Vancouver Games: Week 2 Recap (Part 1)

As week of the Olympics launched, we were still treated to a barrage of continuing debate over Evan vs. Plushy. I did, however like this particular comment on the outcome: “Judges judge the beginning, middle, and end of the jumps, and although it (Plushy’s quad) was an amazing athletic feat, the GOEs reflects all three of these things.” (Excerpted from a Yamaguchi/Carruthers post-competition online chat.) BTW, I was pleased to her commentator Susie Wynne briefly on Terri Gannon’s “FSR&P” show. I miss her!

Although I respect Evan’s apparent “good training,” it too has been discussed ad nauseum. Fine, so he trains well, and runs through his programs 3+ times a day, and does cardio every other day, and… I imagine this is an effort to try to drill it into viewer’s heads that figure skating is actually HARD WORK! Well, when you look at a skater like Lambiel doing his Olympic ice run through, perhaps some of the other skaters do need to take note of Evan’s training. He doesn’t attempt or land a single jump in this run through.

Ice “Prancers”: OD Top Four

As Tracy Wilson said, ice dancing used to be mocked as ice prancing. Well, these days, with the degree of technical difficulty and artistic brilliance, that’s a less commonly held sentiment. Now, ice dancing is hipper than ever, particularly thanks to coaches Zoueva & Shpilband (“The House of Z&S”)…which embodies the best taste musically and choreographically, as well as peerless training.

The Original Dance event was VERY impressive. Not a single team that was aired made a substantial mistake, and I only witnessed a single fizzle from John Kerr (which was very minor). What a change from Torino. It’s likely because ice dancers are just more comfortable with the demands of the CoP now, whereas last time they were still adjusting and pushing themselves, apparently too far.

Domnina & Shabalin (DomShabs): Aside from ALL the controversy surrounding this “Aboriginal” program, it just didn’t technically or artistically stack up next to the programs that followed. The transitions appeared rough around the edges, and not of the highest difficulty. Their characterizations and interaction were über cutesy and clowny (I love me a good clown, in the right context!). I’m very surprised they didn’t make the easiest change to her costume under-color, from the controversial red to any other friggin’ color. At least some adjustments were made, thankfully including the removal of his brown face makeup. I wondered why Aboriginals would do an Eskimo kiss (their final move). Well, in 1982 Inuits (“Eskimo” is considered pejorative) were officially recognized as Canadian Aboriginals. BTW, where were their CD tribal Snuggies in the kiss ‘n cry this time?

Davis & White (Marlie): They were on fire, and threw all caution to the wind! Their twizzles were smokin’. This youtube sensation continues to draw in audiences (and more skating fans…please). It’s one of the few ice dances I find myself returning to again and again, because it’s so fun, infectious, and fresh. Good for them for crafting something that truly reflects the dance and culture it aims to revere.

Virtue & Moir (Voir): Perfection! They delivered flawless character, confidence, carriage, and edging. Their choreography was strongly linked to the music, down to flamenco head snaps, dress whips, and arm accents. The integration of their moves is astounding, true ice DANCING!

Belbin & Agosto (Belgosto): I wonder if they are wishing they had stayed with Z&S, as they seem to have the magic touch with the top teams, and are creating programs that are unique and unbeatable. This Moldavian folk dance (by Linichuk) felt emotionally junior. Their technique is so strong, a more sophisticated program would have landed them higher, I fear. They should have been placed in third for this dance, but with three points to make up, I felt it was unlikely they’d medal. I’m disappointed, but their program didn’t make me want to defend them as much as I otherwise would. I noticed Tanith say “it’s OK,” after the scores were posted. I can’t tell if she really is OK with it, or if she’s just resigned to being the forgotten team here. Frankly, I almost sensed that energy out there on the ice, that they knew it wasn’t their time. (Am I projecting?) We all knew that even if they skated great in the FD, they were up against the wrath and waning medals of Mother Russia.

jcm’s costuming thumbs-up: There was a lot to like here! Marlie’s Indian, elegant and perfectly suited to the program, with her Choli (beaded top), Lengha (split skirt) and his Sherwani (wedding jacket); Voir’s Flamenco, her red silk charmeuse dress and his waist-coat were romantic and lush. I couldn’t keep my eyes off them; Delobel & Schoenfelder’s (DelShoes) Can-Can, complete with tulle skirt for her and scarf, beret and vest for him, all with pink accents. Thumbs-down: (surprise!) DomShab’sAboriginal”, nuff said.

The Very Definition of FREE Dance

Between programs, when NBC shows the skaters prep’ing off-ice, they often capture them practicing jumps or lifts in their plain clothes. Seeing these moments helps me understand the true wonder of this sport. A lift that Voir was executing looked even more daring on ground (concrete?)! I’m also amazed that skaters don’t hurt their knees practicing lifts on hard surfaces, as there is none of the give or slide of the ice.

I really missed NavBom…especially seeing SamBates technically strong but sterile, trite, and old-fashioned Brightman/Bocelli FD.

Khoklova & Novitski: She was amazing…acrobatic, with extension for days. They appeared to skate with tons of speed, and were surprisingly exciting and on the edge here. With a different partner she’d own more medals.

DelShoes: I was quite moving to see them skate their farewell, especially considering they’ve been doing this since 12 years old! Their program had sincere whimsy. Although they weren’t able to recapture their former glory, they did show off their signature soft and deep knees in their curving footwork. I’ll REALLY miss their honesty and the levity they provided the sport.

