glory, well, then, my ladies’ status might need to change. But, hopefully, it’ll soon be upgraded to “Married”!

Disclaimer:

Please note that none of the relationships alluded to above are real. I am purely delusional, and having too much fun. And, it appears I’m somehow immune to the wooing of the current Russian crop of skaters.

Dishin’ Up Surprises at Rostelcom Cup

Pairs’ SP

What a relief to see the old (yet new) “McBru” back!!! They appeared so relaxed and calm. Their 3T had great height, and is close to competitive with the best in the field. On an aesthetic note, I’d vote for Rockne to wear a single color/piece costume, as it would lengthen his line. His current two-tone top and tights ensemble instead accentuate his stockiness.

I was once again reminded that the gamine Yuko Kavaguti (of Kavaguti & Smirnov) is indeed THE most flexible contemporary ladies skater. Her extension appears unstoppable. Every position and even jump seems to be finished off with a spiral position or pointed foot. It is both beautiful, and yet coltish at the same time.

I was thrilled to discover that Pang & Tong’s SP music was from Bizet’s opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearfishers). I’ve never heard it used by a skater, and it was ripe for the pickin’. I’m, of course, a big proponent of using fresh operatic selections for skating programs (that of course excludes Carmen, Turandot, and much of Madama Butterfly). It is the tenor aria Je crois entendre encore”, sung by the character Nadir. Enjoy this most beautiful rendition of it, sung very idiomatically by the great french tenor Alain Vanzo. Amusingly, a pop recording of this aria was also made in ’05 by Alison Moyet (formerly of Yaz)

They proved to be in top form, even at this early phase. I hope they medal in Vancouver (just below Shen & Zhao, that is).

I have a new skater crush (which could land me in jail, as he was born the year I graduated from high school) on Alexei Rogonov, of up-and-comers Martiusheva & Rogonov. This team, new to the Seniors, has a beautiful aura and presentation. They have great “backs” (ie: posture), and she looks like a young Grace Kelly, and he a young Val Kilmer…well, sort of.

Men’s SP

It was so great to finally get to see Johnny’s new SP. Unfortunately, I do agree somewhat with Paul Wylie’s assessment that the sizzle was greater than the steak. BUT, in some ways I feel like this program presents Johnny in a light more true to himself than any before (ala pop star/diva-on-ice, or runway model)…that is, more flirtatious, and less restrained. I feel that Johnny was more passionate and told more of a story than he has for several seasons. The costume is certainly his most flamboyant to date, complete with man-corset. I love the daring black and hot pink color combo. However, the music itself (by di Blasio), which I believe is in part Plushenko’s old music (perhaps from his ’01-’02 LP?), resembles tinny elevator music. I didn’t see much of David Wilson’s stamp on this program, and it just doesn’t feel on the level of his programs for Yu-Na.

Speaking of “Plushy”…he layed out perhaps the most beautiful 3A I’ve ever seen (not to mention his 4/3 combo). It had a delay, before the set down. I suppose I have to learn to live with his wavy arms, as they are just part of his signature movement, and I’ve decided to surrender my previous judgement of him and welcome him back enthusiastically (not that he needs it). He offers a competitive excitement that I’ve missed, and I honor his chutzpah. Who else can sit out of this current COP field for four years, and come back like that? In the old days, when the bar was lower it was easier…now it’s close to miraculous.

My partner, CJ, was complaining that Plushy had “had his time”. I replied, “skaters aren’t like bread…they don’t have an expiration date!” Hell, my argument is always, if they can get back into fightin’ shape, it is their right, and our privilege to see things shaken up a bit!!!cow tipping

Also, amusingly, when Florent Amodio went down on his 3S, CJ called it “Salchow Tipping” (see right). BTW, it was great to see Florent on Senior ice. He has a lot of promise. And, keep an eye on that Artem Borodulin!

Ladies’ SP

Alissa is starting to put the sizzle back in Czisny again!!! She looked so composed, and yet so engaging. I was very proud of her for not rushing her jumps, and skating a nearly clean program. I hope this is a continuing trend!

Amber Wagner really has evolved into a very sophisticated and sexy skater. The details and nuance of her SP are notable. I felt she was a bit undermarked, especially as there were no visible mistakes. Perhaps her jumps were not as big or her glide as fast as Júlia Sebestyén’s (who staged a major upset, and is in first).

Many years back I often found myself rooting for Júlia. When she won her European title in Hungary, I was ecstatic. However, much of her glow wore off for me in recent years. Well, the joy and energy in her skating was visible again, and she looked positively renewed. Even her physical appearance and hairstyle are much more warm and “open” than in recent years, which offered a much less appealing (to me anyways), edgy, Euro-trash look.