Pechalat & Bourzat: Their final signature lift was partially aborted, apparently due to a loss of balance…GASP! But a good save, and overall a good showing for them. In future seasons they should continue to move up in the standings.

Marlie: Totally fearless! I felt as if I was watching an improvisation, being created before my eyes, and responding organically to the music. It was fiery, full of surprise, and perfectly paced. Not a single visible error. How do they hold up to this pressure with such grace? Their solidity and calm continue to amaze.

Faella & Scali: They skated with such joy to Rota’s “The Immigrants.” Her face is so expressive. They offered up great story telling and emotion, but are not as powerful or fast as the top four teams.

Voir: Totally transcendent and deeply moving. They embodied love on ice, and seemed to float across it. They are incredible actors, portraying another world, and taking us with them. I haven’t seen an ice dance performance like this at the Olympics in decades, definitely since Klimova & Ponomarenko in Calgary (’88), but perhaps even since Torvill & Dean in Sarajevo (’84). It was a triumph for pure skating, and “skaters’ skaters.”

Belgosto: They just could not maintain the level of energy in the arena that Virtue & Moir had set. What an unlucky position, to step onto the ice after a record-breaking skate, and Tanith’s original home audience at its feet. However, for them, they skated very freely, and really let it all go. And, there were no visible errors. I still can’t get past her faux faces of horror towards the end (as if Ben is the grim reaper, and she virtue). In the kiss-n-cry, they Ben looked relieved, and in their final interview with Andrea Joyce Tanith was showing tears. I hope they go to Worlds, and take home at least the bronze, so they can end on a high note.

DomShabs: They seemed messy and uninspired. The black lift bands/belts felt gimmicky and were a distraction. I was relieved when Tracy Wilson stated that in future Games the bands will not be allowed. Their use was the crime of the century! How can their enhanced lifts be compared to the natural lifts of the other teams? It’s the same as Michael Phelps adding a fin to his swimming outfit!

Most of the teams can be proud of skating their season’s, if not career bests, and pushing one another to new heights. Tom Hammond called gold and silver before the final two had even skated. Not so tactful Tom. Learn from Sandra and Scott’s misfires at ’09 Nationals AND the ’02 Olympic pairs competition!

jcm’s costuming thumbs-up: Faella & Scali, muted, retro colors gave their ensemble a unique and sentimental touch. Thumbs-down: DomShabs, garish, and the distracting bands/belts didn’t help.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but to see such young ice dance teams at the top feels so foreign. Back in the day, the champions always seemed to be much more mature (ie: Torvill and Dean). The bad 70s/80s frosted hair that added 10 years to the women didn’t help. AND, I find it interesting that the pairs’ podium had an average age of 30.5, whilst the ice dance avg. was 23. You would think the more bells-n-whistles sport of pairs would skew younger! And, what a surprise to see that Meryl Davis is 23, only 2 years younger than Tanith Belbin. Not quite as young as the media portrays her to be.

How exciting that Voir offered a slew of firsts, including being the first team to win gold in their first trip to the Games, and of course the first Canadian and North American to win gold. It was SO moving to hear Oh Canada” sung so rousingly by the crowd, including little children, AND Scott Moir, with his head arched back and eyes closed.

To Couple, or Not to Couple?

Voir’s incredible on-ice chemistry makes it hard to believe their not a couple. But they aren’t. Rumor has it that Tessa may be dating Charlie White, and Scott may be dating Jessica Dubé, which apparently didn’t initially go over well with Dube’s ex, Bryce Davison.

Pang & Tong (Bang & Gong) have announced that too they are a couple off the ice. “Actually, I wanted to kiss Pang after the free skating competition, but I didn’t find her by my side,” Tong said. “Many fans who have cared about us have asked us about our relationship, but we have been busy training before the Games. Now, I want to announce that we are in a relationship with each other.” Given the demands, and living arrangements of the Chinese skaters, they probably have no choice but to date their partner, as I imagine they see little of anyone else! It appears that Pang & Tong may take Shen & Zhao’s approach, and sit out a few seasons, and then return in Sochi. We’ll see! Zhangs have confirmed they are NOT a couple, which they chalk up to their youth.

Overcoming Olympic Tragedy

The unexpected passing of Joannie Rochette’s mother after her arrival to Vancouver was truly tragic news. My heart leapt for her. I don’t know how an athlete could hold up under the pressure of such a loss, and transcend it. I guessed that she would either allow it to inspire her, taking the gold or silver, OR it would weigh heavily, and land her lower than fifth…I certainly hoped it was the former.

A Touching Profile: Snowboarder Kevin Pearce

NBC and Tom Brokaw did a beautiful profile on snowboarder Kevin Pearce. It was heartbreaking. I had never heard of him, and didn’t know there had been any real competition for Shaun White. But if there was one, this was the guy, until a terrible training accident on December 31, 2009. There is a facebook page which aims to support Kevin and help him to a full recovery. Luger Nodar’s death, and this, are a reminder that these sports really do exist on the edge, and there are downsides to the thrills that they chase for themselves and viewers.

And, On a Happier Note

NBC has compiled some pretty amazing photo galleries/slide shows. This one in particular revels in the awkward moments of skating that are harder to see in real-time, but emerge glaringly in photographic form. Enjoy!

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