Drag Me to HellMiki Ando’s SP is billed as the “Mozart Requiem”. Well, it’s really a musical mash-up, also incorporating what sounds like some generic horror movie soundtrack music. That was a disappointment. Perhaps I’m a purist, but Mozart’s Requiem doesn’t need anything added to it, and should stand on its own. On the whole though, I think the drama and severity of her program actually suit her style of movement and look. Having just watched my fifth suspense/horror film of the Halloween season, “Drag Me to Hell”, I kept expecting her program to summon up a demon (ie: the “Lamia”!). Cue evil laughter!

In the sea of the average Russian Seniors ladies’ skaters, Alena Leonova has won me over. No, I don’t consider her to be a real contender for an Olympic medal, I despise folk song programs (Americans don’t skate to Peter, Paul & Mary, or Woody Guthrie, why do singles skaters feel the need to explore their folk roots on ice? In ice dance, I know it’s often a requirement.), and her style is not very evolved, but she has the most infectious smile, and a genuine verve…shades of Slutskaya.

Signing off, for now…

The Golden Age of Yu-Na

Any More Superlatives Left?

So often in contemporary operagoing and opera critique there is a bemoaning of talent on the level of the famed “Golden Age”…at least the second Golden Age (‘60–‘70s). The first one was in the mid-to-late 19th century, but noone’s around to remember that, thank God! It gets rather tiresome, and it especially disrupts the explorations of people experiencing the art for the first time. If I am a proponent of such talk (and I know I periodically digress), just slap me.

So, what a relief it is that in the current skating world we have a talent so undeniably great no such critique needs to be endured. It’s not exactly a new concept to praise “PHENOM” Kim Yu-Na, but that’s because it is so justly deserved. Does one person constitute a Golden Age? In this case, yes!

I just finished watching her FS at Trophée Eric Bompard (not to mention her SP!). This girl LEFT OUT a triple flip and still ended up with a personal best AND world record final score of 210.03, beating Mao Asada by 36 points. The missed jump was no more than a hiccup, and had no impact on the overall program. (Imagine what her score would have been had she not skipped the flip!) Thankfully, her program and costume support her Tiger Woods-scaled perfection. David Wilson’s (choreo.) “Piano Concerto in F” LP (Gershwin) enables her to flirt with the audience, judges, and cameras (ie: benefiting us couch potatoes)! Honestly, it looks like only Jeff Gillooly could stop her from being Olympic Champion now.

The Joy of Skating

It is truly inspiring to experience the art and athleticism of someone who is so complete in every way. “The House of Orser”, as I like to call it, which includes both Yu-Na and Adam Rippon, clearly nurtures not only skating excellence, but also the joy of skating. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Both of these skaters were among the few singles skaters at this competition who really portrayed that spirit on the ice. And, congrats to Adam for being the only U.S. skater on any of the podiums! What a great way to start his senior intl. career! I loved his “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” SP. It had shades of Matthew Savoie’s “Mission” LP…with a real soul, and spirituality.

I can’t leave out Nobunari Oda, who gave 120% in both programs. It’s so good to see him back on top! His Charlie Chaplin LP has loads of character, and really tells a story, something that is getting lost in the demands of the current COP. And, Tomas Verner’s SP to “Zorba the Greek” was also effervescent, boyish, and charming (costume included…I want one!).

Yukari Nakano’s “The Firebird” (Stravinsky) LP deserves a big thumbs-up. Marina Zueva (choreo.) has actually selected a piece of music that is fresh in the ladies’ field, and created a real dramatic arc, with emotion inducing moments. Yukari’s exotic unitard also supports the uniqueness of the program, and accentuates her exceptional athleticism.

Let ‘Er Rip!

Since the television commentators can’t say it, I will! Tatiana Tarasova, however great a coach she may have been for Yagudin, is sinking Mao Asada (and, apparently wasn’t a great fit for Shizuka or Sasha either). BOTH her programs hang around her neck like dead weights, when her former effervescent spirit likely wants to “sing” across the ice. I feel as if Tarasova is trying to turn Mao into Russia’s Pride (since they don’t have a realistic female Olympic Champion), rather than celebrating what makes her special, and bringing out what would really allow her to thrive. It reminds me of a chef who takes a traditional dish and works way too hard to make it new or different, thereby rendering it unrecognizable, OR like a heavy-handed conductor who is so eager to leave an imprint on a piece of music that they rob it of its inherent attributes. Please, call Lori Nichol before it’s too late!!! Kim’s timing to peek is proving to be as good as Mao’s is bad, in this Olympic season.

Who kidnapped the real Caroline Zhang and replaced her with a fembot? Perhaps it was what the commentator referenced as her outlook on these earlier competitions as “practice”, but NONE of her former spirit was in evidence, and her face was utterly expressionless. It was as if she didn’t want to be on the ice. Any chance it could be attributable to Anne Patrice McDonough-style “stage mother”-related burn out? She did skate very cleanly, excepting one step-out on a landing. Dig deep Caroline, you are VERY special and highly skilled…don’t get bogged down by the COP and downgrade concerns so much so that you offer up a flatlined performance (worthy of a fast-forward on TiVo).

Pairs/Ice Dance Overview

Inoue and Baldwin landed their throw triple axel for the first time since 4CC in ’07. It was a beauty. I hope it gives them the needed kick in the pants to push themselves…I feel like they’re sort of going through the motions in the rest of their program, so if they’re going to beat out younger U.S. teams for an Olympic berth, they better really “bring it”, and proove they deserve to be there again.

I was horrified to see Savchenko and Szolkowy’s melt down. It was SO uncharacteristic, and I don’t believe they’ve ever done that before. But, perhaps it offered them some good learning, so they won’t “lose themselves” too much in their LP at the critical end of the season, leaving behind any details. I love their LP music (“You’ll Never Walk Alone”), but their costumes looked like they were ready for a Carmen Miranda or Brazilian Carnaval number!?

It was shocking to see Mukhortova and Trankov look as if they’ve spent the past year in pair’s therapy (“…and, Maria, how does that make you feel?”). Clearly they’ve successfully channeled their angst into their skating. Good for them. They do have a beautiful Russian classicism.

I was expecting Dubé and Davison’s “The Way We Were” LP to be on the level of Sale and Pelletier’s “A Love Story”, but I was let down. They have some great qualities, but there was very little story telling or one-ice flirting going on, for which the program begs. And, I didn’t get the feeling it is just early in the season…the program just didn’t seem to have that element at all, really.

In Ice Dance, I was only able to watch Virtue and Moir’s FD (“Symphony No. 5″, by Mahler), and it was/is an unqualified masterpiece. They will be nearly unbeatable in Vancouver. They embody passion, beauty, perfection, grace, to name just a few of their attributes. On the U.S. side, I have always been a Navarro and Bommentre fan, so I hope they can raise their placement as the season progresses.

“That’s Huge”: Shen & Zhao Are Back

Thanks to the Susan over at Lifeskate (both are huge), I came upon this video, which provides an enticing glimpse of pairs team Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao in training for the Vancouver Games. What a sight for sore eyes they are, helping to brighten my skating perspective this week, after the deeply sad Bobek news! (And, btw, they’re “huge” too.) This shows them at work on their Long Program, to Albinoni’s “Adagio”. I’m not terribly excited about this selection, as it’s too played and rather dreary, but I trust they will make it their own and breathe new life into it. It’s very reassuring to see them already seemingly in top form, as best I can judge from this brief segment.

 

jcm was one of the earliest online voices to focus the comeback spotlight on them, with this poll, and this post. With all the talk of Cohen, Kwan and Plushy/Zhenya they continue to get unfairly lost in the shuffle…at least in the US.

They’re pretty much guaranteed a spot on the Chinese Olympic Team since there is no true fourth contending team at this time. For them to skate well would alone make the trip to Vancouver worth it. But, for them to take gold, or a medal of any color would be a triumph for all “mature” (yes, even in their 30s!) skaters and athletes…a reminder that it’s not just a sport for little girls (although they’re “huge” too…but I didn’t mean in THAT way…apologies to Jenny Kirk), and that sometimes maturity and experience can prevail. This is a message our sport dearly needs.

I’m hoping they add to their already amazing legacy, as 3-time World Champions, and 2-time Olympic Bronze Medalists! At ages 31 (Shen) and 36 (Zhao), this would be their fourth Olympic Games, which surely only a handful of pairs teams have accomplished. If they medal, they’ll be the second pairs team in history to do so three times. Andrée Joly (later Brunet) and Pierre Brunet (FRA: 2 golds, 1 bronze) were the first and only other team to reach this competitive milestone. All other Olympic pairs teams achieved theirs with at least two partners: Artur Dmitriev (RUS: 2 golds, 1 silver) with Mishkutenok and Kasakova, Irina Rodnina (RUS: 3 golds) with Ulanov and Zaitsev.

Here are the full details on their announced programs for this season:

 Short Program               Long Program              
Who Wants To Live Forever
by Queen
performed by David Garrett
choreographed by Lori Nichol
Adagio
by Tomaso Albinoni
performed by Eroica Trio
choreographed by Lori Nichol

They are slated to compete in this season’s Grand Prix circuit at both Cup of China and Skate America. They would not face their main competition, German’s Savchenko and Szolkowy until the Grand Prix Final, if they both make it there. So, the truest suspense of how those two teams will match up will be saved for then, or at the Vancouver Games themselves. Savcheko and Szolkowy have momentum on their side, but both teams promise some MAJOR competition!

"That's Huge" “That’s huge”!

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